Solutions are needed to replace the archaic air-gapping of computers used to isolate and protect sensitive defense information, the U.S. Government has decided.\nAir-gapping is the common practice of physically isolating data-storing computers from other systems, computers and networks so they theoretically can\u2019t be compromised because there is nothing connecting the machines.\n\nHowever, many say air-gapping is no longer practical, as the cloud and internet take a hold of massive swaths of data and communications.\n\u201cKeeping a system completely disconnected from all means of information transfer is an unrealistic security tactic,\u201d says Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on its website, announcing an initiative to develop completely new hardware and software that will allow defense communications to take place securely among myriad existing systems, networks and security protocols.\nThe Guaranteed Architecture for Physical Security (GAPS) program it is introducing will be split into three formal areas: hardware, software, and validation against Department of Defense (DoD) systems. A fourth realm is also promised, and that\u2019s the commercialization of the elements:\n\u201cCommercializing the resulting technologies is also an objective,\u201d the publicly funded DARPA federal agency says. The GAPS program should \u201ccreate safer commercial systems that could be used for preserving proprietary information and protecting consumer privacy.\u201d\nThe GAPS program should \u201ccreate safer commercial systems that could be used for preserving proprietary information and protecting consumer privacy.\u201d\nCommercializing something like a defense security architecture \u2014 the objective being to secure data as it moves between disparate systems \u2014 could ultimately help commerce in a similar way to how the government has assisted the internet by allowing a military-owned, watered-down GPS to be used by all. Getting funding also becomes easier.\n\u201cModern computing systems must be able to communicate with other systems,\u201d DARPA says of its plans. That includes \u201cthose with different security requirements.\u201d It\u2019s saying cloud systems and the internet are here, aren't going away, and need to be dealt with, in other words.\nThe problem with air-gapping\nAir-gapping does work. The problem with it, though, is it\u2019s not only hard to implement and enforce (workers have gotten used to networks and cloud), but it\u2019s expensive. Installing breaks between systems not only affects working collaborations, but it\u2019s hard to setup due to overall complexity. And it\u2019s equally difficult to administer: You can\u2019t just send patches across the network \u2014 there isn\u2019t one.\n\u201cInterfaces to such air-gapped systems are typically added in after the fact and are exceedingly complex, placing undue burden on systems operators as they implement or manage them,\u201d DARPA explains.\nA better solution, then, in today's environment is to accept that users need or want to share\u00a0data and to figure out how to keep the important bits more private, particularly as the data crosses networks and systems, with all having varying levels of, and types of, security implementations and ownership.\nThe GAPS thrust will be in isolating the sensitive \u201chigh-risk\u201d transactions and providing what the group calls \u201cphysically provable guarantees\u201d or assurances. A new cross-network architecture, tracking, and data security will be developed that creates \u201cprotections that can be physically enforced at system runtime.\u201d\nHow they intend to do that is still to be decided. Radical forms of VPNs \u2014 an encrypted pipe through the internet would be today\u2019s attempted solution. Whichever method they choose will be part of a $1.5 billion, five-year investment in government and defense electronics systems. And enterprise and the consumer may benefit.\n\u201cAs cloud systems proliferate, most people still have some information that they want to physically track, not just entrust to the ether,\u201d says Walter Weiss, DARPA program manager, in the release.