DARPA Is Weaponizing Virtual Reality For Cyber War

DARPA Is Weaponizing Oculus Rift For Cyber War


Andy Greenberg has an online article in this morning’s (May 23, 2014) Wired.com, with the title above. Mr. Greenberg writes that, “for the past two years, DARPA has been working to make waging cyber war — as easy as playing a video game.” “On Wednesday,” he notes, “DARPA showed off its latest demos for Plan X, a long-standing software platform designed to unify digital attack and defense tools into a single, easy-to-use interface for American military hackers. And for the last few months: that program has had a new toy. The agency is experimenting with using Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset — to give cyber warriors a new way to visualize three-dimensional network simulations — in some cases with the goal of better targeting for them to attack.”

“You’re not on a two-dimensional view, so you can look around the data. You look to your left, look to your right, and see different subsets of information,” DARPA’s Plan X Program Manager Frank Pound told Wired in an interview.

“In its demo setup,” Mr. Greenberg, describes a “two, motion-sensing Razer Hydra controllers for navigation, — the user does more than [just] swim.” Indeed, he adds that DARPA’s proof-of-concept begins with a collection of “missions,” to choose from, each of which is represented by a spherical network of computers. Select one, and you’re presented with a planned series of actions to carry out-like scanning a certain network, or probing target endpoints for vulnerabilities — and a collection of tools to use, represented by different abstract icons. Then you’re thrown into the network to carry out the mission, while the enemy launches attacks like distributed-denial-of-service bombardments back at the user.”

“If all of that seems more than a little contrived,” writes Mr. Greenberg, “Pound admits that the Oculus demo is only a “notional” proof-of-concept, created by San Francisco design firm Frog Design, and the Austin-based simulation software company – Intific. But,” he adds, “DARPA is serious about integrating the virtual-reality headset into its plans. DARPA has shown Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff the Oculus Rift in private demonstrations; and, it will be experimenting further with the second developer version of the device — set to be released this summer.”

“If Plan X’s Oculus software ever reaches the eyeballs of actual soldiers,” notes Mr. Greenberg, “a development that DARPA says is still years away — Pound doesn’t deny that the interface would be used for actual offensive hacking as well as defense and reconnaissance. Like the rest of Plan X, he says, it’s meant to be a simpler and more intuitive way for the U.S. Cyber Command, and other military hackers to visualize everything they do in their cyber war operations.” “Think of Plan X like an aircraft carrier,” says Pound. “It can carry any weapon system or capability.”

“That sort of admission will no doubt set off alarm bells for critics of the American military’s increasingly aggressive posture on the Internet,” argues Mr. Greenberg. “The revelation in 2012 that the U.S. created the Iran-targeted Stuxnet malware; and, a year of Edward Snowden’s leaks have already demonstrated that the NSA engages in more advanced cyber attack operations — than practically any country on the planet (how does he know that?). Enabling American hackers to launch those attacks — with a tool that’s literally designed for video games — could be seen as an encouragingly brazen attitude towards cyber war, disconnecting it from reality of its consequences. But, DARPA’s Pound counters that safeguards against reckless hacking will be built into Plan X, and that it may actually reduce collateral damage from military cyber attacks — by allowing soldiers to better understand the networks they are attacking.”

“Say we want to turn out the lights in some place where we have boots on the ground; but, it’s on a subnet connected to a hospital,” Pound said. “We want to war-game that kind of situation with high assurance, to be able to tell the commander that you can use this capability — in this manner — and you’ll have a 99.99 percent chance of not failing…The Oculus works hand-in-hand with that war-gaming technology.”

“DARPA’s Plan X, a massive project that includes contractor giants like Raytheon BBN and Northrup Grumman, is designed to produce new interfaces that make cyber war operations accessible to its growing number of less-technical cyber security recruits. After all,” notes Mr. Greenberg, “the Pentagon is currently working to hire thousands of digital warriors to fill out its ranks, and many of them may not be familiar with using a command line, let alone writing code. “The genre of people that Cyber Command are working to recruit are fresh out of high school, or college,” said Pound. “They’re going to grow up on Oculus — on their head. We want to adapt to provide that kind of interface.”

This is really a fascinating part of the cyber war-gaming and this kind of technology holds great promise for the future ability of both the offensive and defensive sides of cyber, as well as war-gaming a potential cyber deterrent decision-tree. This kind of technology can also hold great promise across a wide spectrum of disciplines — medicine, fantasy and entertainment, law enforcement, etc. It is eye-watering and awesome. What are our adversaries, peers, and near-peers up to — in this domain? Are we way ahead, treading water, or behind in some cases? V/R, RCP


  1. Reblogged this on theThumpHouse.


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