US Gov't Offers Huge Prize For Best Security Tool |

US Gov't Offers Huge Prize For Best Security Tool

Dennis Faas's picture

The US government says it will pay $2 million to the winner of a network security contest. The winning system will have to be so advanced that it can spot and fix problems before any human can even think of exploiting them.

The contest is the work of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a government agency that works on technology for military purposes. Previously it has run some outlandish projects, such as exploring the way flying snakes stay airborne and developing a robot that can outrun Olympic champion Usain Bolt.

Now, it's unveiled the Cyber Grand Challenge, which aims to automate the way we protect computer networks from attacks. DARPA wants computer experts and enthusiasts to form teams and develop defense systems that can run without the need for human maintenance or intervention.

Grand Final Scheduled For 2016

Teams must first go through a qualifying event where the systems search out problems affecting a test network set up by the military. The teams which do this most efficiently will qualify for a grand final in 2016.

That grand final will feature head-to-head competition between teams. In this scenario the goal won't simply be to spot security flaws, but to actually fix them.

The winning team will get $2 million, with $1 million for the runners-up and $750,000 for the team in third place. (Source:

Winning System Will Have Human Qualities

The organizers say they believe basing the contest around fully automated defense systems will force techies to change the way they design software. In effect, the winning system will feature human-like capabilities, like learning and adapting to changing threats.

The goal is to combine the intuition, reasoning, and creativity of humans with the speed and reliability of computers.

DARPA says it wants to cut the time it takes to issue a patch for newly-discovered security flaws from days to seconds, making it much less likely hackers will have the chance to exploit any flaws on unprotected computers.

The competition format has worked for DARPA before. Around a decade ago it ran a contest for self-driving cars, and while no team completed the course, the work various organizations completed in pursuit of the prize led directly to the creation of Google's first fully automated vehicle. (Source:

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