DARPA: hackers can help protect U.S. cyber infrastructure

Pigs may never fly, but the U.S. Department of Defense is hoping white hats will work for the federal government. The group’s DARPA branch said it would welcome oft-maligned hackers to chip in and help protect the U.S. from the growing threat of cyber warfare.

The surprising request came during DARPA’s Colloquium on Future Directions in Cyber Security conference. DARPA Director Regina Dugan called for “visionary hackers” to answer the cyber call of duty, reported Reuters on Monday.

“Modern warfare will demand the effective use of cyber, kinetic and combined cyber and kinetic means,” said Dugan. “Malicious cyber attacks…are a real threat to our physical systems, including our military systems.”

To ensure such threats are met with an aggressive defense by the best of the best, DARPA requested $208 million in funding for 2012 – or $88 million more than it received in 2011.

“We are shifting our investments to activities that promise more convergence with the threat and that recognize the needs of the Department of Defense,” explained Dugan. Despite the rising cost and complexity of cyber defense infrastructure, she pointed out that viruses and malware have become simpler and require fewer lines of code to do considerable damage.

Dugan didn’t specify whether any specific country (or countries) inspired her talk. But recent cyber attacks originating from China were likely strong motivators.

In February, a grand Chinese cyber heist employed a virus dubbed “Night Dragon” to steal data from several Western energy companies. Chinese hackers also targeted Canada and South Korea, the latter security breach affecting some 35 million people.

A WikiLeaks cable published last year alleged the Chinese government was behind a Google server hack that compromised sensitive email information and has spied on American businesses’ online operations for nearly a decade.

Dugan said DARPA needs to address Internet-based espionage with “more and better options,” not by “throwing bodies or buildings at the challenges of cyberspace.”

“DARPA’s role in the creation of the internet means we were party to the intense opportunities it created and share in the intense responsibility of protecting it,” she said. “Our responsibility is to acknowledge and prepare to protect the Nation in this new environment.” (via Naked Security)