December 29, 2017

DARPA Grants $3.6 Million For An ‘Unhackable Computer’ Under Development

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States which is responsible for the development of various emerging technologies for the use of military has granted $3.6 million to a team at the University of Michigan as a part of a program called System Security Integrated through Hardware and Firmware (SSITH) to create an unhackable computer by turning computer circuits into unsolvable puzzles.


Named as MORPHEUS, the development team of the university chose a different approach to the cybersecurity. Most of the current hardware vulnerabilities that are already known are fixed by software patches by following the “patch and pray” model and which is not ideal. The MORPHEUS project focuses on removing the hardware vulnerabilities that hackers require to make a cyber attack. The seven classes of hardware weaknesses that DARPA aims to eliminate in the next five years are permissions and privileges, buffer errors, resource management, information leakage, numeric errors, crypto errors, and code injection.

“Instead of relying on software Band-Aids to hardware-based security issues, we are aiming to remove those hardware vulnerabilities in ways that will disarm a large proportion of today’s software attacks,” said Linton Salmon, manager of DARPA’s System Security Integrated Through Hardware and Firmware program.

MORPHEUS is also aimed to build a hardware that could protect both software and hardware by using a technology that changes the location of a bug and passwords randomly so that an attacker won’t find the exact location of the bug and the data. Even if the hackers could manage to find the location of the data, they would have to cross additional layers of security measures such as encryption and domain enforcement making it hard to perform an attack as they won’t have time to exploit the bug and enough resources.

“We are making the computer an unsolvable puzzle,” said Austin, the professor of computer science and engineering at U-M who is also leading this project. “It’s like if you’re solving a Rubik’s Cube and every time you blink, I rearrange it.”

MORPHEUS is one of the nine projects that DARPA is funding under SSITH. DARPA announced $50 million for the research and development of cybersecurity solutions that would be baked into hardware.



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