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DARPA plans secure Blockchain technologies to create tamper-proof military computer systems

Blockchain is a transformative technology for the two billion people in the world currently underserved by financial institutions. The technology has the potential to enhance privacy, security and freedom of conveyance of data. Blockchain is based on open, global infrastructure, decentralized public ledger of transactions that no one person or company owns or controls, ensures security of transfer of funds through public and private cryptology and third parties to verify that they shook, digitally, on an agreement.


The same technology used for virtual currencies is now being researched by the Department of Defense to create tamper-proof military computer systems, including those systems used to control America’s nuclear weapons. The Department of Defense also looking to blockchain for development of a secure messaging system that would use the standard encryption and security features of current messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, or Ricochet, but also use a decentralized Blockchain-like backbone structure that would be more resilient to surveillance and cyberattacks.


“Technologies for distributed consensus protocols have been revolutionized by their prominent role in cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies. These technologies have dramatic implications for the security and resilience of critical data storage and computation tasks, including for the Department of Defense,” says DARPA.


For military, blockchain technology could create important intelligence around whether a hacker has modified something in a database, or if they are intruding and surveilling a particular military system. As Timothy Booher, who leads the DARPA blockchain efforts, describes the use of blockchains with the analogy of defending a castle. You can build walls higher and higher (i.e. network security measures), but people might still be able to find a way in no matter how well you think you sealed up all the cracks. It’s actually more important to know who has been inside the castle and what they did while inside the walls. A blockchain could log that sort of information, making it considerably harder to steal or modify files in a system.


However, the only way to keep that progress moving along is to continually bring in new developers. To learn more about this technology, a two-day blockchain workshop is scheduled to be hosted by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in February 2019.


In May 2017, DARPA awarded a grant to messaging app Crypto-Chat developer ITAMCO to develop an encrypted, blockchain-based messaging and transaction platform for the U.S. military.

DARPA’s  Permissionless Blockchain Workshop in February 2019

DARPA  released a five-page RFI, which described the areas of “particular interest,” which specifically outlines “‘permissionless’ distributed consensus protocols.” The paper says that these systems are simply protocols “where any individual may join in the computation.”


The report goes on, saying that the field has plenty of research logged. Elaborating, the paper explains that DARPA is looking at “several, less-explored avenues of permissionless distributed consensus protocols.” Permissionless systems are described in the paper as protocols “where any individual may join in the computation.”


The Information Innovation Office (I2O) of DARPA released the report, though they submitted a request for details that covers three topics, though each one will be featured at the workshop.


The first topic involves providing incentive to the distributed consensus protocols but abstaining from using something with monetary value. Instead, they will be offering “various aspects of participation in the protocol” as that incentive. They reference the concept of bitcoin mining as an example of the kind of system they speak on. For this reason, this topic highlights the importance of offering the above-described protocols without the promise of payment.


The second topic of discussion in the RFI, according to the official report, is “Economic-Driven Security Models for Distributed Computation Protocols.” On this subject, the writers of the document request details about the “methods that leverage rigorous economic notions to advance theories of security for distributed, permissionless computation protocols.”


The final topic is “Centralities of Distributed Consensus Protocols,” is primarily brought up out of concern for cybersecurity. Responses for this category are “novel analyses, methods to analyze and/or address the centralization of a distributed consensus protocol,” but also “unintended centralities and/or associated mitigations.”


DARPA awards contract for development of  Blockchain based secure messaging and transaction platform

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has signed another Blockchain innovation deal, this time with Crypto-Chat developer ITAMCO. Under plans published Thursday, ITAMCO will develop a “secure, non-hackable messaging and transaction platform for the U.S. military” after it won the DARPA contract.


“We are excited to work with DARPA to develop the latest in military-grade encryption software using blockchain technology, and look forward to offering an enterprise solution for secure messaging to industry,” director of research and development Joel Neidig said in a press release. The messaging platform will use Blockchain technology to ensure data sent is “virtually hack-proof” by separating message creation from transmission. In practice, its uses will “include the communication of troops on the ground with HQ, or sending information between intelligence officers and the Pentagon.”


Legacy messaging and backoffice infrastructures, traditionally based on centralized, unencrypted hub-and spoke database architecture, are expensive, inefficient, brittle and subject to cyber-attack. The overhead costs of maintaining such architectures is rising rapidly. Many organizations unknowingly keep duplicate information and fail to ensure synchronization thus amplifying the potential for data theft and data corruption/rot.


Incorporating a truly transparent mechanism for conducting journaled transactions enables the DoD to leverage its distributed footprint for a reduction in latency of these transactions, their security and their integrity and assurance. The objective is to create a secure messaging and transaction platform that separates the message creation, from the transfer (transport) and reception of the message using a decentralized messaging backbone to allow anyone anywhere the ability to send a secure message or conduct other transactions across multiple channels traceable in a decentralized ledger.


The messaging platform will transfer messages via a secure decentralized protocol that will be secured across multiple channels, including but not limited to: 1) Transport protocol, 2) Encryption of messages via various application protocols, 3) Customized blockchain implementation of message deconstruction and reconstruction, and decentralized ledger implementation.


With this messaging platform the business logic of the DoD ecosystem would be mapped onto a network of known entities using distributed ledgers. By doing this significant portions of the DoD backoffice infrastructure can be decentralized, ‘smart documents and contracts’ can be instantly and securely sent and received thereby reducing exposure to hackers and reducing needless delays in DoD backoffice correspondance.


As an example, Military Interdepartmental Purchase Requests (MIPR) could be implemented using the secure ledger. Regulators with access to the ledger could read the correspondance and thus easily verify that a MIPR transaction didn’t violate Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). The benefits are broad and could even be applied to domains such as space. With crowded skies it’s important to maintain situational awareness of all satellites and those concerned with space situational awareness/telemetry or air traffic control could instantly share data between nations using a separate but equivalent ledger implementation thus removing questions as to the authenticity and integrity of the data.


The contract includes three phases. The first phase will focus on “creating a model, …experimenting with encryption schemes, evaluating hardware…and defining the product feature set.” Phase two would be testing, and phase three would be implementation.

DARPA awards Galois and Guardtime  $1.8M Contract to Formally Verify Blockchain-Based Integrity Monitoring System

DARPA has also awarded contract to verify the software used to detect advanced persistent threats (APT). APT refer to complex, sophisticated and stealthy techniques of using software, hardware or social engineering tools to continuously monitor and extract data from targets such as organizations and/or nations for business or political motives. One of the earliest example was the Stuxnet computer worm, which targeted the computer hardware of Iran’s nuclear program.


Galois and Guardtime Federal announced they have jointly been awarded a $1.8 million contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to verify the correctness of Guardtime Federal’s Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI). The contract will fund a significant effort that aims to advance the state of formal verification tools and all blockchain-based integrity monitoring systems.


Integrity monitoring systems like Guardtime Federal’s KSI detect evidence of advanced persistent threats (APTs) as they work to remain hidden in networks. APTs undermine the security of networks for long periods of time and have been central in many major network breaches. APTs carefully cover their tracks by removing evidence from system log files, adding information to “white-lists” used by security software, and altering network configurations. This project aims to verify the ability of keyless integrity monitoring systems to detect APTs and attest to the ongoing integrity of a system.


“Guardtime Federal sees this formal verification of block chain and keyless infrastructure technology implemented to meet national security challenges as an amazing opportunity for our clients,” said David Hamilton, President of Guardtime Federal. “By subjecting our cyber defense infrastructure to this most sophisticated methodology we will test both typical and exotic boundary conditions enabling further refinements of our defenses for protecting the most precious national security secrets and configurations of operational systems.”


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