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DARPA’s SHARE Program: Revolutionizing Secure Communication at the Tactical Edge

Introduction

In an era where communication is the backbone of successful military operations, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has embarked on a groundbreaking initiative to ensure robust and secure data sharing among U.S. forces and allied partners at the tactical edge. Through its Secure Handhelds on Assured Resilient networks at the tactical Edge (SHARE) program, DARPA has pioneered the development of cutting-edge technologies that promise to reshape the landscape of secure communication. In this article, we delve into the details of the SHARE program, exploring the transformative technologies of Named Data Networking (NDN) and Digital Rights Management (DRM), and their far-reaching implications for military operations.

The SHARE Program’s Vision

Launched in the fall of 2017, the SHARE program emerged from the critical need to establish dependable communication channels that transcend the limitations of traditional infrastructure.

Prior to SHARE, existing security and networking architectures often relied on fixed data centers, leading to fragile connections that were susceptible to disruptions. DARPA recognized the necessity for a more resilient and adaptable approach.

The program’s primary objective was to develop and integrate software and networking technologies that would facilitate secure and resilient information sharing among military end-users. This involved collaboration with various military stakeholders to ensure that the technology met their operational needs effectively. The program also embraced rapid commercial development, security, and operations (DevSecOps) models to expedite the transition of new technology into the hands of operational personnel.

Secure Communication at the Tactical Edge: Strategies, Innovations, Threat Mitigation, and Advanced Technologies

Named Data Networking (NDN): A Paradigm Shift in Data Routing

At the core of the SHARE program lies Named Data Networking (NDN), an ingenious departure from conventional routing methods. Unlike traditional node-centric approaches, NDN centers around the data itself. Each piece of data is assigned a unique name, akin to a web address, making data retrieval more efficient and secure. This approach brings several compelling advantages to the table:

  1. Enhanced Security: NDN’s data-centric architecture offers inherent security benefits. Instead of targeting nodes, adversaries would need to intercept specific data flows, a significantly more challenging task.
  2. Data Caching for Efficiency: NDN encourages data caching at various points along the network path. This minimizes redundant data transfers, optimizing network efficiency and reducing latency.
  3. Improved Scalability: With the rise of IoT and edge computing, NDN’s approach aligns well with the demand for efficient data-centric communication.

Digital Rights Management (DRM): Safeguarding Data Access and Usage

In tandem with NDN, the SHARE program integrates Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology to secure data access and usage. DRM introduces precise controls over who can access and utilize digital content, ensuring that sensitive information remains in the hands of authorized users. Key benefits of DRM include:

  1. Granular Access Control: DRM empowers administrators to exert granular control over data access, a critical requirement in military operations where classified information must be meticulously guarded.
  2. Preserving Data Integrity: DRM employs encryption and digital signatures to guarantee data integrity, thwarting unauthorized tampering during transmission and storage.
  3. Dynamic Permissions: Flexibility is paramount in the ever-evolving landscape of tactical operations. DRM accommodates this by enabling dynamic permission adjustments based on shifting circumstances and user roles.
  4. Accountability through Audit Trails: DRM systems often provide an audit trail, recording access instances and actions. This accountability bolsters compliance and prevents misuse.

The Synergy of NDN and DRM

The confluence of NDN and DRM within the SHARE program yields a formidable synergy. NDN’s data-centric routing fortifies data availability while minimizing vulnerabilities, complemented by DRM’s robust access control mechanisms. Together, these technologies forge a communication framework that’s both resilient and adaptable to the dynamic conditions of tactical operations.

A Promising Future

The SHARE program has successfully completed two phases of development. In the third phase, the program is testing the SHARE platform in a variety of operational scenarios. The program is expected to complete in 2024. The SHARE performer for the third and final phase of the program was Two Six Technologies, teamed with Eucleo Software Corporation and MAPPS, Inc.

Here are some of the benefits of the SHARE program:

  • Improved security: NDN and DRM can help to protect sensitive data from being intercepted or disrupted by adversaries.
  • Increased resilience: The SHARE platform can continue to operate even in the face of disruptions, such as network outages or jamming.
  • Improved efficiency: The SHARE platform can help to reduce the number of devices and systems that warfighters need to carry, which can improve their mobility and agility.
  • Enhanced interoperability: The SHARE platform can be used to exchange data between different types of devices and systems, which can improve interoperability between different military forces.

Before SHARE, security and networking architectures for tactical communications between U.S. and coalition forces were often brittle and required end-to-end connections to large, fixed data centers. Our performer teams developed new technology based on routing individually secured data packets and created software to rapidly configure user devices operating on any type of network, whether commercial Wi-Fi, cellular, or military networks. This new paradigm for sharing data at the tactical edge reduces reliance on fixed infrastructure and enables secure, resilient communications at various data sensitivity levels between handheld devices. The outstanding support and integration with operational users in the tech development process was critical to demonstrating capabilities at scale and applying commercial, end-user informed DevSecOps concepts to a military R&D project. SHARE built on process lessons learned from industry and tech from previous DARPA programs such as Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR) and Transformative Applications (TransApps) to create a breakthrough capability for secure data sharing at the tactical edge.”— Mary Schurgot, SHARE program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office

As the SHARE program transitions to the Defense Department’s TAK Product Center in 2023, its legacy is poised to reshape the way military personnel communicate and collaborate.

With the imminent release of TAK 5.0, operational personnel, alongside allied mission partners, are on the brink of experiencing the tangible benefits of secure and efficient communication in contested environments.

Conclusion

DARPA’s SHARE program stands as a testament to the agency’s unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of technology for the betterment of military operations. By introducing Named Data Networking and Digital Rights Management, DARPA has unlocked new horizons in secure communication at the tactical edge. The fusion of these technologies not only bolsters data security but also empowers operational personnel with efficient and resilient communication tools. As SHARE’s impact reverberates across military endeavors, it underscores the transformational potential of innovation in shaping the future of secure data sharing.

 

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