DARPA Announces Cyber Grand Challenge Finalists

The Challenge is designed to speed the development of automated security systems that can defend against cyberattacks as fast as they are launched. The winners will compete head to head next August in Las Vegas for nearly $4 million in prizes.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, recently announced the seven teams that are finalists in its Cyber Grand Challenge, a first-of-its-kind tournament designed to speed the development of automated security systems that can defend against cyberattacks as fast as they are launched. The winners will compete head to head next August in Las Vegas for nearly $4 million in prizes.

A total of 104 teams had registered registered in 2014 for the competition, and 28 of them survived two DARPA-sponsored dry runs and into last month's CGC Qualifying Event, the first CTF played solely by machines and took place at a speed and scale at which only machines can compete. "In that contest, teams tested the high-performance computers they had built and programmed to play a round of 'capture the flag'—a game that experts use to test their cyber defense skills," according to DARPA's news release, which said the CGC final event will take place in conjunction with DEF CON.

"After two years of asking 'What if?' and challenging teams around the world with a very difficult series of preliminary events, we've shown that there is a place for computers in an adversarial contest of the mind that until now has belonged solely to human experts," said Mike Walker, DARPA program manager. "As we had hoped when we launched this competition, the winning teams reflect a broad array of communities—academic pioneers of the field, security industry powerhouses, and veterans of the CTF circuit, each of which brings to CGC its own strengths."

Most competitors entered on an open track available to self-funded teams, while seven teams participated on a funded track with DARPA support. The three funded-track teams heading to the CGC finals are: CodeJitsu (Berkeley, Calif.), which is affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley; ForAllSecure (Pittsburgh, Pa.), a startup founded by a team of computer security researchers from Carnegie Mellon University; and TECHx (Charlottesville, Va.), consisting of software analysis experts from GrammaTech, Inc. and the University of Virginia.

The four winning open-track teams are: CSDS (Moscow, Idaho), a professor and post-doctoral researcher from the University of Idaho; DeepRed (Arlington, Va.), a team of engineers from the Raytheon Company; disekt (Athens, Ga.); and Shellphish (Santa Barbara, Calif.), a group of computer science graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Each qualifying team will receive $750,000 to help them prepare over the next 13 months for the CGC final competition, and they can access a specialized IT infrastructure, a "digital arena" in which they can practice and refine their systems against dummy opponents that DARPA is providing. "For its part, DARPA is developing custom data visualization technology to make it easy for spectators—both a live audience and anyone watching the event's video stream worldwide—to follow the action in real time during the final contest," according to the agency.

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