Seven fully-autonomous computers will face off in a historic battle in Las Vegas early next month, as each try to defend themselves and point out flaws without any human control.
Set for Aug. 4, DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge finals will take place right in the middle of two of the biggest hacking conferences, Blackhat USA and DEFCON, possibly proving that machines can beat even the best human hackers.
“Cyber grand challenge is about bringing autonomy to the cyber domain,” Mike Walker, program manager for the CGC, said in a conference call Wednesday. “What we hope to see is proof that the entire security life cycle can be automated.”
On average, Walker explained, flaws in software go unnoticed for around 312 days — which hackers can often exploit. And then once those flaws are noticed by a human, they need to be understood, patched, and then released out to the broader community.
The CGC aims to turn this cycle on its head, bringing this nearly year-long problem down to something that can be fixed within minutes, or even seconds, automatically.
Seven teams of finalists — with names like “Deep Red” and “Codejitsu” — have been given a DARPA-constructed computer. They needed to program it themselves to be able to recognise and understood previously-undisclosed software, find its flaws, and fix it.
“The machines have to comprehend the language of the software, author the logic for that software, write their own network clients,” Walker said. “And arrive at the path of the new vulnerabilities entirely on their own.”
The challenge is mostly aimed at defence: Having a computer find software flaws quickly, so they can’t be exploited later. But the teams will receive points for going on offence, though there are some controls in place so it doesn’t get out of hand.
“They do go a step further but do not exploit other machines,” Walker told Tech Insider.
While they are scanning their own systems for problems, the machines can also scan the other teams’ systems for issues, but they can’t actually hack them.
Walked likened it to calling your shot in a game of pool, without actually hitting the ball.
Instead, they will send a message of sorts to the DARPA referee, who will then go ahead and see if that exploit is correct, or if what was pointed out could crash the other machine.
The first place team will take home $2 million, while second and third will get $1 million and $750,000, respectively.
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