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DARPA’s advance research arm building virtual Internet to battle cyber attacks

June 23, 2011


The Pentagon’s advanced research branch is working on a virtual version of the Internet to further the U.S.’s resistance against cyber attacks. According to Reuters, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, more commonly known as DARPA, is setting up something called the National Cyber Range. The National Cyber Range would be a virtual “testbed” to simulate a mini-Internet. Officials could use it to test virtual cyber-warfare games that experiment with different computer-generated-attack situations.

DARPA, the same agency that started that whole Internet thing in the 1960s, created the National Cyber Range project to make it simple to create different scenarios, combine those scenarios, and ultimately test any potential situations that may have to be dealt with on the real Internet. The purpose is to test things like network protocols as well as satellite and radio frequency communications. One of the main goals is to be able to run top secret and unclassified experiments one after the other in a matter of days, rather than weeks, which is how long it currently takes. DARPA would need a system capable of completely resetting after an experiment and literally losing all the data for a clean start.

DARPA contracted two organizations to work on the early development plans for the system. The first company is Lockheed Martin Corp who was awarded a $30.8 million contract in 2010 to continue building on a prototype. The second organization is Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, which was signed on to a $24.7 million contract in early 2010.

The two organizations are renowned in their fields, but DARPA will be choosing just one of them this summer to operate the prototype of the system on a one-year trial. If the trial goes well, DARPA will then train people in the U.S. military’s Cyber Command, known as “cyberwarriors.” It should be up and running by the middle of 2012.

The system’s cost is estimated at about $130 million, but, after all the cyber attacks we’ve seen lately, it’s no wonder DARPA has something in the works. President Barack Obama has asked Congress for more than $250 million in funding for DARPA’s cyber projects in the next year, which is more than double what he asked for in 2011.

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