Security Experts:

DARPA Wants Hardware With Built-in Security

DARPA seeking solutions for more secure hardware

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced this week a new program that aims to develop a framework for building hack protections directly into hardware.

The agency pointed out that the integrated circuits found in many devices often have vulnerabilities that can be exploited with software exploits, and software patches represent only a temporary solution.

As part of a new 39-month program named System Security Integrated Through Hardware and Firmware (SSITH), DARPA hopes to receive proposals for new chip architectures which would disarm software attacks that leverage hardware flaws.

The SSITH project focuses on two main technical areas: developing a secure hardware architecture and tools to help manufacturers take advantage of security innovations, and identifying a methodology and metrics for determining the security status of new systems.

Some chip makers, such as Intel, have already been integrating various protections into their products, but DARPA wants design tools that would be widely available, leading to built-in security becoming a standard for integrated circuits used in U.S. Department of Defense and commercial systems.

DARPA said proposals should address one or more of the seven hardware vulnerability classes in the Common Weaknesses Enumeration (CWE) list. These include code injections, permissions and privileges, buffer errors, information leakage, resource management, numeric errors, and cryptographic issues.

The agency pointed out that more than 2,800 incidents have involved one of these vulnerabilities, and SSITH program manager Linton Salmon, of DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office, believes more than 40 percent of software weaknesses can be addressed by removing these types of flaws.

“Security for electronic systems has been left up to software until now, but the overall confidence in this approach is summed up in the sardonic description of this standard practice as ‘patch and pray,’” said Salmon “This race against ever more clever cyberintruders is never going to end if we keep designing our systems around gullible hardware that can be fooled in countless ways by software.”

Experts interested in submitting a proposal can learn more about the project and have the opportunity to team up with others on Friday, April 21, 2017, at the Booz Allen Hamilton Conference Center.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.