DARPA Aims for More Cyberthreat Attribution

May 12, 2016 @ 2:00 PM
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2 min read

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has set out to fund a radical shift in the attribution of cybersecurity threats.

The goal of DARPA’s Enhanced Attribution program is “to develop technologies for generating operationally and tactically relevant information about multiple concurrent independent malicious cyber campaigns.”

Enhancing Attribution

The objective is to not only collect and validate this pertinent information, but also to create “the means to share such information with any of a number of interested parties without putting at risk the sources and methods used for collection.”

DARPA said that the identities of malicious cybercriminals are currently obstructed via the use of multiple layers of indirection. The current characterization of malicious cyber campaigns relies on indicators of compromise (IOC) such as file hashes and command-and-control infrastructure identifiers. Because of this, actors can evade defenses and resume operations by superficially changing their tools, tactics or procedures.

The agency is looking for ways to track people, not just programs. It seeks technologies that will extract behavioral and physical biometrics from a large range of devices and vantage points to identify operators across different devices and infrastructures.

DARPA’s Three Phases

The intended program is divided into three technical areas (TA) that will be working in parallel with each other. They will span three 18-month phases, after which the agency will step in to garner quality results without losing control over how the attribution is sourced.

DARPA explained that “TA1 performers will develop technologies for network behavior and activity tracking and summarization,” while “TA2 performers will develop technologies for fusion of TA1-generated data and for predictive analysis of malicious cyber operator activities.”

TA3 will focus on enriching the data collected with more publicly available information. Then things get slightly more complicated since the government will create a public-facing profile for the cyberthreats without revealing sources or methods.

So TA1 gets down and dirty with data collection, TA2 makes operational sense of it all and TA3 cleans it up so it can be released publicly.

Research proposals are due to DARPA on June 7, 2016. It’s expected that the program will start in November 2016.

Larry Loeb
Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE mag...
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