Vencore Labs, has been selected for award of a $3.4 million contract by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to protect wireless networks and the critical data that is shared over them against malicious attacks and/or technical compromises.
DARPA’s Wireless Network Defense (WND) program
The majority of work to develop and mature military wireless networks to date has focused on efficiency and stability in benign conditions. Insufficient attention has been paid to identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities arising from the new features being added to make these networks more efficient.
Unfortunately, because of the focus on efficiency, the protocols that have been developed implicitly trust all information shared about the state of the nodes and the larger network. Consequently, when the information that is shared among these nodes is bad, the network quickly becomes unusable.
In particular, the protocols that have been developed for military wireless networks require the nodes in the network to coordinate among themselves to manage their resources (e.g., spectrum, time, and power) and also to organize themselves in order to provide the functionality necessary to deliver data efficiently.
To meet that objective, the nodes must share information about their state and the state of the world around them, and do so in a way that is not wasteful of the precious network capacity intended for user data. With the shared information, the network nodes make decisions about configuration details such as which frequencies to use, which node gets to transmit when, and to which node(s) to forward data when a direct path to the destination does not exist.
These are protocols that determine how the physical channels are used in order to provide a useful network to the devices and people using the wireless network.
As the use of wireless systems expands, the likelihood of network compromise (whether maliciously or by unwitting misconfiguration) will increase. Beyond the conventional node-by-node security in use today, a set of network-based checks are needed to ensure that misinformation inserted into the control protocols does not disable the network functionality.
While this concern is particularly important to the class of emerging wireless mesh networks, it is also relevant to other topologies, such as hub-spoke, which are evolving to include self-organizing network technologies.
Acknowledging that the network can be compromised, the Wireless Network Defense program will develop and demonstrate new technology for robustly controlling wireless networks. This program will not create a new communications waveform nor develop a new tactical radio.
Instead, the technology will be developed in such a way as to enable improvement in the robustness of the class of wireless networks that are being procured and fielded in the near future, and also to provide a reliable foundation on which to build the subsequent generation of wireless systems.
– Dr. Wayne Phoel, Program Manager at DARPA
This work is the third and final phase of DARPA’s Wireless Network Defense (WND) program. Vencore Labs was also an awardee on the first two phases, which were focused on technology development during Phase 1 and on applying these technologies to heterogeneous wireless networks that are relevant to the U.S. military in Phase 2.
Phase 3 will focus on validating these technologies on military radios and demonstrating their effectiveness.
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“Protecting wireless networks against attacks so that critical information can be properly, securely and effectively routed is a complex problem that requires a deep understanding of the functioning of wireless protocols” said Petros Mouchtaris, Ph.D., president of Vencore Labs.
“Vencore Labs has decades of experience in working with these types of networks and finding solutions for the types of issues that they present.”
Vencore Labs intends to deliver a wireless defense framework that is robust in the face of attacks, has a very high accuracy rate, and imposes very little overhead on the network. It aims to manage cost by providing a solution that incorporates existing hardware and equipment.
Vencore Labs’ approach is notable in that its output will be applicable to multiple network technologies and be able to protect these disparate networks using a common defensive framework.
In support of the WND program, Vencore Labs is bringing to bear its diverse strengths that span wireless network protocols, cyber security, and data analytics, in order to develop techniques that detect and mitigate the impact of attacks on wireless network elements.
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