DARPA Pursues Blockchain Use Case Solutions

Image Source: spectrum.ieee.org

“DARPA also has been trying to develop an unhackable code—which blockchain could facilitate—because the technology offers intelligence on hackers who try to break into secure databases.”—DoD

At the end of WWII, the U.S. and the USSR became engaged in a Cold War that would last some 40 years. While not fighting with guns and missiles, nonetheless—the West, including NATO, was engaged in an arms race and espionage with the Soviet Union and her satellite countries like Cuba.

In October of 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1. In response to that event, in February of 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) as an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for use at universities and research laboratories in the U.S.

Image Source: space.com – Sputnik 1

ARPA created the ARPANET in the mid 60’s—the grandfather of what is now the Internet. In 1971 ARPA’s name was changed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Today—DARPA’s mission is to “try out new technologies and make them operationally ready, if possible, and to reach beyond current military technology to do something new.” (Space.com)

While the U.S. is the most technically advanced country in the world today, some may think it is lagging when it comes to adoption of blockchain. Andrew Singer, writing for Cointelegraph, provides a review of the challenges that lay before the U.S.

Blockchain Adoption by China and Russia

Citing Deloitte’s 2019 Insight Global Blockchain Survey, Singer noted that—China, more than any other country, plans to use blockchain. Moreover, statements from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has given the West some reason for concern. According to Singer in 2018, the “PLA described how the technology behind Bitcoin could have military applications, including in its intelligence operations and in protecting weapon life-cycle data from cyberattacks.”

Russia, over two years ago, announced in Tass that “blockchain technology might soon be introduced into the Russian military.” However, they will be more cautious and slower to development until they can mitigate or remove all risks, adds Singer.

Blockchain Adoption by South Korea and India

South Korea and India are also looking at blockchain. This past spring, South Korea’s defense department “announced a blockchain pilot program to prevent external tampering with its military supply chain.” Singer quotes Kim Tae-gon—Korean National Defense Agency—referring to blockchain as “one of the core technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

In India, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh says that India is undergoing “a churning to cope and employ these technologies, in order to safeguard the safety and security of critical infrastructure.”

Clearly—our friends and foes are looking to blockchain to solve issues of national security and defense.

 

The U.S. will no longer lag. Singer quoted Jahara W. Matisek, assistant professor of military and strategic studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy: “If we do not take precautions in keeping with the pace of the times, we will be subject to control everywhere.”

 

U.S. Defense Department to Research Blockchain

In a recent article published in The Sociable, Pat Rabbitte  explored the interests that DARPA has in blockchain. DARPA is looking to blockchain technology as a way to secure military communications.

According to a DoD report, “Digital Modernization Strategy” (July 2019), writes Rabbitte, DARPA “is starting to experiment with blockchain to create a more efficient, robust and secure platform using a blockchain protocol that will allow personnel from anywhere to transmit secure messages or process transactions that can be traced through numerous channels of a decentralized ledger.”

The goal is to use blockchain in a number of ways. This will include facilitating communication between military units and headquarters, and transmitting data between intelligence officers and the Pentagon. The report also acknowledges that blockchain technology can be used to gather intelligence on hackers attempting to break into secure databases. With this in mind, DARPA is set on developing an “unhackable code”—using blockchain technology.

The report has identified a key advantage of blockchain technology: “Blockchain networks are trustless and transparently secure.” Moreover, it recognizes that blockchain networks are fault tolerant, thus reducing the probability of a system compromise.

Blockchain Network Resilience

Of interest to DARPA is the ability to have secure communication and database systems. Rabbitte notes that in addition to commercial networks suffering from hackers, so too the DoD has experienced hacking. Thus—DARPA has an interest in blockchain to overcome these obstacles. Rabbitte noted the following breach examples.

Data Breaches

    • The Pentagon: Records of 30,000 intelligence workers were breached in 2018.
    • U.S. military immigrant recruits: In 2017 records related to U.S. military immigrant recruits were compromised.
    • Capital One: Not defense related, but worthy of noting, a recent occurrence of 100 million customer records were breached.

The “world’s best known blockchain network” example of cryptocurrency is Bitcoin. In the ten years of its existence, it has never been compromised or taken off-line. And—this has gotten the attention of DoD officials.

 

Bitcoin has been around for more than 10 years.  Despite it being under constant attack from various bad actors over the course of that decade, it has never once been compromised or taken offline.

There is no doubt that such network resilience is of interest to DARPA. The agency recognizes the ability of blockchain technology to secure data storage: “These technologies have dramatic implications for the security and resilience of critical data storage and computation tasks, including for the Department of Defense.”

Conclusion

We’ve come full circle from 1969 when ARPA tested the first transmission of a text message on ARPANET—developed by the DoD and DARPA.  With the current state of national bad actors and the need to protect American interests, DARPA is once again doing what is does best: developing technology that rarely anyone knows about for years to come.

David L. Norquist, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense, has “set out as the cornerstone for advancing the digital environment of the US military—and thus, bringing about competitive advantage in the modern battlespace.”

 


 

Samuel H. is an author, writer and speaker with over twenty years in the educational technology sector.

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