An Artificial Intelligence navigating the most difficult terrain for DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) computer scientist Mike Walker proved enough to bring the realization of the role that the AI can engage in. Mike Walker says: “this moment, where AI navigated very difficult paths all on its own, was the beginning of belief in the technology community that someday AI would be driving us around”. This was the birth of Stanley, the self-driving car that won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge.
AI navigated Mike Walker, not only through the tough terrain but also to organize and host the Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC) by DARPA. The contest was held on the 4th of August in Las Vegas. The first position was secured by a startup ForAllSecure for building Mayhem, a supercomputer that autonomously would hunt software bugs. With the intention of combing software for bugs, the team associated with Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute won the digital game called “Capture to Flag” against six other supercomputers. This win secured them with a cash prize of $2 million.
Walker says that this contest is primarily organized to encourage construction of bug-hunting bots to secure transactions, and commercial and defence products.
As rightly as he had anticipated before the contest, the contestants, were not any ordinary computers. The supercomputers, standing several feet tall, demanded huge amounts of electricity and water to keep the supercomputers from getting heated up. They were the result of “decades of program analysis science, engineered over two one-year stages of competition”, as said by Walker himself. The fathers of these contestants, all marching to one target of catching bugs, belong to a wide array of professional background: academic pioneers, security industry powerhouses and veterans of the capture-the-flag circuit.
The sets of the game were amusing, simulating a parallel digital universe. The stage was made of 15 chilled air-gapped supercomputers that ran special software. In the centre were eight black-and-white-shirted expert referees monitoring the products of the software.
Walker believes that the innovation demonstrated at the CGC burgeoned out of the Stanley. A technological prototype, Stanley was constructed with a satisfying sense of computing and communication, equipped to drive on the streets and handle the traffic.
Walker did, however, point out the drawback in this competition. The prototypes at the CGC consumed an immense amount of computing power trying to detect security problems, but the catch to be noted is the difference between simulated bugs and the real-world bugs. The main question is: would the prototypes be able to detect the complex real-world bugs, and what is the amount of engineering would be required to tackle these bugs?
Nevertheless, the prototypes that participated in the CGC is definitely perceived as a big leap forward in the need for automated, scalable, machine-speed vulnerability detection and patching, for everything that is bound to the internet domain.
The second place was won by a team called TECHx affiliated to the University of Virginia with a prize of $1 million; the third prize of $750,000 was won by a team of graduate students from the University of California-Santa Barbara.
DARPA director Aarti Prabhakar acknowledged the contribution by each team as a huge step into the collective effort of implementing a safe future for the cyber-communication. “Not invulnerability but we can live in a future where we can get on with the business of insuring the fruits of this phenomenal information revolution that we’re all dependent on today”, she said.
The participation of professional bug hunters and security coders redefining the field of cybersecurity. Imagine the actual contribution of the prototypes and their collaborative effort – the bugs would be all be swept into the trash even before they hit your important digital document.
Mayhem, the name given to the bug-hunter by ForAllSecure, takes the responsibility to work more than its best to counter the potential mayhem by any bug!