Military

DARPA looks to head off threats from off-the-shelf tech

DARPA looks to head off threat...
DARPA Improv is intended to identify potential defense threats from off-the-shelf technology
DARPA Improv is intended to identify potential defense threats from off-the-shelf technology
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DARPA Improv is intended to identify potential defense threats from off-the-shelf technology
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DARPA Improv is intended to identify potential defense threats from off-the-shelf technology

In a world where 3D-printed guns are a reality, security threats are no longer the reserve of a hostile nation's military. With advanced technologies increasingly accessible to groups and individuals, DARPA is initiating a program called "Improv" that's intended to identify and anticipate potential threats from commercially-available off-the-shelf technology.

If you surf the Internet enough, you're bound to come across a story about how an old-fashioned Nokia mobile phone or a simple Casio digital watch still sells in large numbers in some parts of the world despite their being hopelessly obsolete. According to defense analysts, part of the reason for this mysterious popularity, aside from their retro cool, is because they are very good as bomb components for terrorists.

This deadly repurposing illustrates the problem that the United States and other advanced military powers face. The US defense strategy is based on maintaining a technological advantage over potential adversaries, but according to DARPA, off-the-shelf equipment for civilian industries such as transportation, construction, agriculture, and other commercial sectors include a frightening mixture of very advanced technologies that can be turned to nefarious applications.

If you've ever been on an airliner and wondered why your phone's GPS doesn't work, that's because the hardware is programmed to shut down if it thinks it's been installed in a missile. All sorts of devices have similar safeguards or are covered by export restrictions to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, but none of that does any good if the technology isn't recognized as a threat in the first place.

DAPRA's answer is to launch the Improv initiative wherein engineers, biologists, information technologists – experts and hobbyists from many different fields – will look a ways in which off-the-shelf electronics and other components can be converted or combined into potential security threats using rapid prototyping and open-source code.

As part of the process, DARPA says that is will look at each candidate project and the most promising will go on to full development. The goal is to go from submission to full working prototype in 90 days. Depending on results, some may go on to further study.

"DARPA often looks at the world from the point of view of our potential adversaries to predict what they might do with available technology," says program manager John Main. "Historically we did this by pulling together a small group of technical experts, but the easy availability in today's world of an enormous range of powerful technologies means that any group of experts only covers a small slice of the available possibilities. In Improv we are reaching out to the full range of technical experts to involve them in a critical national security issue."

DARPA will provide information to those wishing to propose a project in a Proposers Day webcast on March 29, repeated on March 30.

Source: DARPA

3 comments
Craig Jennings
Thankfully a phone gps still works when you're on the ground so you can get directions to the GUN STORE. But yeah, Guantanamo for those with Casio's and RC hobbyists!!!
Bob Flint
Have we not learned from even the simplest cooking utensil such as a pressure cooker filled with shrapnel?
JA Larson
If the enemy is within the range of your weapons, then you're in the range of his.
Only a matter of time until the Bad Guys use drones against us.
Which is why every developer needs a Red Team to provide input from the OPFOR Point of View.