DARPA looking for answers to protect wireless defense networks

With the majority of work to develop and mature military wireless networks to date being 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, according to the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA).

With that in mind, DARPA is soliciting research proposals in the area of developing situational awareness within the control plane of wireless networks and fortifying that control against attack or other sources of misinformation.

According to the agency, the focus on efficiency has led to development of protocols that 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,” states DARPA in a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). “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, DARPA believes that 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,” states the BAA. “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, according to DARPA. 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.

The program will consist of three phases, with Phase 1 comprising three technical areas (TAs): TA-1, wireless network vulnerability assessment; TA-2 information reliability estimation; and TA-3, robust network control.

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