DARPA, CYBERCOM sign accord expediting cyberwarfare research

by | May 23, 2024

U.S. Cyber Command and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) formalized an agreement this month to accelerate the research and development of advanced cyber warfare technologies within the Department of Defense.

Announced by the two Pentagon agencies this week, the memorandum outlines budgets, roles, and governance structures essential for rapidly transitioning cyber technologies “from the laboratory to the cyber battlefield.”

This accord builds on the joint-agency Constellation cyber prototyping program introduced in 2022, the foundational pilot program of the agreement, aimed at delivering advanced hacking capabilities to American cyberspace combatants.

The move positions DARPA, the research giant specializing in advanced technology for U.S. military capabilities, as the leading entity supplying projects for integration into CYBERCOM’s software suite.

Under the agreement, DARPA will select R&D programs to be executed by the Orion Consortium, a joint group including DARPA contributors and CYBERCOM engineers.

CYBERCOM, one of several unified combatant commands integrating staff from multiple service branches, deployed cyber warriors 22 times to 17 countries in 2023 for “hunt forward” missions to disable global cyber threats, as reported by Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh to a Senate panel in April.

Established nearly 14 years ago, CYBERCOM was created following a 2008 DOD malware infestation linked to Russian operatives, originating from a USB drive, which resulted in a 14-month cleanup operation called Buckshot Yankee. Since then, CYBERCOM has played a significant role in integrating cyber capabilities with traditional military operations, enhancing U.S. digital armaments and surveillance capabilities. Currently, the command comprises approximately 5,000 personnel across more than 130 teams, according to a blog post.

The Pentagon has recently expressed a willingness to offensively disrupt adversaries in cyberspace. In a strategy released last year, it identified China and Russia as top digital adversaries and committed to targeting cybercriminals and other groups that threaten U.S. interests.

CYBERCOM is equipped with advanced hacking capabilities aimed at safeguarding national interests and executing cyber operations, including electronic warfare capabilities and combat mission teams. Additionally, it maintains defensive units dedicated to protecting critical infrastructure and democratic processes, such as elections.

The collaboration has the potential to enhance CYBERCOM's capabilities further. One pilot project associated with the Constellation agreement yielded a prototype within six months, although details on the research's nature or extent were not provided. The project showcased “initial capabilities significantly surpassing its predecessor, laying the groundwork for planned evolutions and integrations in the remaining two and a half years of the initiative,” the two groups noted.


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