Titled “Cyber Moonshot: Accelerating Security of Systems with Emerging Technologies (ASSET),” the study will tackle questions of how to implement computer systems that are foundationally secure and significantly difficult to attack.
The ASSET study is being conducted under the umbrella of DARPA’s Information Science and Technology (ISAT) Study Group, a 30-person panel of scientists and engineers whose goal is to identify new areas of development in computer and communication technologies for DARPA.
The study was spurred by Okhravi’s research at Lincoln Laboratory, in collaboration with MIT, into a “cybersecurity moonshot,” a vision to develop a secure-by-design computer. Okhravi previously published an article about this vision in IEEE Security and Privacy magazine.
“ISAT read the article and recognized that this is an important challenge for DARPA,” Okhravi says. “The ASSET study will look into advanced cyber technologies and how DARPA can pave the way for these technologies to make their way into defense systems.”
According to Okhravi, large classes of vulnerabilities still remain in government systems despite decades of research and practice in cybersecurity. The problems are rooted in the inherently insecure design of legacy systems, developed decades ago before the need for security was widely understood. His findings point to three main causes of vulnerabilities: the use of unsafe programming languages, the lack of security checks being performed by computer processors, and the structure of operating systems. Okhravi’s team has been developing technologies to address these issues.
“We have these advanced technologies that exist, but one of the main questions of the study is how they fit together and what challenges exist for practitioners to implement them,” says Okhravi.
Sean Peisert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory joins Okhravi as co-chair. The study will also include approximately 10 other cybersecurity experts spanning academia, industry, and federally funded research and development centers.
At Lincoln Laboratory, Okhravi works in the Secure Resilient Systems and Technology Group, where he actively contributes to strategic planning activities at the laboratory and to national-level research and development roadmaps. He has also led the development of multiple systems security technologies that have successfully transitioned outside of Lincoln Laboratory. Most recently, his work was awarded the 2020 Stratus Award for Cloud Computing.
“For many years I’ve been a big advocate for taking big steps in cybersecurity resilience, and I’m very excited about how this study can impact the future of security practice,” Okhravi says.