The defense research agency is developing cloud-based networks that can remain operational even under cyber attack.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

May 17, 2011

3 Min Read

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The research arm of the Department of Defense (DOD) is seeking to develop cloud-computing-based infrastructure that builds resiliency directly into the network to more effectively support military missions.

Through a project called the Mission-oriented Resilient Clouds (MRC) program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aims to build a cloud-based network that will preserve "mission effectiveness" even in the event of a cyber attack, according to an announcement of a Proposer's Day for the project that DARPA is hosting May 26.

The program is a companion to the agency's existing Clean-slate design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts (CRASH) program, which aims to provide security by limiting vulnerabilities in each host of a cloud-computing infrastructure.

The research is aimed at supporting the federal government's cloud-first policy, which is "accelerating DOD toward cloud computing and shared enterprise service," said Dave Mihelcic, the Defense Information Systems Agency's CTO, according to the announcement. U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra mandated the policy in December, requiring federal agencies to identify three existing systems that could move to the cloud and asking them to consider the cloud first when developing new projects.

Because of the nature of its missions and projects, however, the DOD wants to ensure that cloud infrastructure is not only secure but is built to withstand an attack that may take down portions of the network, which is where MRC comes in.

"Today's hosts, of course, are highly vulnerable, but even if the hosts within a cloud are reasonably secure, any residual vulnerability in the hosts will be amplified dramatically," according to DARPA. "DARPA believes that we must not only address host vulnerabilities but must also pursue clean-slate approaches to the design of networked computations and cloud-computing infrastructures."

The announcement does not give many specific details about the program, but said the agency will soon make a broad agency announcement about it on Shortly after, more information about MRC will be available on DARPA's website.

The DOD is the agency responsible for fighting cyberwars in addition to engaging in traditional means of warfare, and is seeking technology to complete this mission more effectively.

The military arm already is making forays into leveraging the cloud. The Army is in the process of migrating a series of disparate e-mail systems to a private cloud hosted by the DISA.

As projects like this and others become more prevalent, the DOD must consider not only security of cloud infrastructure but also resiliency in case of a cyber attack, which is a very real possibility. Gen. Keith Alexander, NSA director and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, has said publicly that 250,000 probes try to find their way into the DOD network every hour.

DARPA aims to explore several means to achieving this goal through the MRC project, including providing redundant hosts, correlating attack information from across the ensemble, and providing for diversity across the network, according to the proposers' day announcement.

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