DARPA Investing in Encryption to Secure “Internet of Things”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking information on ways to secure billions of internet-connected devices against futuristic code-breaking tools, according to an Aug. 11 sources-sought notice.

DARPA officials envision a not-too-distant future in which billions, perhaps trillions, of small electronic devices – security cameras, drones, self-driving vehicles, and even household appliances like toasters – are connected over 5G wireless networks. The connectivity of devices forms the basis of what’s known as the “Internet of Things,” or the IoT. Because these devices are simple in terms of built-in computing power, robust encryption is often an afterthought.

To make matters worse, quantum computers will render most forms of conventional cryptography now used to secure data obsolete over the next 15 years, according to experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This raises the risk that billions of devices may be at risk of cyberattack.

“Revolutionary security technologies are needed for IoT devices,” according to the Aug. 11 notice.

DARPA plans to launch a new Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program called Cryptography for Hyper-scale Architectures in a Robust Internet of Things (CHARIOT). The program will focus on prototyping encryption technologies that are “fast, efficient, and quantum-resistant on even the cheapest devices,” according to the document. DARPA officials are especially interested in applications relevant to wearable devices and vehicle-embedded systems.

DARPA officials are accepting proposals for Direct to Phase 2 funding under the SBIR/STTR program, allowing the agency to fast-track investment in promising commercial prototypes. The agency may issue multiple awards, each with a two-year base period of performance and maximum value of $1.5 million, and a 12-month option period worth up to $500,000. The deadline to submit proposals is Sept. 29.

DARPA requested $1.1 billion in unclassified funding for 70 projects related to cryptography or cybersecurity in its fiscal 2021 Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) budget, according to Bloomberg Government’s RDT&E Dashboard. It also requested $171 million for nine projects related to quantum information sciences. DARPA’s total unclassified RDT&E budget request for fiscal 2021 was $3.6 billion.

To contact the analyst on this story: Chris Cornillie in Washington at ccornillie@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Snyder at dsnyder@bgov.com; Jodie Morris at jmorris@bgov.com

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