Defense Dept. wants your help in imagining the worst

U.S. seeks ideas from professionals to hobbyists on use of available technologies in terror attacks

Uncle Sam wants your brain power, technical expertise and imagination to help defend the U.S. No enlistment required.

The Department of Defense says it needs to understand how everyday objects and available technologies can be used by terrorists.

The range of technologies is so vast that the military's main scientific agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), says it needs input from as many technical people as possible.

The agency has put out an open call for anyone from a credentialed professional to "skilled hobbyist" in all technical areas, including IT.

DARPA, in its announcement, wants people to show it "how easily-accessed hardware, software, processes and methods might be used to create products or systems that could pose a future threat."

This effort is being called "Improv" by DARPA.

"The U.S. government is concerned about the use of new technologies, which may threaten the safety and security of our citizens," said Darren Hayes, an assistant professor and director of cybersecurity at Pace University's Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems in New York.

Examples include the release of blueprints for manufacturing a gun using a 3D printer, said Hayes. A drone has been used to transport drugs across the border, and hacking Internet of Things technologies such as medical devices and thermostats is now commonplace, said Hayes.

Websites such as a Shodan, which can expose IoT connections, "clearly demonstrate how vulnerable many of these devices" are, said Hayes.

"It's important to encourage young, tech-savvy people to identify how the latest technologies may be misused," said Hayes.

i want you - Uncle Sam

In an earlier time, DARPA pulled together small groups of technical experts to help it see how potential adversaries might use available technology.

But today, "the easy availability in today's world of an enormous range of powerful technologies means that any group of experts only covers a small slice of the available possibilities," said John Main, who is heading the program for DARPA, in a statement.

"In Improv we are reaching out to the full range of technical experts to involve them in a critical national security issue," said Main.

DARPA is scheduling a "Proposers Day" webcast on March 29. The government is seeking ideas that may lead to projects it can fund.

The need to use wide-ranging expertise and imagination to safeguard the U.S. been cited time and again, particularly since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"We need to imagine the worst in order to prevent it," wrote U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), in his recently released book, Failures of Imagination (Crown Forum, 2016). The novel describes events such as a strike to knock out leadership at the U.S. Capitol and the impact of a cyber-attack on financial systems, among other major terror incidents.

Criminal syndicates are also relying more on technology, writes Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings Institution security researcher. She warns that "new radical remote-warfare" is on the way, not only to smuggle drugs but "to deliver lethal action against their enemies."

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