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NEWS
Finalist Team Will Compete In $4M Cybersecurity Competition
August 11, 2015

Four University of Virginia (U.Va.) computer scientists from the School of Engineering and Applied Science are on one of seven finalist teams that will compete in a $4 million cyber security competition sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which looks for breakthrough technologies that can be used in national defense. The final competition will be held in August 2016 in Las Vegas, in conjunction with DEF CON, the world’s largest annual hacker convention.

The U.Va. contingent – computer science professor Jack Davidson, research scientist Michele Co and senior scientists Jason Hiser and Anh Nguyen-Tuong – partnered with software analysis experts from GrammaTech Inc. of Ithaca, New York, a developer of software assurance tools and advanced cybersecurity solutions, to build a fully automatic system to thwart cyber attacks.

In the first round of the competition, the competitors had to build a supercomputer that could rapidly analyze software, identify security holes in the software and then patch these holes, all without human intervention.

In the final round, each team will attempt to breach other competitors’ defenses.

Of the 104 international teams that originally registered in 2014, 28 survived two DARPA-sponsored dry runs and made it into June’s qualifying event. In that contest, teams tested the high-performance computers they had built and programmed in a round of “capture the flag,” a game experts use to test their cyber defense skills. These games require competitors to reverse-engineer software created by contest organizers and locate and heal its hidden weaknesses in networked competition.

Davidson said his team had been working on cyber security since 2001, receiving research contracts from agencies such the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency. The U.Va. team and GrammaTech had just completed a project for the latter agency when the DARPA competition was announced.

DARPA believes the final round of competitors brings diversity and a new approach to the cybersecurity field.

Each qualifying team will receive $750,000 to help them prepare for the final competition. They will have the opportunity to access a specialized IT infrastructure, a “digital arena” in which they can practice and refine their systems against dummy opponents that DARPA is providing. For its part, DARPA is developing custom data visualization technology to make it easy for spectators – both a live audience and anyone watching the event’s video stream worldwide – to follow the action in real time during the final contest next year.

The winning team will receive $2 million. Second place will earn $1 million; third place, $750,000.

This article reprinted from materials provided by the University of Virginia.


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