The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is encouraging the technology community to come up with ways of turning everyday electronics into weapons. The initiative, called Improv, aims to explore, understand and prepare for how household technology could potentially be made lethal by hackers and adversaries.
For the project, Darpa is welcoming technical specialists, researchers, developers and "skilled hobbyists" to propose how readily-available electronics could be weaponised to "threaten current military operations, equipment, or personnel". Specifically, off-the-shelf components, which can be employed in physical weapons as well as the number of IoT devices now found around the home that can be breached are being focused upon. In doing so, the agency hopes it will be able to develop countermeasures to stop increasingly sophisticated commercial technology being used against the military in conflicts.
The agency says in its guidelines: "The technology scope of Improv is broad.... Proposers are free to reconfigure, repurpose, program, reprogram, modify, combine, or recombine commercially available technology in any way within the bounds of local, state, and federal laws and regulations".
The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices entering workplaces, households and roadways poses a high security risk. From self-driving cars that, if hacked, could be a severe terrorist threat to security webcams, smart thermostats and even smartphone-controlled kitchen applicances offer malicious attackers opportunity to gather intelligence or take control of. While you're unlikely to be physically attacked by your toaster anytime soon, if it's connected to the internet it is a potential entry point to your home network.
Proposals from participants that grab Darpa's interest will then be asked to build prototype of their device – funded by the agency – some of which will then be selected for evaluation. For the devices that are deemed a legitimate threat, Darpa will use as part of its efforts for developing new counter-measures against the growing threat of improvised weapons.
Darpa's Improv initiative is open to registration until 21 March, with a "Proposer's Day" webcast taking place on March 29 and March 30 during which applicants can put forward their ideas.