DARPA: The Defense Department’s IoT Lab

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According to Gartner, Inc., an estimated 26 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the year 2020 [2].  Each of these devices not only aggregate large volumes of data, but incorporate increasingly sophisticated algorithmic capabilities supporting intelligent decision support.  Beginning in World War II with the incorporation of Radio-frequency identification (RFID), a technology that warned of approaching enemy planes still miles away, the Department of Defense has been in the forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution [3].  Despite the growing innovation and commercialization of IoT devices across sectors, the DoD identifies several security risks that prevent the full expression of IoT connectivity across operational environments.  The continued focus of DoD innovation and cyber-security initiatives on the benefits of IoT seek to mitigate these risks and to realize the full potential of smart sensor networks and cognitive infrastructures.

Although much of its research is strictly classified, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) balances a portfolio of about 250 research programs that advance and develop breakthrough technologies for national security.  Though both competitive challenges and diverse opportunities to submit both solicited and unsolicited proposals, DARPA actively seeks a robust base of commercial-sector and academic collaborators. Numerous DARPA programs extend IoT applications and technologies through concentrated cyber-security research and the development of advanced learning algorithms.  Seeking to build communities around government-funded research, DARPA curates an Open Catalog list of the publicly releasable publications of its sponsored industry partners.  In this sample, we find a glimpse of the breadth of research seeking to capitalize on defense applications of IoT technologies.

Of the thirty-three openly listed DARPA programs, fifteen are devoted to advances in cybersecurity (Table 1).  Five consider the security of system portfolios; three seek out improvements by way of user validation and verification; two consider developments in cloud- and internet-based security; two seek to create improvements that guarantee information assurance.  The remaining three consider respectively the scalability of software systems, computations on encrypted data, and applications supporting our national cyber-warfare capability.  Each program partners across commercial-industry and academic labs and departments.  Three programs, in particular, seek to extend the potentials of IoT networks within the defense applications: LADS, MRC, and SAFER.


The Leveraging the Analog Domain for Security (LADS) program partners with Georgia Institute of Technology, Northrop Grumman and Riverside Research to explore new methods for detecting anomalies in the addition, removal and changes to the software of a system.  Although they primarily focus on applying these methods to secure Embedded and Mission-specific Devices, these techniques have broad application to IoT devices.  Partnering with Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, Cambridge University and SRI International, research within the Mission-oriented Resilient Clouds (MRC) program attends to the cybersecurity challenges of cloud computing. In seeking to prototype a cloud-based “community health system” prototype, this effort focuses on the development of in-cloud technologies to detect, diagnose and respond to cyberattacks.  The Safer War-fighting Communications (SAFER) partners with Georgetown University, the Naval Research Laboratory and SRI International researchers to ensure effective and secure internet communications.


(1) DARPA. (2017, June 16). DARPA Open Catalog. Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://opencatalog.darpa.mil

(2) Gartner, Inc. (2015, November 10). Gartner says 6.4 billion connected “things” will be in use in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015 [Press release]. Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3165317 

(3) IEEE. (2015, May 27). Towards a definition of the Internet of Things (IoT). Retrieved from https://iot.ieee.org/definition.html