The Navy will pay you for AI software that detects cyber attacks

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The Defense Department has been utilizing hack-a-thons to reach out into the depths of the internet and find white-hat hackers that want to serve the public, but now the Navy is taking it a step further into the world of artificial intelligence.

The Naval Information Warfare Systems Command is holding an AI cybersecurity challenge in conjunction with the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence.

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The challenge, which is dubbed AI Applications to Autonomous Cybersecurity or AI ATAC (pronounced attack), is offering $150,000 to individuals, academia or businesses.

First prize will receive $100,000 and second will get $50,000.

The goal is to automate cybersecurity operations using AI and machine learning.

“One of the biggest challenges we are facing is analyzing and responding to the increasing volume of cybersecurity related data that’s being generated,” said David Crotty, technical lead at the Navy’s Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Program Office. “We need to provide analysts and network administrators the capability to effectively utilize this information to detect and respond to threats in real time. AI and machine learning are important elements of this toolset.”

The Navy plans to use AI in cybersecurity like an advanced spam folder. It can take in, sort and analyze the large number of cyber attacks the service receives and take some of the burden off the cyber analysts.

“Cybersecurity tools that utilize AI and machine learning are really touted as being able to provide enhanced protection capabilities, minimize false positive alerting and reduce the time necessary to detect and defeat advanced threats on the network,” Michael Karlbom, program office lead for the Navy’s Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Program Office.

Karlbom said cyber analysts have to go through a massive amount of alerts, which causes fatigue. AI can look at a massive amount of alerts and can point analysts to the alerts that matter the most.

The Navy is asking organizations and individuals to submit white papers by the end of September. They will be judged on detection time against a simulated malware attack, the time it takes for an analyst to triage, investigate and document the alerts and resources required to run the tool — like computer and memory usage.

“The challenge serves as a great way to find innovative solutions to solve a problem,” Karlbom said. “The majority of major, commercial cybersecurity companies provide solutions that are intended to solve this problem. However, we wanted to cast a wider net and not only allow large companies, but non-traditional partners to participate.”

Crotty said one of the main factors in reaching out to non-traditional companies is agility.

“It’s a key factor with cybersecurity,” he said. “Traditional DoD acquisition processes take a lot of time and when you are dealing with a continually evolving threat, you don’t have a lot of time. Leveraging innovation and expedient methods requires the ability to look across the full spectrum of the commercial sector. The prize challenge format offers small business with innovative capabilities an opportunity to demonstrate how they can provide value added to Navy security.”

The Navy is using acquisition vehicles like other transaction authorities and mid-tier acquisition to work faster and to appeal to smaller businesses. The winners of the challenge may have an opportunity to  contract with the Navy.

Crotty and Karlbom said they hope this challenge is the first of many to come in different areas of Navy cybersecurity.

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