The importance of DARPA funding

As many of you know, Arbor Networks was founded in 2000 in order to commercialize research I did as a graduate student with Farnam Jahanian, my advisor at the electrical engineering and computer science department at the University of Michigan. The research we did, and everything that followed, would not have been possible without a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agnecy or DARPA.

As I think of our nearly 300 employees and the role we play in securing carrier networks and enterprise data centers, I am heartened to see that DARPA is, once again, investing heavily in Internet security. Today’s investment means jobs in the future, not to mention new, innovative solutions to better secure our connected planet.

DARPA promises 50% increase in advanced research spending over next 5 years
At its Colloquium on Future Directions in Cyber Security this week, DARPA Director Regina Dugan said that since 2009, the agency has steadily increased its cyber research efforts and its budget submission for fiscal year 2012 increased cyber research funding by $88 million, from $120 million to $208 million. In addition, over the next five years, the agency plans to grow its top-line budget investment in cyber research from 8% to 12%.

“DARPA’s role in the creation of the Internet means we were party to the intense opportunities it created and share in the intense responsibility of protecting it. Our responsibility is to acknowledge and prepare to protect the Nation in this new environment,” said Dugan. “We need more and better options. We will not prevail by throwing bodies or buildings at the challenges of cyberspace. Our assessment argues that we are capability limited, both offensively and defensively. We need to fix that.”

This is great news for our industry and for our economy. DARPA funding has led to some truly amazing technological innovation, including:

The Internet! Larry Roberts, Vint Cerf, et.al.’s original four node party!
GPS, funded in 1960 as a military application; today a ubiquitous consumer technology. Don’t leave home without it!
Stealth Planes: The first prototype was tested in the late 1970s and ultimately became the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter.
Gallium Arsenide: Fast electron migration for high frequency electronics – makes the cellphone go!
Robotics: DARPA’s Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles has been pushing robotics forward for decades. I still remember seeing the rovers in Schenley Park at CMU early in the mornings in the 80’s.

DARPA’s role in Arbor Networks Founding
One of my personal favorite DARPA projects was the Lighthouse Project, which Farnam and I (co-PI’s) spun out of the University and used as the technological foundation for creating Arbor Networks. In 1999, we were witnessing the proliferation of increasingly complex, widely distributed cyber-attacks on commercial and mission-critical military systems interconnected by IP-based networks. Arguably chief among these security threats were distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, zero-day network threats, and routing exploits.

The research we did at the University of Michigan, funded by DARPA, led to the discovery of highly scalable, service provider-class solutions for the rapid detection, backtracking, and mitigation of DDoS attacks. Working from a granular understanding of normal network flows, the anomaly detection system developed by this research can rapidly spot attacks, closing the costly gap between the detection of a network-based security threat and its resolution. A highly successful deployment and demonstration of this technology on a production service provider network in the summer of 2000 led to the fast-paced transfer of this technology and the founding of Arbor Networks.

First and foremost DARPA’s support was critical in providing the seed funding that led to this research breakthrough. This also enabled the research group to incubate a set of expertise capable of developing these new technologies including expertise in networking security, network engineering, and routing. In addition access to MERIT provided a production service provider network as a platform for technology development: crucial given the nature of the problems the project set out to solve. This heritage has proved incredibly valuable as it influenced architecture, design, and features in ways that would be impossible to replicate in the lab. Indeed, much of the project’s success over its competition can be traced to decisions made because of its production, service provider network heritage. This collaboration would not have been possible without DARPA’s sponsorship of a deployment and demonstration system on a production network.

To this day, Farnam is involved directing programs and initiatives that support ambitious long-term research and innovation through his position at the National Science Foundation as the head of the Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) Directorate. At Arbor, research has been and remains at the heart of what we do. We know firsthand the key role DARPA funding plays in research, innovation and job creation. Go DARPA go!

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