The Morpheus chip shows promise in thwarting
hackers by constantly changing its code
A new microchip is currently being tested that changes its code in order to thwart the efforts of hackers.
The Morpheus chip repeatedly randomizes key parts of its
software so that attackers face a constantly changing target.
The project is funded by the US Defense Department and is
being spearheaded by Todd Austin, a professor at the University of Michigan.
Austin described how the prototype Morpheus chip works at a
recent conference in Detroit organized by the US Defense Department’s Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The aim of the chip is to make it incredibly difficult for
hackers to exploit key software that helps to govern the chips’ operation. By
repeatedly randomizing elements of the code that attackers need to access in
order to compromise the hardware, Morpheus successfully keeps the attackers at
Austin stated that he’s been able to get the chip’s code
“churning” to happen once every 50 milliseconds. That speed is much faster than
needed to frustrate the most powerful automated hacking tools.
With this chip, even if hackers find a vulnerability, the
information needed to exploit it vanishes in the blink of an eye.
Linton Salmon of DARPA, who oversees the agency’s project
that backs the Morpheus research, says that a big advantage of the technology
is that it can defend against a wide range of cyberattacks. The prototype chip
also boasts software that works to spot new kinds of digital assaults and
adjusts its churn rate according to the severity of the threat.
More tests lie ahead for the Morpheus chip. A team of US
national security experts will soon begin testing to see if they can compromise
its defenses, and Austin has plans to post some of Morpheus’ code online so
that other researchers can try to find flaws in it, too.
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