U-M computer chip wins against 500+ hackers

By | March 29, 2021
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MORPHEUS technology from the University of Michigan emerged unscathed from a DARPA virtual hackathon.

illustration of computer chip
(The Michigan Engineer)

An “unhackable” computer chip lived up to its name in its first bug bounty competition, foiling over 500 cybersecurity researchers who were offered tens of thousands of dollars to analyze it and three other secure processor technologies for vulnerabilities.

MORPHEUS, developed by computer science researchers at the University of Michigan, weathered the three-month virtual program DARPA dubbed the Finding Exploits to Thwart Tampering—or FETT—Bug Bounty without a single successful attack. In bug bounty programs, organizations or software developers offer compensation or other incentives to individuals who can find and report bugs or vulnerabilities.

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, partnered with the Department of Defense’s Defense Digital Service and Synack, a crowdsourced security platform, to conduct FETT, which ran from June through August 2020. It also tested technologies from MIT, Cambridge University, Lockheed Martin and nonprofit tech institute SRI International.

The U-M team achieved its results by abandoning a cornerstone of traditional computer security—finding and eliminating software bugs, says team leader Todd Austin, the S. Jack Hu Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering. MORPHEUS works by reconfiguring key bits of its code and data dozens of times per second, turning any vulnerabilities into dead ends for hackers.

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