Blockchain “Shield” Being Developed By U.S. Department of Defense

In mid-June, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) published their “Digital Modernization Strategy,” a 72-page document outlining the department’s technology and cybersecurity priorities for 2019-2023. The publication explores the DoD’s plans for improving and updating much of its infrastructure, including a greater emphasis on AI and cloud-based tools, as well as a talent-cultivation program for what it calls a “Ready Digital Workforce.” Perhaps the most surprising element of the DoD strategy, however, was the section outlining a planned “Block Chain Cybersecurity Shield.”

According to the publication, blockchain is a “new information technology” that has serious potential for DoD applications due to the fact that it “inverts the cybersecurity paradigm.” The paper goes on to explain that the open nature of blockchain is “transparently secure” in a way that “makes tampering both exceptionally difficult and immediately obvious.” As opposed to the current security systems — which the paper cites as being built around “failure-prone secrets” — a blockchain-based alternative would “not only reduce the probability of compromise, but also impose significantly greater costs on an adversary to achieve it.”

According to the publication, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently experimenting with a security-focused blockchain system. DARPA’s program will “allow personnel from anywhere to transmit secure messages or process transactions that can be traced through numerous channels of a decentralized ledger.” The paper goes on to propose multiple use cases for DARPA’s blockchain, including secure communication between field units and headquarters, and verifying information between intelligence officers and the Pentagon. The paper also states that DARPA is working on an “unhackable code” supported by the blockchain, noting that such a system could offer “intelligence on hackers who try to break into secure databases.”

The publication did not specify the scale of the blockchain “shield,” nor did it provide a clear timeline for its development or launch. The program is currently listed as a single bullet point within “Cross Agency Priority Goal #6,” one of 14 such larger goals in the overall DoD strategy. The blockchain program is also closely tied to another bullet point, “Cryptographic Modernization,” which aims to secure systems used by the DoD, National Security Agency (NSA), and other government agencies against the rise of “emerging threats, such as quantum computing.”