An Army intern with the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs tries on a virtual reality headset simulating an M2 .50-caliber Browning machine gun on an M1A2 Abrams tank during an event at the Pentagon, July 24, 2023.

Jun 03 2024

Securing Mixed Reality from Emerging Cyberthreats

New attacks may flood headsets with info designed to disorient or mislead the wearer, a big risk during military operations.

Mixed reality headsets and similar systems are tested for resiliency against attacks while in development, but once MR and related technologies are deployed, there’s less effort to test for new threats from malicious actors.

Direct attacks on users could flood headsets with information designed to cause motion sickness or disorientation. Or, attacks might clutter displays with virtual objects that cause users to misinterpret critical information and compromise military operations.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s new Intrinsic Cognitive Security program aims to fortify military MR technology against adversaries by developing mathematical approaches to safeguard users and systems.

“We need to develop methods to protect mixed reality tools before systems that lack protections are pervasive,” says Matthew Wilding, DARPA’s ICS program manager.

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Using Modeling to Predict Cyberthreats and Select Security Measures

The military is working toward using MR systems to enhance training and simulations, to improve situational awareness by overlaying digital information onto physical environments, and to conduct advanced mission planning and execution.

The ICS program will use “formal methods” techniques, which model complex systems through mathematics, to better understand user behavior and cognitive response. Researchers can anticipate potential threats and develop countermeasures to mitigate impact; for instance, by including specific security requirements for MR systems, designing secure system architectures or mathematically analyzing security measures’ success. DARPA researchers and industry experts are expected to build prototypes to demonstrate how to implement those measures most effectively.

Military use of MR technology is already underway: The Army awarded Microsoft a contract in 2018 worth almost $480 million for the use of HoloLens augmented reality headsets, and ordered more headsets last year. Project Tripoli, announced by the Marine Corps last year, will pair Marines in live training exercises with other service members working remotely on simulators or VR tools.

Bernardo Fuller/Army

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