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The Smartest Hackers in the Room (hint: They're Not the Humans)

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Next month, teams from around the world will engage in a dress rehearsal for the U.S. Pentagon's Cyber Grand Challenge, a competition to develop automated hacker-fighting software. The challenge's final event will be held in Las Vegas next year and the winning team will be awarded $2 million. The competition is being managed by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which held an unofficial 24-hour test run last December, just to see if the competitors' vulnerability-obliterating software would function.

The competition has attracted a range of teams, including startups, academics, and defense industry giants. One team, For All Secure, recently received a $750,000 grant enabling team members to take time off from their jobs to devote themselves to the competition. Dan Guido, co-founder of New York-based Trail of Bits, says his company hopes to at best break-even if they win. Both teams will be facing off against Raytheon's Deep Red team, which won the unofficial dry run in December.

Although DARPA hopes the challenge will result in autonomous software that can defend networks from malicious activity on its own, many of the participants see that goal as far fetched. For All Secure's David Brumley says such technology is unlikely to exist in the next decade, if ever, and he argues humans will always be required to counter the attacks thought up by human attackers.

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