DARPA, the Pentagon agency that funds moonshot technology innovations, is hosting a two-year competition for artificial intelligence experts to create new ways to bolster the world’s cybersecurity.
The competition launches Wednesday at the cybersecurity conference Black Hat in Las Vegas. It asks participants to create tools that can be used by anyone to help identify and fix holes in software to keep hackers from exploiting them. It will dole out a total of $18.5 million to winners in different categories and will formally conclude at the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas in August 2025.
In a call to reporters Tuesday previewing the competition, Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said it was “a clarion call for all kinds of creative people and organizations to bolster the security of critical software that American families and businesses and all of our society relies on.”
U.S. organizations have been battered by hackers in recent years. During the Biden administration alone, federal agencies have been repeatedly breached by hackers allegedly working for Chinese and Russian intelligence services, which often find creative ways to break into common software programs and then use that access to spy on government activity around the world.
Hospitals and schools, which are responsible for their own security, are frequently targeted by criminal ransomware hackers who lock up victims’ computers and cause them to suspend operations.
The winning tools will be released to the public to potentially improve cybersecurity around the world, a DARPA spokesperson said.
Perri Adams, the DARPA program manager overseeing the competition, said that the competition aimed to help cybersecurity experts defend against a growing landscape of creative hackers.
“Cyber defenders are tasked with protecting a daunting maze of technology. And today, they don’t have the tools capable of security at this scale. Thus, we’ve seen in recent years hackers exploiting this state of affairs,” she said.