DARPA Seeks to Create New Anonymous Communications Program
Last year, the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, quietly announced a new research program known as the Resilient Anonymous Communications for Everyone, or RACE, program. DARPA is responsible for developing technologies for use by the United States armed forces, but that technology also frequently ends up being used by civilians. Onion routing and the Tor anonymity network were originally partially developed through DARPA funding. The RACE program is seeking to develop a completely anonymous and undetectable method for communicating over the internet. It appears that the RACE program will utilize network steganography to hide messages in other network traffic. The proposed distributed messaging system would allow for messages and metadata to be exchanged, and it would not be possible to alter the information while it is in transit over the network. The RACE program seeks to avoid large scale targeting and large scale compromises through the use of a combination of steganography (or obfuscation) and encryption.
According to a Proposers Day briefing document for researchers which is dated July 24th of last year, DARPA plans to integrate the technologies in the RACE system into a prototype mobile messaging app for the Android mobile operating system. The code is expected to be made available as open source software by the end of the development process. By the end of the RACE research program, it is expected that a full demo will be ready, which should consist of around 1,000 servers which can support at least 10,000 users. The research program is expected to take 48 months to complete and includes three phases. The bandwidth of outgoing obfuscated client to server transmissions is expected to be up to 500kbps, and obfuscated server to server bandwidth is expected to be up to 10Mbps. The Proposers Day is intended to give an outline of the technical goals and challenges of the project.
A summary of the RACE program contained in a special notice about the Proposers Day states that “The RACE program will research technologies for a distributed messaging system that a) can exist completely within a given network, b) provides confidentiality, integrity, and availability of messaging, and c) preserves privacy to any participant in the system. Compromised system data and associated networked communications should not be helpful to compromise any additional parts of the system.” The special notice goes on to describe the RACE program as being capable of avoiding being detected or compromised through large scale real-time deep packet inspection. The briefing document states that the fact that a user is using the RACE mobile app, or that a user is running a RACE server, should not be possible to infer unless the user’s device is compromised. Any compromising of one part of the system should not enable an attacker to compromise further parts of the system. The end-to-end communications time is expected to be approximately one minute.
Theoretically, the RACE program could be used to send and receive anonymous cryptocurrency transactions. It is not publicly known if DNS or IP routing could be run on top of the RACE program out of the box, which would allow it to be operated as an anonymization network similar to Tor and I2P. While the bandwidth limitations make it an unlikely platform for streaming high definition video, it appears sending images and video would be possible over the RACE mobile app. If the RACE program is successful, it would be an even better option for secure and private messaging than the encrypted private messaging apps which are currently available. The RACE program is expected receive around $44 million in funding. Dr. Joshua Baron is the head of the RACE program as well as the Program Manager for DARPA’s Information Innovation Office (I2O). His areas of research are focused on privacy, anonymity, and cryptography. Dr. Baron was previously a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.