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New Military Cyber Program Visualizes Invisible Attacks

There is an old saying that goes, “You can not fight what you can not see.”

“One of the things that’s very difficult about cyber space is that it’s invisible ... so the idea of operating in it is very difficult," said Dan Kaufman, former information innovation office director at the U.S. Defense Department's research wing, known as DARPA.

But among the tech tools in the lab at DARPA is a new cyber security program called PLAN X that maps out the invisible realm of cyber space. PLAN X developer and former Marine Frank Pound calls the space a cyber battlefield.

“We treat this as a contested area," Pound said. "And so we need to start to reason about it in terms of that.”

Without PLAN X, computer analysts must read thousands of data points gathered through hours of system monitoring to see a cyber attack.

"So, we are detecting the attacks, but what happens is that a lot of times they get hidden in the noise of all this data,” Pound said.

Typically, data monitoring is done in a spreadsheet format. It's difficult to read, and a user has to scroll through the information to identify any problems. PLAN X puts the data together in a way that makes it easier to spot trouble.

"It is sort of like a Weather Channel for cyber,” Pound said.

Hacked computers show up with a red alert and can be instantly quarantined, analyzed and even used to fire a cyber assault back at the attacker. “So, militaries of the future in the United States will be able to conduct cyber the same as they do with kinetic operations,” Pound said.

Kaufman said PLAN X is nearing the point where it can go out to military units stationed across the globe.

"My bad day is that I did not get the soy milk in my latte. [Soldiers'] bad day is that they get shot at. If you are sitting here and you can do something to make that better, I do not know how you can not go home every day, just excited," Kaufman said.

The Defense Department debuted PLAN X in a military exercise last month.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.