In an attempt to simplify the complex and often abstract world of cyberwarfare, for the past year the Pentagon has been developing a system called Plan X that essentially turns the process into a video game.
Sophisticated cyberattacks require the resources and expertise of highly trained professionals, and even after lengthy preparation, the results of such attacks are unpredictable because of the huge number of variables involved. DARPA wants to distill this process into a platform that can be understood and used by a broader array of military personnel, and turn cyber weapons into munitions that are as simple to execute as traditional weapons of war.
In order to allow a military operator to design and deploy a cyber effect, Plan X lays out a battery of tools on a large touchscreen panel and allows the user to interact with networks and computers in a manner that is comparable to a video game.
This doesn’t require the extensive training and level of proficiency that is currently required of military cyber personnel. In an interview with Wired, Dan Roelker, a cybersecurity specialist who came up with the idea for Plan X, said “Say you’re playing World of Warcraft, and you’ve got this type of sword, +5 or whatever. You don’t necessarily know what spells were used to create that sword, right? You just know it has these attributes and it helps you in this way. It’s the same type of concept. You don’t need the technical details.”
DARPA has recruited some major talent to work on Plan X, which is sure to give it even more of a science fiction feel than it may have taken on otherwise. Frog Design, responsible for the design of the Sony Walkman and the Apple IIc, is working on the hardware, while Massive Black is tackling the user interface. Massive Black is well known for their work on Bioshock and Transformers, among many other big movie and game titles.
Rudimentary push-button hacking tools are already available on the internet in various forms, but military-grade cyberwarfare capabilities at the touch of button sound like the stuff of Wargames or Ender’s Game. Perhaps future generations won’t ever have to leave their desks to fight wars.