DHS Seeks Ideas for Automated Cyberattack Detectors in Annual Notice

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The annual solicitation from the Small Business Innovation Research program seeks proposals for addressing seven different technology issues facing the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of Homeland Security is seeking applications from small businesses to address seven “technology needs” as part of the department’s fiscal year 2023 Science and Technology Directorate Small Business Innovation Research—or SBIR—program, including for proposals to “develop a hardware-assisted real-time accurate detector of cyberattacks on networked and edge electronic devices.”

The cybersecurity research topic included in the Dec. 15 solicitation notes that “an increasing number of network-connected devices and systems in modern-day life are vulnerable to many attacks,” with current cyber protection efforts “limited in detection efficacy and scalability issues.” Given the scope of these digital threats, along with the lack of unassailable protection techniques currently available for use, the solicitation seeks proposals for analyzing “hardware generated data that would enable real-time, precise detection (>95%) and proactive protection against cyber-threats.”

According to the solicitation notice, the goal of this effort is to create a “device-embedded solution” that provides “engaging automatic protection without human intervention”—thereby removing a critical variable from the cyber defense equation. And the hope is that this type of enhanced automatic solution will also include “minimal performance overhead while offering multi-layer and distributed defense.”

The DHS SBIR program’s three-phase award system provides U.S. businesses with less than 500 employees the opportunity to develop innovative new technologies for the department. The solicitation for the SBIR program is published on an annual basis and includes a range of topics “that meet specific homeland security research and development technology needs,” according to DHS.

Under phase one of the SBIR program, small businesses that submit research proposals related to the cybersecurity topic area would be required to “determine the technical feasibility of accurate, real-time and automatic detection of cyber threats using hardware-assisted modalities.” This includes determining “the major challenges and preliminary assessment of machine learning algorithms for extracting features of various cyber-threats,” as well as developing a concept model that considers “hardware features and emerging approaches in machine learning for anomaly detection.”

In phase two of the SBIR program, applicable small businesses would “demonstrate a prototype for real-time and automatic detection of cyber-threats” that, in part, includes “hardware-assisted threat sensing and artificial intelligence algorithms to demonstrate high confidence in detecting cyber-threats in compromised devices.” 

DHS said that the third phase of the program—which is geared toward commercialization—would look at metrics such as “the versatility of protected electronic devices, ease of use for advanced and legacy systems, high detection confidence and performance/cost overhead of the device” to determine the success of the hardware-assisted cyber threat detection technologies. 

In addition to the cybersecurity topic area, DHS’s SBIR program solicitation also seeks research proposals related to the development of more advanced air cargo screening software, digital software credentialing for first responders, machine learning-based alarm sensors for airport security checkpoints, processes for ensuring the interoperability of mission critical server-to-server communications services, reduced-order modeling for critical infrastructure systems and classification software that can create “theoretical spectroscopic signatures” of previously unclassified toxic compounds. 

“One of the best ways for small business to begin partnering with DHS is with the non-dilutive funding through the SBIR program, which is designed to engage them in federal research and development,” DHS SBIR Director Dusty Lang said in a statement. “Publishing the annual solicitation is an exciting time for our program as we prepare to foster new relationships with small businesses in support of the pursuit of innovation.” 

DHS said it will accept proposals for all seven topic areas until 1 p.m. ET on January 17, 2023.