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Government The Military United States Technology

DARPA Wants Ideas On Weaponizing Off-the-Shelf Tech (ieee.org) 173

An anonymous reader writes: The good news is that some of today's most advanced technologies are cheap and easy to find, both online and on the shelves of major chain stores. That's also the bad news, according to DARPA. The defense agency is nervous that criminals and terrorists will turn off-the-shelf products into tools and devices to harm citizens or disrupt American military operations. On Friday, DARPA announced a new project called 'Improv' that invites technologists to propose designs for military applications or weaponry built exclusively from commercial software, open source code, and readily available materials. The program's goal is to demonstrate how easy it is to transform everyday technology into a system or device that threatens national security. See also this story about transforming into weapons items commonly found in the purportedly secure area of U.S. airports.
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DARPA Wants Ideas On Weaponizing Off-the-Shelf Tech

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  • I mean they wouldn't then use this data to show that everyone needs backscatter scan followed by a full body cavity search would they? Or that they need more of our money to pay for additional people to guard all the dangerous objects in stores? Or that they must have access to a list of everything everyone buys everywhere to cross reference with their collection of communications? Nah they wouldn't be doing that.
    • So given that, I'll go ahead and submit ideas till one sticks and they send me $40K which will result in a feasibility study consisting entirely of parties with my friends.
      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        I cheated and RTFA. Well, skimmed it. That's as close as I ever get.

        Anyhow, I'm almost positive that submitting any proposal for this is going to get the submitter placed on a whole host of watch lists. Not because they belong there but because that's the way the government rolls.

    • by ThorGod ( 456163 )

      I read it like "what could we expect terrorists to figure out"

      • by LaurenCates ( 3410445 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @05:30PM (#51680985)

        I once worked with a guy who said that he couldn't go see "Snakes on a Plane" with me when it opened in theaters because he was afraid it was giving the terrorists ideas.

        I think, in reaction, my eyes glazed over in a way reminiscent of the Blue Screen of Death.

        • Which one of the two of you did he think was the terrorist?
          • I'm not sure. I'm not sure why he'd have thought trying to transport snakes inconspicuously in a cargo hold might actually result in live snakes to attack people (I presume it would be too cold, which is why I would never put a pet in a cargo hold, but I'm not an expert on snakes). I'm not even sure why he'd even have thought that any terrorist that wanted to attack people wouldn't devise the most insane of ideas (like trying to create snake attacks on a plane) and game it out for feasibility.

            But then aga

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A weapon doesn't have to be lethal to humans.

      Here's an example: install systemd on an adversary's Linux system. If the adversary's Linux system is anything like my Debian systems were when systemd was installed on them, there's a very good chance they won't boot properly. The adversary may not be physically harmed, but the adversary sure will be angry!

      Here's another example: upgrade the adversary's Firefox installation. If the adversary's Firefox experience is anything like my Firefox experience, an upgrade

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        Eh, weaponize LOLCATZ, assuming that hasn't already happened. Dawww....
        • Since it has to be legal in the US, I'm sure a lot of people will go with delivery systems. Maybe you can use inflatable lolcatz as the fake IED.

          I'm planning a psyops package involving Hampsterdance.

    • load up artillery shells with IoT crap, and fire it at enemies. voila, weaponized!

      I should add it seems popular these days to pack the corners with bacon bits. don't know why. perhaps our enemies don't have crackers and Cheez Whiz to provide a suitable resting spot.

    • You just gave me an idea on how to use a backstatter device to create a weapon.

    • It doesn't really do much good to scan everybody to make sure they don't have freely available commercial parts. ;)

      You need to work on your conspiracy theories a few milliseconds longer, don't just go with the first thing that pops into your head and sounded good after half a moment of reflection.

      This isn't "things that could be dangerous" in general. This is specifically things that could be dangerous to the military. Also, it has to be legal to make under Federal, State, and local laws. So there is very l

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @04:28PM (#51680475)
    for readily available materials which will be 'tracked' in the future. please submit your ideas so we can watch you, too.
    • No kidding. Give them NOTHING to work with

      • No kidding. Give them NOTHING to work with

        We should go farther than that. We should develop an interest in every real name in DARPA who signed off on this idea, earmarked funds for the project and publicly SHAME and SHUN them.

        [from TA] agency will provide $40,000 in funding to complete a feasibility study [...] will each receive an additional $70,000 to fashion a prototype

        I sense an actual human fetish behind all this no different from foot licking. Someone who considers themselves a Librarian of sorts, gets their endorphin rush jollies from collecting and cataloging certain things, in this case, things that can harm the greatest number of people with the most 'reasonable' and 'accessible' item

  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @04:28PM (#51680477) Journal
    How about mounting an automatic weapon in the back of a pickup truck?
    • How about mounting an automatic weapon in the back of a pickup truck?

      Better yet, how about mounting sharks with frickin' laser beams in the back of a pickup truck?

    • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @05:32PM (#51681013)

      Here's my idea:

      1. Walk into a gun store.
      2. Take a gun off the shelf and buy it.
      3. Boom, a weapon using off-the-shelf parts.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Laptops are the ultimate weapon. You can easily cause a concussion by swinging one like a baseball bad. Or strap a laptop or iPad to your chest and back for instant body armor. And a floppy disk makes a decent throwing star, though not nearly as lethal. You can easily weaponize an automobile by driving it through a shopping mall. And so on. Almost anything can be a weapon in the hands of somebody who wants to use it as one.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday March 11, 2016 @04:30PM (#51680503)

    The defense agency is nervous that criminals and terrorists will turn off-the-shelf products into tools and devices to harm citizens or disrupt American military operations.

    As opposed to just buying a gun?

    The average "criminal" is NOT going to re-write code or anything like that. S/He will use the same tried-and-true methods that have proven successful for so many years.

    This is STUPID.

    • You believe them? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's just a line. "Yeah, we're worried about terrorists and criminals using off-the-shelf stuff. We have no interest in it ourselves. Yeah, that's the ticket!"

      Wars are extremely expensive - they have ruined many states - and I see this as an attempt to lower costs at the defense department.

      Just my cynical 200 cents (inflation).

      • You'll need to inflate your idea that much, since they didn't say anything about criminals or terrorists; whatever idiot submitted it did that part.

    • by neonv ( 803374 )

      If it's off-the-shelf components, then no new code is required.

      For example, a quadrotor with a homemade bomb attached, ignition linked to an RF control. It's very easy, and very dangerous. Not a single line of code is required.

      • before I participate in this little exercise, I'm going to need full immunity.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Yeah, the entire idea is insane. If you have any idea at all about infrastructure or the various elements of human society, there are quite a few ways the entire system can be disrupted. There is no way in hell I would share them with anyone for fear they would get out. Neither publicly nor privately, either way, no way I want a any part of that idiocy. Ultimately the root cause are people and not just any people but in by far the majority of instances psychopaths, genetic cerebral emotional misfits. You do

      • A quad has a carrying capacity measured in grams or ounces. A Ford can carry 2,000 pounds.

        A quad could deliver a small firework, though.

      • Yup. They are looking for the "what is available today that wasn't 30 years ago" and basic insurgent/resistance/guerrilla tactics.

    • The average "criminal" is NOT going to re-write code or anything like that.

      No, but it's the "above average" criminals/terrorists you really need to watch-out for.

      Who do you think is doing the big retailer (Target, JCP, Home Depot) break-ins, if not criminals who "re-write code"?

    • There is nothing in the project about "crinimals" or "terrorists." The goal is to develop "prototype products and systems that have the potential to threaten current military operations, equipment, or personnel and are assembled primarily from commercially available technology."

      You're right. The idea that they would do this for chasing criminals is stupid, as is the idea that DARPA cares about crime. This is about things that will sound scary to them in the context of overseas deployments. They already depl

  • by Anonymous Coward

    it has already been done in the largest terrorist cyber attack ever:
    The Windows 10 upgrade.

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Friday March 11, 2016 @04:33PM (#51680529) Homepage Journal

    It's pretty easily possible for an amateur to put together their own cruise missle, encrypted communications that admit to no theoretical methods to break them if they're used correctly, spread spectrum radio that you can't tell is there, various sorts of jammers for GPS, phones, etc., various bombs and poisons.

    Not that I really want to tell this to Congress.

    • by neonv ( 803374 )

      You're over simplifying a cruise missile.

      Can you put together a reliable propulsion system for long flight?
      Can you make it take off vertically reliably?
      Can you make it fly fast?
      Can you create accurate flight control to impact a target?
      Can the vehicle accurately verify it is the correct target before impact?
      Can you make a jammer that won't interfere with it's own communication?
      Can you make a warhead from off the shelf components that have a real impact on a target?
      Can you show in flight testing that it will

      • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Friday March 11, 2016 @05:17PM (#51680879) Homepage Journal

        Look into DIY Drones [diydrones.com]. Ardupilot is sufficient for a lot of what you are asking for. There's a guy who has successfully flown a model plane across the Atlantic twice. He didn't have constant communications, but it had an HF transmitter and GPS, and it kept hams informed of where it was.

        Some of the things you ask for aren't really necessary. Shelf life, for example. Constant communications. Hack proofing. It's really just necessary for a bad guy to put it together and send it toward the nearest city with a few sticks of dynamite. Effective terror weapon. Can distribute poison too. And if one fails, the authorities won't necessarily notice.

        • by neonv ( 803374 )

          You're switching subjects. You stated a cruise missile, not the drones that DARPA is asking for.

          If you just want a bomb on an aircraft, none of the things you mentioned in your original post are necessary (communication, radios, jamming, etc).

          • A "cruise missle" is a UAV that is capable of traveling a significant distance at a relatively low speed and carries an explosive payload.

            This is obviously not limited to something like the AGM-69.

            A small and easily affordable amateur construction is capable of autonomously flying some hundreds of miles and delivering a warhead of several sticks of dynamite to a point with a 30-foot accuracy. One could take this further and equip a Cessna 172 or similar. There are many farm grass strips where such a thing c

        • There's a guy who has successfully flown a model plane across the Atlantic twice.

          He's not kidding. Maynard Hill actually did that. I'm glad I looked it up because I had no idea.

          https://www.washingtonpost.com... [washingtonpost.com]

      • In a few years you will be able to steal someone's self driving car and reprogram it. He should of said 'weapon delivery system'. It really doesn't need to be fast or do any of the other things you mention.
      • $5K cruise missile: http://www.interestingprojects... [interestingprojects.com]

        You can find Ragnar Benson's formula for homemade C4 if you look around too. TNT isn't that difficult to make either.

      • by suutar ( 1860506 )

        Your definition of "cruise missile" is a bit narrower than the dictionary's, and a lot of that is more for the US Military's mission parameters than the parameters of a terrorist or criminal (e.g. reliability, precision, vertical launch).

      • Can you put together a reliable propulsion system for long flight?
        Can you make it take off vertically reliably?
        Can you make it fly fast?
        Can you create accurate flight control to impact a target?

        You don't have to make any of that... The popularity of amateur rocketry means you can go BUY all of that, right off the shelf. Which is EXACTLY the scenario DARPA is looking to examine.

        Can the vehicle accurately verify it is the correct target before impact?

        With GPS, this is a no-brainer...

        Can you make a warhead f

        • by delt0r ( 999393 )
          As a amateur rocket person myself. The best you can do with "off the self" would be a few miles range max for something weighing less than a few kilos, bigger stuff tends to be custom orders with proper licences and stuff. A RC plane would be far more effective. Or even better a Ultralight rigged as a RC plane.
    • It's pretty easily possible for an amateur to put together their own cruise missile

      http://www.interestingprojects... [interestingprojects.com]
      http://www.rense.com/general38... [rense.com]

    • Eventually it will be as easy as Amazon one-click [att.com]. Bioweapons are going to be the worse of the bunch.

      Open architectures and consumer autonomous products will enable it all. Add the fact that data sabotage is on the rise will make it nearly impossible to identify these things after an incident.

      • by delt0r ( 999393 )
        Err yea no. I worked on this stuff and with other groups on this stuff. It is much harder than people think. That is why evolution hasn't managed to already create the kill all humans virus. It is basically impossible to do.
        • That is why evolution hasn't managed to already create the kill all humans virus.

          Evolution hasn't but humans have. In the book "The Demon in the Freezer" Richard Preston reports at length about human engineered bio weapons, specifically genetically modifed anthax and smallpox virus. Thought smallpox was eradicated? Guess again. There are stockpiles of the stuff all over the world, including North Korea, China, Pakistan, India and of course the US and Russia. He even describes a method of splicing the interleukin 4 gene with smallpox to make a 100% lethal to human weapon. The Russians, r

          • by delt0r ( 999393 )
            It doesn't work. For the simple reason that dead hosts don't transmit the viron, and not dead ones quickly create the antibodies to fight it off. Also virons that are air born have a host of constraints that make them fairly ineffective, are always sensitive to direct sunlight and will mutate away from being effective very very quickly. If they don't they are quickly dispatched by immune systems.

            Also that book is pretty shitty as far as informative on the topic. It is typical sky failing bullshit. May as
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can be used to suffocate somebody.

    Will I need to get a license for mine someday?

  • I'm happy to sell them a $500 laptop with Kali Linux for $10,000,000 or whatever the going rate is for over-inflated defense contracting. Where do I sign up?

  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @04:38PM (#51680577)
    How about a brick? You can pick it up and throw it at someone's head.
    • Don't discount the effectiveness of a brick.
      German spies had a plan to disable the giant generators in New York that powered many of the trains through out the Midwest with pocket sand. All they had to do was throw the sand into the generators, they were spotted coming ashore at bar harbor in main off a u boat and apprehended shortly after that.
    • by Ken D ( 100098 )
      Obligatory xkcd... sort of https://what-if.xkcd.com/1/ [xkcd.com]
  • by gweilo8888 ( 921799 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @04:41PM (#51680609)
    ...what can be done with just a few off-the-shelf elements. The entire contents of the periodic table must be confiscated from the American public. It's the only way we can be protected from the turr'ists among us!!
    • Have you tried to buy iodine lately? It's difficult to get because it's somehow used for making methamphetamine. This is annoying, because I would have liked to have some more for my emergency supplies, just for purifying water.
    • It's the only way we can be protected from the turr'ists among us!!

      Damn those tourists and their expensive cameras!

  • Legos thrown on the floor.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      Caltrops. 1d4 (x2 if not slowing down) damage and slowing down incurs a movement penalty.

  • by PackMan97 ( 244419 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @04:48PM (#51680695) Homepage
    Beginner: * Break off a branch from a tree. This is called stick. Hit someone with it. Advanced: * Produce a straight staff from a tree. File down the point of one end, or attach a flint or metal pointy traingle to one end. This is called a spear. In close quarters you may stab someone with it in a jabbing motion. At a distance, you may throw it. Be warned, if you missed you just armed your opponent with a spear. Expert: * Produce a straight staff from a tree and fashion into a bow. Use the sniwes from an animal you slayed using your club or spear and fashion a string you can use on your bow. Produce minature spears that you can use to shoot from this bow. Bows make excellent weapons to be used at a distance before your opponent can get into throwing range of a spear or melee distance if they have a club. As you can see, Trees are very dangerous and can be used as weapons. We should cut them all down.
  • give someone a windows 7 PC and tell them the windows 10 upgrade will break it. that's psychological warfare on the cheap.

  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @05:00PM (#51680763) Journal
    turn off-the-shelf products into tools and devices to harm citizens or disrupt American military operations.

    You mean like the 8 - 10" chef knives one can find at any yard sale or flea market? Or do they mean the rolls of aluminum foil which can be cut into ribbons then sent via bottle rocket to land across power lines and short them out?

    I'm presuming I should be expecting a knock on my door in the very near future.
    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      turn off-the-shelf products into tools and devices to harm citizens or disrupt American military operations.

      I agree, this is pretty idiotic. Anything can be turned into a weapon. It's like these guys have never seen a Jackie Chan movie.

  • Why do I get the feeling that someone at DARPA just watched Iron Man 3...
  • There was a story about some guy who figured out how to gang consumer microwave magnetrons on a resonant waveguide that resulted in a coherent beam. This was about 5 years ago- and not a peep since.
  • by Mhrmnhrm ( 263196 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @05:12PM (#51680833)

    MacGyver, to be specific.

  • ... across the St. Lawrence River with a Trebuchet made of balsa wood bought from the nearest hobby store count?

    Oh wait, I forgot, we are making nice with Canada [pbs.org] now. Make that the Rio Grande [wikipedia.org].

  • by ADRA ( 37398 )

    "I've invented a pill that gives worms to ex-girlfriends."

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      Your reference is not lost on me. That was actually a good show though I can't say that the movie was as good as I'd hoped.

  • the mythbusters need a job also get that macgyver to help.

  • IT'S A TRAP!

    seriously, it's like saying "Hey, I'm a dangerous person, I'm totally the guy you need to watch!"

  • Override safety switches on a microwave oven and run it with the door open. Could cause havoc with a lot of nearby electronics. Would be interesting to see how far away GPS would be overwhelmed. Before you try the experiment, I am sure it is illegal to operate a transmitter this powerful without a license.

  • See also this (2013) story [slashdot.org] about transforming into weapons items commonly found in the purportedly secure area of U.S. airports.

    https://s-media-cache-ak0.pini... [pinimg.com]

  • by AnotherBlackHat ( 265897 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @06:11PM (#51681307) Homepage

    Any engineer worth their salt could disrupt a city for under $500;

    - A hammer and nails can disable emergency response vehicles.
    Self lighting charcoal and a road flare can set a house on fire.
    Combine the two, and you can burn down a city.

    - Most cities have a small number of major traffic arteries that could be shut down with a similar number of people armed with rocks.

    - Drop a bag of flour on the freeway and call in a chemical spill.

    And there are far, far more effective things I can think of that I'm not willing to post on a public forum.

    Once you start to think about how vulnerable we are, you realize that terrorists must be extremely rare.

    • Yes, but you're thinking like an engineer, not an Islamic terrorist. What they like are big, spectacular attacks that happen in the middle of large cities that they've heard of before. If they just wanted to tear up infrastructure and burn down houses...meh they don't even do that in low security countries. They want to destroy Western civilization, not cause traffic jams.
  • Talk to the guy at http://terminalcornucopia.com/ [terminalcornucopia.com] he makes weapons out of stuff sold in airport shops located after the security checkpoint.
  • I'm hoping (though I could be wrong) that they don't mean obvious and common sense uses that they already know about. They're (I hope) looking for something innovative and clever that they aren't prepared for, so they can, you know, prepare for it.

  • Imagine a drone or model airplane with a piece of tungsten welding rod on board. The wire would be less than one ounce but put in the path of any jet and being sucked into an engine would probably bring down most planes. A drone carrying a strand of copper wire and dropping it over major power lines could create havoc and frankly, even a slingshot can be used to shoot a wire over a line as can a bow and arrow. And even those little tire rippers that the resistance used against the Nazis could easily
    • Mistrust is expensive. That's how I've heard it put elsewhere. And just look at unstable areas of the world to see that. More and more money goes into guarding (e.g. armed guards, steel walls and window shutters, armored cars, constant surveillance) and less and less into producing stuff worth guarding. In the same way that the natural ecology provide many vital services to the global economy (like air and water recycling), peace and general satisfaction saves us a lot of money (not just military expenses b

  • Great, now everything will be restricted by ITAR.

  • Reminds me of the "best political joke" contest in the Prawda. First prize: 25 years vacation in Sibiria.

    I'm pretty sure the first prize in this one would be a trip to Cuba.

  • And thus my sig on the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those still thinking in terms of scarcity, and also this essay by me:
    http://www.pdfernhout.net/reco... [pdfernhout.net]
    "There is a fundamental mismatch between 21st century reality and 20th century security thinking. Those "security" agencies are using those tools of abundance, cooperation, and sharing mainly from a mindset of scarcity, competition, and secrecy. Given the power of 21st century technology as an amplifier (including as weapons of mass d

Nearly every complex solution to a programming problem that I have looked at carefully has turned out to be wrong. -- Brent Welch

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