DARPA wants to take a look at blockchain’s security rules

Defense officials want to take a deeper look at the protocols used to validate information on a blockchain and how they are designed.

Blockchain continues to draw interest from across the federal government for its potential to dramatically optimize data operations, but the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to take a deeper look what security challenges could come with adopting the technology.

Defense officials are particularly interested in the “permissionless” rules that allow open user access to a blockchain to assess the accuracy of the information on it, also known as distributed consensus protocols.

“These technologies have dramatic implications for the security and resilience of critical data storage and computation tasks, including for the Department of Defense,” DARPA officials said in a request for information posted Monday. “At the same time, the concrete applications and security of these technologies for the DoD is unclear.  DARPA is interested in better understanding the broader implications that such technologies may play for the DoD.”

Because blockchains are decentralized, distributed consensus protocols are the agreed-upon rules of the road to validate the information being shared by users on distributed ledger technology.


DARPA’s Information Innovation Office (I2O) wants to understand how these rules work in a permissionless model that doesn’t restrict the number of users who have access to the blockchain.

The agency plans to host a two-day workshop on Feb. 14-15 to examine “several, less-explored avenues” of distributed consensus protocols in three use cases:

  • Incentivizing Distributed Consensus Protocols without Money
  • Economic-Driven Security Models for Distributed Computation Protocols
  • The Centralities of Distributed Consensus Protocols

I2O officials will host sessions on each of the use cases at the February workshop and are calling for stakeholder insights on them. Responses to the RFI could potentially presentation time at the workshop.

Specifically, defense officials are interested in discussing topics like how to design large-scale protocols that could be deployed without relying on providing monetary incentives to users, of how to bridge the gap between consensus protocols and the economic utility of users and how to mitigate the security challenges from unintended centralities like code formats and network topologies.


The RFI calls for technical plans for addressing the uses cases and is open to academia, businesses, nonprofits and other interested stakeholders.

Those stakeholders have until Dec. 20 to respond.

Carten Cordell

Written by Carten Cordell

Carten Cordell is a Senior Technology Reporter for FedScoop. He is a former workforce and acquisition reporter at Federal Times, having previously served as online editor for Northern Virginia Magazine and Investigative Reporter for, Virginia Bureau. Carten was a 2014 National Press Foundation Paul Miller Fellow and has a Master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He is also a graduate of Auburn University and promises to temper his passions for college football while in the office.

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