The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking to get a better understanding of permissionless blockchains, but Bitcoin does not appear to be invited to the party.
To achieve this enhanced insight into blockchain technology, the US Department of Defense agency has sent out a request for information (RFI) on permissionless distributed consensus protocols, specifically touching on aspects that have been inadequately explored.
One area DARPA is seeking to get a better handle of is how permissionless blockchains can function in the absence of monetary incentives. With permissionless distributed protocols such as Bitcoin offering compensation to participants (miners) in the form of newly-created coins for their work in adding blocks and ensuring the security of the network, DARPA is interested in alternative methods that can be employed.
For the agency, it is mandatory that these techniques do not offer participants incentives in monetary form, cryptocurrency or otherwise. However, other transfers of value can be considered, such as offering participants access to computing resources.
Economic-Driven Security Model
From the RFI, DARPA is also seeking deeper insight into the idea that participants in permissionless distributed protocols behave with their economic interests at heart. In this regard, the DoD agency is interested in “methods that leverage rigorous economic notions to advance theories of security for distributed, permissionless computation protocols.”
Additionally, DARPA is also seeking the means by which the unintended or intended centralization of a distributed consensus protocol can be analyzed and/or addressed. This is in recognition of the fact that permissionless distributed protocols may have certain aspects which are centralized and this may impact the security of the protocol, regardless of the theoretical guarantees.
According to DARPA, the information provided by responders could potentially inform a future program of the agency:
“For the purpose of this RFI, DARPA is solely interested in permissionless distributed consensus protocols … While there is a substantial amount of publically and privately supported research and development in distributed consensus protocols, DARPA seeks information along several, less-explored avenues of permissionless distributed consensus protocols. Such information could help inform a future DARPA program.”
Blockchain-based Messaging Platform
Despite being a military agency which maintains a high level of secrecy in certain projects, this is not the first time that DARPA has publicly demonstrated interest in blockchain technology. Two years ago, CCN reported that DARPA was working on a communications platform where messages would be transferred on a secure decentralized protocol.
At the time, DARPA indicated that the messaging platform would be used in conveying troop movements, especially in denied communication environments. As the DoD agency said at the time, such a blockchain messaging system would need to be resilient during cyber-attacks, possess self-destruct features for messages, and be capable of providing deniability or repudiation, if and when necessary.