Engineers have designed a computer processor that thwarts hackers by randomly changing its microarchitecture every few milliseconds. Known as Morpheus, the puzzling processor has now aced its first major tests, repelling hundreds of professional hackers in a DARPA security challenge.
In 2017, DARPA backed the University of Michigan’s Morpheus project with US$3.6 million in funding, and now the novel processor has been put to the test. Over four months in 2020, DARPA ran a bug bounty program called Finding Exploits to Thwart Tampering (FETT), pitting 525 professional security researchers against Morpheus and a range of other processors.
The goal of the program was to test new hardware-based security systems, which could protect data no matter how vulnerable the underlying software was. Morpheus was mocked up to resemble a medical database, complete with software vulnerabilities – and yet, not a single attack made it through its defenses.
There’s basically no such thing as bug-free software, and in many cases these bugs can be exploited by hackers. Software developers will usually patch them up when they find them, but that often doesn’t happen until after an attack, and hackers will just move onto the next vulnerability. The cycle continues in a never-ending arms race between hackers and developers.