U of M team developing 'unhackable' computer

Government security agency DARPA funding project based in Ann Arbor


ANN ARBOR – A team at the University of Michigan, supported by a $3.6 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is working to create an unhackable computer.

U of M is one of nine grant recipients selected as part of a $50 million R&D cybersecurity program by DARPA.

Todd Austin, a U-M professor of computer science and engineering is heading the project, called Morpheus.

"We are making the computer an unsolvable puzzle," Austin said. "It's like if you're solving a Rubik's Cube and every time you blink, I rearrange it."

This way, the security industry's dreaded weakness called a "zero day exploit" would be irrelevant, since Morpheus' capabilities include protecting against future threats before they are identified and eluding attackers.


The approach to cybersecurity used by Austin's team is drastically different from current models, which rely on patches to software and can be vulnerable. Dubbed the "patch and pray" model, many feel it's insufficient.

Earlier this year, DARPA announced the program, and said its purpose was to create cybersecurity solutions that would be incorporated into hardware.

"Instead of relying on software Band-Aids to hardware-based security issues, we are aiming to remove those hardware vulnerabilities in ways that will disarm a large proportion of today's software attacks," said Linton Salmon, manager of DARPA's System Security Integrated Through Hardware and Firmware program.

"What's incredibly exciting about the project is that it will fix tomorrow's vulnerabilities," Austin said. "I've never known any security system that could be future proof."

Austin said his team's new system could have guarded against the Heartbleed bug, uncovered in 2014, which allowed attackers to access passwords and critical information.

Learn more about DARPA on its website.


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