Industry asked to provide cyber security protection for mixed reality systems against cognitive attacks

Oct. 18, 2023
Mixed reality integrates virtual and real worlds in real-time for future military missions such as infantry simulations and actual tactical missions.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are asking industry to find ways of protecting users of mixed-reality systems from malicious cyber attacks aimed at overwhelming, confusing, sowing mistrust, or sickening users of military mixed-reality technology.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., issued a broad agency announcement (HR001124S0002) on Monday for the Intrinsic Cognitive Security (ICS) project, which seeks to build tactical mixed-reality systems that protect human users against cognitive attacks.

Mixed reality integrates virtual and real worlds in real-time and will be ubiquitous in future military missions such as infantry simulation and training, as well as actual tactical missions.

Cognitive attacks aim to change how individuals or groups perceive situations, and often are central components of malicious political propaganda.

Related: Simulation and mission rehearsal relies on state-of-the-art computing

Users of mixed-reality systems will be vulnerable to attacks that exploit the intimate connection between users and mixed-reality equipment, such as information flooding to increase equipment latency and induce physical illness; planting real-world objects to overwhelm displays; subverting a personal area network to sow confusion; injecting virtual data to distract personnel; using objects to overwhelm a user with confusing false alarms; and assessing user status through an eye tracker.

The ICS project seeks to develop formal methods with rigorous mathematics-based approaches to guarantee the absence of exploitable mixed-reality system weaknesses. Cognitive models represent aspects of human perception, action, memory, and reasoning. The ICS program will extend formal methods by creating and analyzing cognitive and other models as part of mixed-reality system development to protect the warfighter from adversary attacks.

The project will address mixed-reality cyber security issues in five categories: physiology; perception, attention; confidence; and status.

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Physiology includes issues that cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, and other problems. Perception deals with virtual information used to mask important real-world events. Attention involves the use of confusing or distracting information. Confidence involves user doubt in virtual-or real-world information. Status involves how an adversary might inappropriately capitalize on data that the user has shared with the system.

The program has two technical areas: create cognitive guarantees and models; and evaluation. Mixed-reality cognition involves helping the user trust what he sees and hears in the system. Evaluation seeks to match what the user sees and hears with what the user expects.

The project has two phases: developing proved guarantees and supporting models; and validating the usefulness of the guarantees in mixed reality systems. The program is a three-year effort, which is expected to begin in July 2024.

Related: Artificial intelligence (AI) in unmanned vehicles

DARPA will brief industry on the ICS program details from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Friday 20 Oct. 2023 at Executive Conference Center, 4075 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Virginia, 22203. Register online at

Companies interested should submit abstracts no later than 2 Nov. 2023, and full proposals 20 Dec. 2023 to the DARPA BAA Website at

Email questions or concerns to DARPA at [email protected]. More information is online at

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