SRI International to devise cyber security to protect users of mixed reality systems from cognitive attacks

June 26, 2024
Mixed reality integrates virtual and real worlds in real-time and will be ubiquitous in the future military for infantry simulation and training.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers needed 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. They found a solution from SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., announced an $8.1 million contract to SRI on Friday 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, researchers say.

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

Related: Artificial intelligence (AI) in unmanned vehicles

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.

In the ICS project, SRI experts seek 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 company will address mixed-reality cyber security issues in five categories: physiology; perception, attention; confidence; and status.

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.

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

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.

For more information contact SRI International online at, or DARPA at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!