Top Five National Security Research Challenges/Opportunites for the Next Adminstration

From ZIA – “These are merely a reflection of my own opinions and biases, and I welcome additional suggestions in the comments or e-mail.

  1. Quantum Cryptography – Quantum computing will completely change all aspects of information technology; however, its deepest consequence for national security could be in cryptography. Theoretically, the technology would allow two parties to communicate securely, while being able to monitor any surveillance activity due to the inherent quantum mechanics. All of this is still very conceptual, but the Unites States is lagging behind the rest of the worldin developing this game changing technology.
  2. Applications for Genetic Algorithms in Battlefield Operations – This is a natural research progression for an armed forces increasingly willing to conduct operation with unmanned vehicles. Genetic computing and algorithms allow machines to learn through repeated trial and error, as programs can “evolve” to solve extremely difficult artificial intelligence problems. This has very clear applications for battlefield operations. For example, UAVs can be freed to develop the most efficient routes for ISR collection, an experiment that has already shown some success. Genetic computing has also shown promise in forecast modeling, and additional research should be conducted to investigate its application to modeling scenarios with national security implications.
  3. Multi-layered Network Dynamics – Understanding the inter-layer dynamics of networks goes beyond DARPA’s challenge to understand these dynamics in a single dimension. While it will be critical to create a foundational knowledge of network dynamics, all of the problems now being addressed through network analysis must mature to a multi-layered framework if real progress is to be made. Networks do not exist in a vacuum (e.g., people often interact on social, physical, and telecommunications networks concurrently); therefore, it is critical that research begin to move in this direction.
  4. Defining the DoD’s and IC’s Presence in Cyberspace – This is more of a policy research area than a scientific one, but nonetheless its impact may well define U.S. national security strategy for the next decade. The DoD and IC must develop a legal and administrative framework to police and survey assets in cyberspace. This will require massive inter-agency coordination, and a cultural reprogramming, but the stakes are too high to allow competitor nations to dominate cyber.
  5. Hardening of Biometric Data Collection and Analysis – Biometrics have been a bit of research sandbox for the past couple of years; holding much promise but little solid application. Currently, there are no biometric “silver bullets” that provide the security and confidence promised by this technology. A large part of the problem is that there are very limited standards for collecting and analyzing this data. The massive biometric data set collected in Iraq presents a viable testbed for developing these standards, and hardening the scientific practice of biometric research.

UPDATE: The Army and NSA seem to agree that quantum computing is a worthwhile endeavor. This morning, the research arms from each organization jointly released a BAA for the “Development of Quantum Computing Algorithms,” and while there is nothing in the solicitation specifically about cryptography, the applications of quantum algorithms “to solve mathematically and computationally hard problems from such diverse fields as algebra, number theory, geometry, analysis, optimization, graph theory, differential equations, combinatorics, topology, logic, and simulation,” are all relevant to the field. Also, given that these agencies form the apex of cryptographic research in the U.S., its is quite likely that advancing the field is the main motivation for this research.”


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