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Oculus Rift is the latest weapon in the Defense Department’s fight against cyberattacks

Above: A Virtuix 360-degree treadmill plus an Oculus Rift headset makes for a terrifyingly immersive video game experience at GamesBeat 2013.

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat

The military’s army of hackers may soon use Oculus Rift to fight the cyberwar.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), basically the Q to the U.S. Department of Defense’s James Bond, is experimenting with using the Oculus Rift headset (as Wired first reported). It wants its crew of high-tech computer soldiers to explore networks in three dimensions, and it’s using the virtual-reality device to put them right in the middle of these simulations. This may help the white-hats better see security risks in friendly computer systems or exploits in enemy networks.

DARPA calls it Plan X, and Oculus Rift is just one of the latest additions. The idea is to give military hackers one interface they can use to block malicious network intrusions as well as stage attacks of their own. Armed with the head-mounted display, DARPA has its cybercombatants navigating the three-dimensional space using a pair of motion-sensing controllers.

The research division already has a demo running that it is calling a proof-of-concept. In it, a hacker must go through missions that require them to find weak points in a system while an enemy is simultaneously performing counterattacks.

Oculus Rift has already drawn the attention of the military for use in training soldiers for real-world combat. The device gives wearers a sense of presence, which is what makes it such a powerful tool for gaming. That’s the same feature that could make it work well as a training tool for warfare. This is also just the latest gaming tech to seep into the world of real war. The hand-eye coordination that people perfect when playing twitchy games is the same thing that fighter pilots need to control a supersonic jet. Last year, a study found that gamers make the best drone pilots, since they can easily process the video information.

While this might sound a bit strange, that is the point of DARPA. This is the military division that first invested in computer-controlled driverless cars with the DARPA Grand Challenge. Google is now working with many of the tech companies that started in that program to bring automated vehicles to consumers. DARPA is likely also still looking at integrating full automation into military vehicles. The research-and-development department is hoping to get just as serious about Oculus.

The military is still years away from deploying Oculus (or like devices) into real-world scenarios, and it’s still possible that it will never amount to anything real. But the U.S. wants every advantage when it comes to cyberthreats, and virtual reality may just give it that edge.

We’ve reached out to Oculus for comment, and we’ll update this post with any new information.

In March, social-networking site Facebook purchased Oculus VR for $2 billion. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, said that he sees the technology as the next major computing platform. Oculus is still working on a consumer version of the Rift, which it expects to release some time later this year or potentially early in 2015.

While Oculus is working on making the dream of VR a reality, the military is doing something even more unbelievable: It’s making the movie Hackers more plausible:

 

More information:

Oculus VR™ was founded by Palmer Luckey, self-described virtual reality enthusiast and hardware geek. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund development of their first product, the Oculus Rift, a ground-breaking vir... read more »

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