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US DARPA launches security-boosting puzzle game portal

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has turned to gamers in an attempt to improve the security of its software - through web-based puzzle gaming.

Traditionally the military organisation, responsible for research and development projects which brought the world, among other things, the modern Internet, has relied upon analysing software code using powerful computer systems and highly-trained engineers in order to find security vulnerabilities. While it won't be giving that up just yet, DARPA has chosen to augment its traditional methods with something new: a crowd-sourced team of bug-finders who believe they're actually playing a game.

"We’re seeing if we can take really hard math problems and map them onto interesting, attractive puzzle games that online players will solve for fun," explained Drew Dean, DARPA programme manager, of the company's Verigames project. "By leveraging players’ intelligence and ingenuity on a broad scale, we hope to reduce security analysts’ workloads and fundamentally improve the availability of formal verification."

The system works by mapping some of the more basic, yet still computationally complex aspects of formal verification of commercial, off-the-shelf software products to puzzle-format titles. As the player solves the puzzle, they are also verifying the accuracy of the software code - potentially flagging up any security concerns for later review by a professional.

At launch, the Verigames platform includes five titles: CircuitBot, a robot-based interstellar exploration game; Flow Jam, a Pipe-Mania like flow-maximisation title; Ghost Map, which asks the player to plot a course through a brain-like network; StormBound, which requires the sorting of symbols from a wind storm; and Xylem, which looks to categorise various species of plants using mathematical formulae.

"This is one of the most ambitious development projects in the history of gaming," said Andrew Keplinger, president of CircuitBot creator Left Brain Games. "CircuitBot synergizes the thrill of interstellar exploration with the tactical decision-making of the strategy genre, while incorporating a hidden real-world crowdsource program that goes unnoticed, because gamers are having fun!"

All games are available now on the Verigames website, although owing to its volunteer agreement terms only to players aged 18 and above.

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