A piece of computer software known as “Mayhem”, has won a competition in Las Vegas, that was seeking to find the best software that can defend against cyber-attacks at a completely autonomous level.

The stage in Las Vegas where Mayhem and its rivals did battle

The stage in Las Vegas where Mayhem and its rivals did battle

The competition was the brainchild of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and was setup up by the agency in the hope of encouraging more interest in the design and creation of autonomous security systems.

The anti hacking competition was held in a Vegas casino ball room at the Def Con hacker conference and has quickly been labelled as the “Cyber Grand Challenge.”

The competition itself has actually been running for the last 3 years, and by the time of the conference this year, only 7 competitors were left in the running. In total, the Cyber Grand Challenge ran for just over 8 hours and had 95 individual rounds

Mayhem’s creators are now in line to receive a $2 million prize to continue their work and make their software program more effective and to also make it ready for the ‘real world.’

Thousands of attendees at the conference watched a full on virtual full scale war between competing security programs running on 7 supercomputers as announcers delivered a play by play account of the competition as it happened, and as the event closed, ‘Mayhem’ found itself crowned the provisional winner of the competition.

Not that such competitions are cheap to run. DARPA spent a reported $55 million setting the whole thing up and were keen to highlight the fact it was the first ‘capture-the-flag’ hacking contest played out solely by computers.

DARPA itself were said to be more than pleased and excited about the success and outcome of the Cyber Grand Challenge, stating that the competition had more than met its expectations and had stimulated development of technologies for automating the process of protecting computer networks against cyber-attacks.”

“I’m blown away by what just happened,” said Mike Walker, the DARPA scientist who set up and oversaw the event. “We’ve had an all-computer hacking tournament.”

Alex Rebert, head of Team Forallsecure, which created Mayhem, said the cash prize would be put towards further development of the program and keeping the small firm behind it going as it grows.

The event was intended to uncover techniques that can find and fix bugs in code far faster than humans can, and from that view point, Walker said the competition had more than proved it was possible.