Open Programmable Secure 5G (OPS-5G)

Funding Agency:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals in the area of open source software and systems enabling secure 5G and follow-on mobile networks. Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems. Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice. 

OPS-5G will create open source software and systems enabling secure 5G and subsequent mobile networks such as 6G. The signature security advantage of open source software is increased code visibilityviiviii, meaning that code can be examined, analyzed and audited, either manually or with automated tools. In addition, the portability of open source serves, as a desired side-effect, to decouple the hardware and software ecosystems. This significantly raises the difficulty of a supply-chain attack and eases the introduction of innovative hardware into the market. 

Programmability must be implemented and managed carefullyx to achieve its potential benefits. Such benefits include bespoke networks that are tuned to application needs, as well as increased network adaptation capabilities. Programmability must also be developed in ways that avoid rampant opportunities for misuse. Ideally, the introduction of programmability for 5G will incorporate lessons learned from the well-intentioned introduction of programmability into web browsers, a capability that quickly became weaponized by malicious actors. 

OPS-5G aims to improve overall 5G security. OPS-5G changes are focused on increasing trust at a set of soft points that include unmanaged, unattended, long-lived, and possibly long-forgotten IoT devices. Additionally, OPS-5G addresses unintended and unwanted interactions between network slices and threats from the vast increases in network scale.

Proposal Due Date: March 17, 2020

Agency Website

Areas of Interest

Challenges addressed by OPS-5G’s Technical Areas (TA) are:

(1) Decreasing the time required for updates to OPS-5G open source software in response to new versions of the 5G standards;

(2) Achieving a usable scalable “zero-trust”xi security architecture for devices ranging from IoT sensors to servers. The architecture should have a minimal impact on size, weight and power (SWaP), and price;

(3) Mitigating new attack surfaces (such as side-channels) introduced by virtualization and slicing; and

(4) Changing programmability from a threat vector to an enabler of security at scale. 

Technical Area 1: Standards Meet Software

Technical Area 2: Cross-scale 5G node and network security

Technical Area 3: Secure slices 

Technical Area 4: Principled programmable defenses

Eligibility Requirements

DARPA welcomes engagement from all responsible sources capable of satisfying the Government's needs, including academia (colleges and universities); businesses (large, small, small disadvantaged, etc.); other organizations (including non-profit); other entities (foreign, domestic, and government); FFRDCs; minority institutions; and others. 

Amount Description

DARPA anticipates multiple awards for each of TA1, TA2, TA3, and TA4. The level of funding for individual awards made under this solicitation has not been predetermined and will depend on the quality of the proposals received and the availability of funds. 

Funding Type





Engineering and Physical Sciences

External Deadline

March 17, 2020