Salvador Rodriguez, Special to Federal Times 3:50 p.m. EDT May 3, 2016

The Department of Homeland Security wants Silicon Valley’s help defending the nation from cyber threats and issued the first call for help: securing the Internet of Things.

Using the more flexible Other Transaction Solicitation funding method, DHS released the first request for proposals in its Silicon Valley Office Innovation Program asking vendors to chime in on new ideas to secure the ever-expanding list of devices and appliances connected to the Internet and the critical systems they’re being connected to.

Download: OTS Innovation Internet of Things Call

“Greater deployment of IoT across numerous industries and the 16 critical infrastructure sectors that DHS monitors has the potential to create significant benefits to society,” according to the call. “However, the vital importance of these sectors to the nation’s economy, security and public health means that solutions to IoT security vulnerabilities are critically needed.”

Specifically, the call asks for innovations in the ability to detect new devices when they connect to a network; authenticate the devices, including preventing spoofing attempts; and update the security on those devices remotely when they do connect.

DHS will be evaluating proposals throughout the month of January and offering seed money to develop up to 20 ideas, with additional funding available to those that show promise.

The IoT call is the first for the new OTS innovation program. Rather than go through a lengthy procurement process during which time new ideas would become outdated technology, DHS is incentivizing private companies to steer their research and development efforts toward areas where the government needs the most help, particularly around emerging threats.

The funding helps push new research in specific directions and can help DHS stay on the cutting edge by getting in on the ground floor.

“The objective of the Innovation OTS is to promote competition among non-traditional government contractors, with a streamlined approach to address specific needs related to Homeland Security,” according to the notice.

Homeland Security plans to accept up to 20 applications for funding, with each being evaluated and awarded independently to keep the process moving. Interested vendors can submit a short written response to the call and might be asked to follow up with an oral presentation, either in person or through teleconference.

Those 20 applicants will receive between $50,000 and $200,000 to get an initial prototype working, with options to receive comparable funding through three more phases of development over the course of two years. By the third phase, successful companies will be expected to deploy a working pilot program in coordination with a DHS component.

DHS expects to award as much as $20 million through the program over the next five years. Future calls are likely to include areas like aviation security, border security, biological threat defense, counterterrorism and support for first responders.

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