U.S. Drones Still Fly Despite Reported Virus Attack

   on October 08 2011 3:58 AM

On the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the United States is perhaps fighting a different type of terrorism now than it did then. It has been reported that a computer virus has infected the Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles the U.S. has deployed in Afghanistan and other war zones.

Wired magazine on Friday carried a report by contributing editor Noah Shachtman that said the virus had been detected two weeks ago. It said the virus was a “keylogger,” which might have recorded every keystroke logged when U.S.-based pilots flew remote combat and surveillance missions abroad.

A U.S. military source reportedly told Shachtman the virus had resisted multiple efforts to remove it from computer networks at the Creech Air Force Base outside Indian Springs, Nev.

We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back. We think it's benign. But we just don't know... It's getting a lot of attention. But no one's panicking. Yet,?? the source told Shachtman.

The U.S. hasn’t grounded the drones, and military sources have reportedly claimed that the virus had not affected or made accessible classified information.

However, Alex Knapp, a contributor at Forbes, believes the virus might have hit both classified and unclassified systems.

“If the attack was intentional, then it’s possible that data keyed into the systems has been transmitted to parties unknown. Though as of this time there’s no evidence of that,” he wrote.

Military network-security specialists told Shachtman they were unsure whether the virus and its keylogger payload were injected accidentally or intentionally. Some of them speculated it might be a common piece of malware that just happened to make its way into sensitive networks.

The specialists were unable to determine how far the virus has spread. However, they admitted that the malware has affected both classified and unclassified systems at Creech.

That raises the possibility, at least, that secret data may have been captured by the keylogger, and then transmitted over the public Internet to someone outside the military chain of command, said Shachtman.

The U.S. Air Force refused to comment on reports of the drone virus.

“We generally do not discuss specific vulnerabilities, threats, or responses to our computer networks, since that helps people looking to exploit or attack our systems to refine their approach, a representative of the Air Combat Command reportedly told Wired.

We invest a lot in protecting and monitoring our systems to counter threats and ensure security, which includes a comprehensive response to viruses, worms, and other malware we discover, added the spokesman.

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