Drone virus may have originated with online gaming

The computer virus that infected part of the military’s unmanned aerial vehicle fleet was a common credential-stealing program that poses no threat to drone missions, the Air Force said.

The virus, discovered by the Air Force Sept. 24 and first reported by Wired, infected computers in a ground control system separate from flight control systems used by Air Force pilots and is “more of a nuisance than a threat,” the Air Force Space Command said in a statement.

Drone missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, controlled by pilots at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., have not been interrupted by the virus.

How did it get there? A defense official speaking anonymously told the Associated Press that the malware is a kind used to steal log-in and password information from people playing games such as “Mafia Wars” or gambling online. But the official made no comment on whether it got there because crews were playing online games.

The Air Force said the malware is not a keylogger, as was first reported, and does not transmit data or video, or corrupt data or anything else on the infected computer. And it was limited to the ground system, not infecting the UAVs or pilots’ systems at all, the Air Force said. But it has proved difficult to scrub from the ground system.

It’s unusual for the military to comment on its operations. But Col. Kathleen Cook, Air Force Space Command spokesperson, said, “We felt it important to declassify portions of the information associated with this event to ensure the public understands that the detected and quarantined virus posed no threat to our operational mission and that control of our remotely piloted aircraft was never in question.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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