An armed Predator drone in a U.S. Military hangar in Iraq.
All Predator and Reaper drones out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada have been infected with a virus that could steal and transmit data. (Photo Credit: CC BY/jamesdale10/Fotopedia)

Drone warfare is on the cutting edge of military technology, but that doesn’t make attack drones immune to garden variety computer viruses. Wired reports that all U.S. Predator and Reaper drones currently flying missions over Afghanistan and other war zones are infected with a keylogger virus that records remote pilots’ every command.

A fly in Host-Based Security System’s ointment

The military drone keylogger virus was detected almost two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System. Yet numerous sources report that attack drone missions out of Creech Air Force Base in the Nevada desert have continued. No incidents of classified information falling into the hands of an unknown third party have been recorded to date, but military technicians are concerned because the computer virus has resisted attempts at removal. Only a complete hard drive wipe has proven successful, but then only for a brief period.

“We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” said an unnamed source familiar with the Creech AFB computer network. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”

Military network specialists aren’t sure where the keylogger virus came from and whether it was introduced into the system intentionally or by accident. They also don’t know how far into the network the keylogger has crept, although it is clear that both classified and unclassified machines at Creech have been infected.

Military drones have become a vital tool in war

America’s conventional and shadow wars have been revolutionized by attack drone technology, to the point that soon, total artificial intelligence automation will supplant human s who fly the craft via remote control. Wired notes that at least 30 CIA-directed drones have hit key targets in Pakistan more than 230 times and killed more than 2,000 suspected militants and civilians. Military drones have struck hot spots across the Middle Eastern war theater.

Yet what appears to concern military technicians the most is not the already sizable amount of collateral damage against non-combative civilian targets but inherent security flaws in the system. As many Predator and Reaper drones don’t encrypt the video footage they capture of U.S. ground troops, some Iraqi insurgents in 2009 captured footage that helped them plan attacks.

Even though military drone security has since improved, the danger a simple keylogger virus poses illustrates just how fragile the extremely dangerous technology can potentially be.

Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, a spokesman for Air Combat Command, the organization responsible for all Air Force drones and tactical aircraft, declined to comment directly on the internal workings of the keylogger malware.

Drones used for civilian surveillance

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfEuVdFiL4g

Sources

Host Based Security System: http://www.disa.mil/Services/Information-Assurance/HBSS

Keystroke logging Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystroke_logging

TG Daily: http://www.tgdaily.com/security-features/58927-virus-infects-us-military-drones

Wired: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/10/virus-hits-drone-fleet/

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