Computers controlling American military drones have been infected with a keylogger that tracks pilots’ keystrokes as they remotely fly the unmanned machines around the world, according to a report.
According to Wired, the malware was detected roughly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System. So far, it has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada – where many of the Air Force pilots operating drones are stationed - from performing missions overseas. In addition, no classified information has been confirmed to have been lost or sent to an outside source. Still, the malware is raising some eyebrows because it has managed to survive multiple eradication attempts.
“We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” a source familiar with the network infection told Wired. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”
The Air Force has declined to comment directly on the virus, though insiders interviewed by Wired said no one is panicking – yet.
Meanwhile, the drones continue to play a key role in the War of Terror. The recent killing of militant Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen was carried out by a drone attack. Though the malware does not appear to have impacted any missions, its presence has set off bells since the infection has hit both classified and unclassified systems at Creech – raising the possibility that confidential information may have been compromised.
In 2009, it was discovered that militants in Iraq had used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones. According to a report at the time from the Wall Street Journal, senior defense and intelligence officials believed insurgents backed by Iran intercepted the video feeds via an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes' systems.
There has been some speculation the infection may be linked to the use of removal drives, something that was at the heart of a breach in 2008 that former Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III described last year as "the most significant breach of U.S. military computers ever.”
“Chances are that the malware is a common-or-garden keylogging Trojan horse designed to steal banking information rather than targeting the USAF (United States Air Force),” blogged Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. “But if they are having problems keeping their systems malware-free, and have not identified the infection accurately, they should presume that it is more serious instead.”