Saturday, October 8, 2011
It was only a matter of time: the weakest link in the otherwise awesome idea that is a remote-controlled military, represented by the thousands of Predator and Reaper drones, has always been its biggest strength: the fact that it is remote-controlled.
Which means that with no person on location, the system has always been susceptible to infiltration in the form of intermediation between the offsite pilot and the actual equipment. Such as a virus. And as Wired reports, a viral infestation, the biggest nightmare for the the US drone fleet, has just struck. “A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones. The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system.” Well that is truly Ironic: the “western” world tried to cripple (and failed) Iran’s nuclear program with Stuxnet; it will, then, be supremely ironic if Iran retaliates by maxing out the credit cards of the US Air Force logging the credit card number as pilots purchase stuff online, and uses these to buy weaponized plutonium from Russia using Uncle Sam’s credit card.
“We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”
Ah yes, the good old “it’s a benign viral infestation of a top-secret military system” excuse. It’s a classic. Works everytimg too.
Military network security specialists aren’t sure whether the virus and its so-called “keylogger” payload were introduced intentionally or by accident; it may be a common piece of malware that just happened to make its way into these sensitive networks. The specialists don’t know exactly how far the virus has spread. But they’re sure that the infection has hit both classified and unclassified machines 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.
Drones have become America’s tool of choice in both its conventional
and shadow wars, allowing U.S. forces to attack targets and spy on its
foes without risking American lives. Since President Obama assumed
office, a fleet of approximately 30 CIA-directed drones have hit targets
in Pakistan more than 230 times; all told, these drones have killed more than 2,000 suspected militants and civilians, according to the Washington Post.
More than 150 additional Predator and Reaper drones, under U.S. Air
Force control, watch over the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. American
military drones struck 92 times in Libya between mid-April and late August. And late last month, an American drone killed top terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki — part of an escalating unmanned air assault in the Horn of Africa and southern Arabian peninsula.
But despite their widespread use, the drone systems are known to have
security flaws. Many Reapers and Predators don’t encrypt the video they
transmit to American troops on the ground. In the summer of 2009, U.S.
forces discovered “days and days and hours and hours” of the drone footage on the laptops of Iraqi insurgents. A $26 piece of software allowed the militants to capture the video.