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Wired recently reported that a virus had infected ground control stations of US unmanned autonomous vehicles, more commonly known as unmanned drones. What this means is that malware had, in fact — not fiction — gotten inside the cockpits of Predator and Reaper drones.
According to reports, once the virus had gotten inside the cockpits of Predator and Reaper drones, it started logging pilots’ keystrokes as they remotely flew missions.
The drones fly missions Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq in the US’ “War on Terror”. The pilots of the drones can be based anywhere in the world, but most commonly fly the unmanned vehicles from the Creech US Air Force base in Nevada.
As the drones are not supposed to ever be connected to the internet, one of the mysteries in this case was how the drones came to be infected. While it was not clear, best suppositions according to co-Founder and CEO of leading digital security firm Kaspersky Lab Eugene Kaspersky, are that the virus got inside the system via portable hard drives used to load missions and maps.
“That’s all the information we have at the moment.”
Following Kaspersky’s statements, however, it was confirmed by US military spokespeople that the infection was found on a small, portable hard drive that transferred information between systems at the base in Nevada.
Adding even more concern to the security breach was that the US military initially could not find out where the keylogs were being sent and that attempts to remove the virus were proving problematic.
An anonymous source speaking with Wired said, “We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back. We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know”.
Kaspersky noted that, “Sadly it’s not the first time drones have appeared in the headlines of late due to security issues, which makes we worry about what the future holds”.
Drones, airplanes, cars, power stations, electricity grids, reservoirs, hospitals, hotels are all examples of vital elements of infrastructure on which all our lives depend, and they are all controlled by computers and networks. “We rely on them completely. However, we can only guess at how they work and how well they are protected, or, rather, unprotected,” Kaspersky added.
“And what can occur as a result of deficient protection is anyone’s guess. Just watch Live Free or Die Hard — half of it is of course pure fantasy, the other half is now a reality — hard-boiled and nasty.”
Kaspersky concluded that, “what is certain, is that this is the first of many [attacks] to come”.