US Air Force on mystery ‘drone virus’: It was a ‘nuisance’

The mystery virus which reportedly struck the US Air Force’s unmanned drone fleet has been dismissed as a “nuisance” by the US Air Force.

In the first official confirmation of the virus, Air Force Space Command said that while computers at the Nevada base were infected, the virus posed no serious threat to flight operations.

Space Command also stated that the malware had not been a key-logger but rather a “credential stealer found routinely on computer networks”.

“The infected computers were part of the ground control system that supports RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) operations,” it said.

“The ground system is separate from the flight control system Air Force pilots use to fly the aircraft remotely; the ability of the RPA pilots to safely fly these aircraft remained secure throughout the incident.”

When first reported by Wired magazine, the virus was said to have spread from Creech, a Nevada air force base where drones are commonly piloted from, through removable hard drives used to load map updates and transfer mission videos from one computer to another.

According to Wired, drone units at other US bases around the world were told to stop using the removable hard drives.

Wired said that the Air Force had faced difficulty in attempts to remove the malware. An anonymous source told the magazine, “We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back. We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know”.

Adding to the sense of mystery about the drone virus, in its report Wired wrote, “Military network security specialists aren’t sure whether the virus and its so-called ‘keylogger’ payload were introduced intentionally or by accident”.

A spokesperson for Space Command explained that the usual rules about prohibiting the discussion the “operational status” were lifted to assure the public about the state of the drone fleet.

The Air Force “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,” Colonel Kathleen Cook said in the statement.

The American military and intelligence agencies have come to heavily rely on the robotic aircraft to track enemy forces, with the planes transforming battlefield tactics and strategy in recent years.

The US military openly acknowledges drone flights in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya but the CIA declines to publicly discuss its covert missions using drones to take out Al-Qaeda extremists in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.