Virus attacks military drones, exposes vulnerabilities

A computer virus was discovered recording sensitive information being sent to military attack drones.
Written by Tuan Nguyen, Contributor

A couple weeks ago, a computer virus was discovered recording sensitive information being sent to military attack drones, an incident that will almost certainly lead to heightened concerns over the use of unmanned weapons in the war against terror.

Citing anonymous sources, Wired.com reported that the keylogging malware was detected inside the operating cockpits used to send commands to the Predator and Reaper drones at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. For military officials, the good news thus far is that the security breach hasn't disrupted current reconnaissance and enemy strike operations in the Afghanistan, Pakistan or Libya. The report also states that there hasn't been any confirmed leaks of secret information -- at least not yet.

However, the officials are certain the virus has spread to both classified and unclassified computers. The biggest concern is that classified data captured by the program may have been sent to someone outside the base. No one knows exactly how the virus infected the system, though some suspect it was transmitted through the use of removable hard drives.

The latest setback is especially troubling for the U.S. military considering the instrumental role that Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAV) have played in turning the tide against insurgents and operatives who run terror networks overseas. Recently, the drones have garnered widespread media attention for successfully targeting some high profile terrorist such as second ranking Al-Qaeda member Atiyah Abd al-Rahman and their American-born operations chief Anwar al-Awlaki. In all, the robotic assassins have taken out more than 2,000 suspected threats, according to the Washington Post.

As computer networks have increasingly taken over as the operational interface for handling conflicts, the ability to wage and defend against of cyberwarfare will also become imperative. In 2009, a mysterious malware program named Stuxnet was reported to have damaged the machinery at Iran's uranium enrichment facilities. The origins of the super-virus are unknown, though experts suspect that it was the creation of a government agency and was developed specifically to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. And no doubt some are worried that the underlying technologies that enable the flying robots to carry out their missions can be compromised in a similar fashion.

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