Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey S. Viano/U.S. Navy /Getty Images.
Some troubling news, and not just because its National Cybersecurity Awareness Month: A computer virus has reportedly infected the U.S.'s Predator and Reaper drones, and network security specialists can't seem to get rid of it.
Wired magazine reported Friday in a fascinating story that the virus logs every keystroke as pilots "fly" unmanned drones remotely overseas from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. It hasn't hindered overseas missions, and as far as they know, there's been no leak of classified information.
But Wired spoke to three anonymous sources about the infection, one of whom had this to say: “We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back... We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”
Here's what they've tried so far, according to the report:
At first, they followed removal instructions posted on the website of the Kaspersky security firm. “But the virus kept coming back,” a source familiar with the infection says. Eventually, the technicians had to use a software tool called BCWipe to completely erase the GCS’ internal hard drives. “That meant rebuilding them from scratch” — a time-consuming effort.
Although the remote cockpits used by pilots to fly drones aren't supposed to have an Internet connection – thereby providing some level of protection against infection – some military specialists are speculating that the virus stumping the military might be, as Wired writes, "common malware."
The drones don't exactly have the most rigorous security protocols: In 2009, insurgents in Iraq were able to capture unencrypted video footage from the drones using a piece of cheap software. And, until the discovery of the virus, Creech was one of the few military locations still using removable hard drives to transfer information between computers. That's how they think the virus spread.
Drones are widely used in U.S. military operations, especially as ground troops are withdrawn. Last week, a drone strike killed American-born jihadi Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, along with two other militants.