The US military’s unmanned Predator and Reaper drones are continuing to fly remote missions overseas despite a computer virus that has infected their US-based cockpits.
Government officials are still investigating whether the virus is benign, and how it managed to infect the heavily protected computer systems at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where US military pilots remotely fly the planes on their missions over Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“Something is going on, but it has not had any impact on the missions overseas,” said a source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Armed tactical unmanned planes have become an increasingly valuable tool used by the US military to track and attack individuals and small groups overseas, but the virus underscores the vulnerability of such systems to attacks on the computer networks used to fly them from great distances.
Rob Densmore, former US navy airman, told Al Jazeera that the infection was a common keystroke logging virus – which registers the keystrokes pilots use to control the unmanned drones from afar.
“It has to have a point of access, so we know that thumb drives – basically USB drives – are used to upload navigational information, guidance information to Predator and Reaper drones.
“And if there’s a way somehow that that information, or that thumb drive, can come into contact with a network or with the internet, that’s where the danger is because that basically means that information can be carried across from the Reaper drones.”
Government approach to security can be described as designing an unsinkable boat that has no doors between compartments and then, to make it usable, cutting a random and increasing number of undocumented holes between compartments.