WASHINGTON: The US government’s unmanned Predator and Reaper drones are continuing to fly remote missions overseas, despite a computer virus that has infected the plane’s US-based cockpits, according to a source familiar with the infection.
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 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 the source, who was not authorised to speak publicly.
Armed tactical unmanned planes have become an increasingly valuable tool used by the US government 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.
Wired magazine first reported the virus infection on its website on Friday and said it was logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely flew missions over Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Wired said the problem was first detected nearly two weeks ago by the US military’s Host-Based Security System, but there were no confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. The virus had resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, Wired said, quoting network security specialists.
The US military and intelligence communities have used Predator and Reaper drones, built by privately held General Atomics in San Diego, to carry out attacks on top al Qaeda officials and other US targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. The US military has achieved its goal of flying 60 combat air patrols overseas with the unmanned planes, according to one US defence official.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2011.