In a clash of two of what are considered the future tools for global warfare, it has been discovered that the systems used by the U.S. military to fly its Predator and Reaper drones have been infected by malware.
First reported by Wired magazine, the malicious code logs every keystroke made by the drones' pilots, who are stationed at Creech Air Base in Clark County, Nevada. The mysterious malware was first detected two weeks ago by the military's data security system, the Host-Based Security program, but officials have yet to be successful in ridding the drone systems of the threat.
"We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back," an unnamed source close to the drone program told Wired. "We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know."
According to Wired, three different unnamed sources have disclosed the malware infection. So far, according to the sources, no sensitive information has been obtained by the malware, but the thought of military systems being infiltrated and spied on is unsettling enough.
Unmanned drone aircraft have played a pivotal role in combat actions for the U.S. military the past decade or so. They have been used extensively in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to some degree, in order to track down members of the Taliban and anyone harboring terrorists associated with al-Qaeda.
Drones have also been lauded by the U.S. government as the next wave of warfare in which troops are taken off the front lines. However, the aircraft have also drawn much criticism, especially in Pakistan, for causing civilian casualties.
It's clear to see why another country would want to get an inside look at the U.S. military's drone program and why a cyberattack against it is so concerning. Unfortunately, this may be nothing new.
"But despite their widespread use, the drone systems are known to have security flaws. Many Reapers and Predators don’t encrypt the video they transmit to American troops on the ground," Wired reported.
In 2009, it was found that Iraqi insurgents also hacked the drone systems and were able to steal video the aircraft collected. Many hours of video footage was found on laptops belonging to the insurgency. That's because the military at the time failed to encrypt the footage as it was transmitted to troops on the ground.
Insurgents stole the video with the help of a $26 piece of software called SkyGrabber that is readily available online.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this latest report is that fact that none of the remote cockpits used by drone pilots are connected to the public Internet. Supposedly, this allows them to be better protected, altogether immune, even, to computer viruses and malware. But somehow the system controlling the aircraft was compromised nonetheless.
Many experts believe that cyberwarfare is now a regular aspect of many nations' military infrastructure. As society becomes more reliant on technology and the Internet, it's only natural that both will someday become main targets of cyberattacks. Those days may not be too far off, either.
In August, Operation Shady RAT came to light, in which it was discovered that more than 72 global organizations have been subjected to cyberattacks during the past several years. The name is derived from the tool that hackers have used to breach the organizations' servers.
Those affected include the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations, a lab for the U.S. Energy Department, numerous U.S. defense contractors and many others.
Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro