Military: Computer virus wasn't directed at drones

Wednesday - 10/12/2011, 8:19pm EDT

LOLITA C. BALDOR
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The computer virus that hit the Pentagon's drone program last month was not directed at the military systems but was common malware used to steal log-ins and passwords used in online gaming, military officials said Wednesday.

According to Air Force Space Command, the virus did not get into the flight controls for the drones, which are flown remotely by pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Instead, it got into ground control systems that run backup power supplies, environmental controls and work stations.

Military officials have asserted that at no time did the virus impact the missions of the drone, which are used for surveillance, intelligence gathering and attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force said the virus got into a stand-alone support network.

For the first time Wednesday, Air Force officials provided details about the incident, saying they determined that the virus was not targeting the high-tech drone program. Instead, according to one defense official, it was malware that is routinely used to steal log-in and password data from people who gamble or play games like Mafia Wars online.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

According to Air Force Space Command spokeswoman Col. Kathleen Cook, the infection was found on a small, portable hard drive used to transfer information between systems at Creech.

Initial reports suggested the virus logged keystrokes by computer users, but the Air Force said the virus _ which they would not name _ does not do that.

The virus was first detected on Sept. 15 and was initially reported by Wired magazine.

In a statement Wednesday, the Air Force said that the malware is "considered more of a nuisance than a threat" and that it was not designed to transmit video or to corrupt data or files on the infected computers.

Because of the sensitive nature of the military's drone program, Air Force officials had to go through a lengthy process to declassify information in order to answer detailed questions about the incident.

"We felt it important to declassify portions of the information associated with this event to ensure the public understands that the detected and quarantined virus posed no threat to our operational mission and that control of our remotely piloted aircraft was never in question," Cook said.

Portable hard drives and the smaller flash drives are common sources of computer infections since they easily transmit data from one computer to another.

The Pentagon has banned the smaller flash drives from most Defense Department computers because of the escalating cyber threats. Military leaders say that department networks are probed and attacked millions of times a day.

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Associated Press writer Jordan Robertson contributed to this report.

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.

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