More details have emerged on how systems ground systems that control US military drones came to be infected by malware.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the US Air Force said that "standalone systems on Creech Air Force Base, Nevada" had been infected with malware. "Credential stealing" software was discovered in September on portable hard drives and traced back to a standalone mission support network:
The infected computers were part of the ground control system that supports RPA operations. The ground system is separate from the flight control system Air Force pilots use to fly the aircraft remotely; the ability of the RPA pilots to safely fly these aircraft remained secure throughout the incident.
Ground control systems refer to those that control the weapons and surveillance functions of drones, arguably worse than infecting the piloting systems. Air force officials said that the malware, whatever system it infected, posed no threat to the operation of unmanned Reaper drones.
Colonel Kathleen Cook, spokeswoman for Air Force Space Command, said: "The detected and quarantined virus posed no threat to our operational mission and that control of our remotely piloted aircraft was never in question."
But how did credential stealing malware get on the infected drives in the first place?
The type of malware associated with the outbreak is "routinely used to steal log-in and password data from people who gamble or play games like Mafia Wars online" an anonymous defence official told Associated Press. The official omitted to explain "why drone crews were playing Mafia Wars or similar games during their overseas missions", noted Noah Shachtman, the journalist who broke the story.
Gaming security expert Chris Boyd, of GFI Software, said that the source must have been talking generally or referring to something targeting Facebook logins if Mafia Wars is actually involved, simply because you play Mafia Wars via your Facebook account. The malware might have been a phishing toolbar (such as this).
"Those toolbars target games such as Mafia Wars, yet they're attempting to steal Facebook logins through phishing pages," Boyd told El Reg. Facebook is a popular target for malware, but it's difficult to be more specific about the malware involved unless more information is released." ®