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10/14/2011
12:46 PM
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Air Force Says Malware Discovered 'A Nuisance,' Not A Keylogger

Officials say online credential-stealing malware was isolated to mission support systems separate from flight systems

The U.S. Air Force yesterday said in a press statement that malware discovered on systems at its Creech Air Force Base was not a keylogger and did not impact its Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or drone, operations.

The statements came in response to a Wired report last week that said malware had infected computers at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada -- home to the Predator and Reaper unmanned drone aircraft systems -- and that it was logging the keystrokes of the pilots. Sources who spoke to Wired said the virus had been detected two weeks before, but it had neither disrupted any flight missions nor had any classified information been exposed. They said it was likely "benign," but difficult to kill.

The Air Force said yesterday that its 24th division detected the malware on Sept. 15, and alerted Creech Air Force Base "regarding the malware on their portable hard drives approved for transferring information between systems."

It identified the infection as a credential-stealing malware program that was discovered on a stand-alone Windows system used in its mission-support network. The malware was "more of a nuisance than an operational threat. It is not designed to transmit data or video, nor is it designed to corrupt data, files or programs on the infected computer. Our tools and processes detect this type of malware as soon as it appears on the system, preventing further reach," the Air Force said in its statement yesterday.

The infected machines were part of a separate ground control system that supports the drone operations, according to the Air Force, not the same systems that Air Force pilots use to remotely operate the drone aircraft. The malware had no impact on the drone flights, according to the statement.

An Air Force official told the Associated Press yesterday that the malware was the type used to steal usernames and passwords for users of online gambling and gaming sites.

Meanwhile, an Air Force Space Command spokesperson said in a statement that the Air Force's policy is not to discuss "the operational status of our forces."

“However, 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," said Colonel Kathleen Cook, spokesperson for Air Force Space Command. “We continue to strengthen our cyber defenses, using the latest anti-virus software and other methods to protect Air Force resources and assure our ability to execute Air Force missions. Continued education and training of all users will also help reduce the threat of malware to Department of Defense systems.”

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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