In Creech Air Force Base, somewhere in the vast federally-owned desert that is Nevada, in a ho-hum little building, are a series of rooms each equipped with what could pass for giant video game consoles, with racks of screens and servers displaying what’s happening every time someone jostles the joystick. This is where pilots are remotely flying America’s fleet of drones—yes, with a joystick—as they buzz over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, snapping spy photos and firing Hellfire missiles down on stubborn jihadists. About two weeks ago, a computer virus infected many of theses systems, Wired has learned. (It likely happened when one of the pilots used a thumb drive to upload some map data or the like.) Yet the virus didn’t shut the whole program down—according to the AP, all drone missions are continuing as scheduled. But what the virus is doing may ultimately be more sinister and far more damaging, as the Wired article explains.
Military network security specialists aren’t sure whether the virus and its so-called “keylogger” payload were introduced intentionally or by accident; it may be a common piece of malware that just happened to make its way into these sensitive networks. The specialists don’t know exactly how far the virus has spread. But they’re sure that the infection has hit both classified and unclassified machines at Creech. That raises the possibility, at least, that secret data may have been captured by the keylogger, and then transmitted over the public internet to someone outside the military chain of command.
So this could totally just be one of those annoying little viruses that pops up windows at the most inopportune times. Now assuming it’s not benign—which doesn’t seem that big a leap to make—by logging every keystroke and command sent to the drones, the virus is essentially compiling a record of sorts, of the many classified missions the CIA and Air Force are flying, for instance, into sovereign Pakistani airspace or targeting individual people. Such insider data, were it to fall in the hands of a wannabe Jullian Assange, could be real bad news for the Obama Administration. Then again, maybe this is Assange himself, trying desperately to get the world to care about him again.