Super. Our drone fleet has been hacked

Just in case you were feeling a bit too comfortable and secure these days, there’s one more thing for you to worry about. Over at Wired, Noah Shachtman of The Danger Room reports that our Predator drone fleet may have been compromised by a computer virus. (Feeling better yet?)

A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones.

The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal provides an abrupt summary… This Is Bad. Well… it certainly doesn’t look good.

As soon as I heard about this story I contacted a trusted source with an extensive background in this area. He provided an intriguing opinion on what may be an alternate explanation for what we’re seeing.

Keeping in mind that I never worked directly on this specific program, two possibilities come to mind. The first and most obvious is that this will turn out to be exactly what it looks like. Somebody introduced some malware and we’ll have to root it out, stop it, and try to determine where it came from, as well as whether or not our data has been compromised to an external source. But there is one other possibility.

I can tell you that security in programs at this level isn’t just comprehensive. It borders on being paranoid, and the left hand frequently doesn’t know what the right hand is up to. It may turn out that this keystroke logger is part of a security program introduced by our own guys without the tech folks on the other end knowing about it. (We don’t tell our people when we’re monitoring them to make sure nobody is talking out of school.) Then, if the tech guys stumble across it, the instigators might not be too quick to own up to it. That’s why it’s not always good to have people running off to talk to reporters when something like this crops up. The system may need time to work through the process and sort out what actually happened.

Given the secrecy surrounding the program, we may never know all the details. (And for that matter, is it that important that the public know about this? If anything qualifies as a matter of national security, this would seem to qualify.) But I suppose the good news is that the military is aware of it and moving to stem any possible damage. As we move from large scale field operations to more and more remote special ops – which we seem to be doing – programs like remote drone attacks are increasingly critical. Let’s hope they manage to keep all the horses in the barn on this one.