Air Force goes on cyberdefensive about attack drone virus

Infected Windows-based operating system was not part of flight control program.

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The Air Force today tried to quash the firestorm of criticism around its handling of the computer virus that hit its unmanned drone program last month.

In a tersely worded release the Air Force said: "To correct recent reporting, the malware detected on stand-alone systems on Creech Air Force Base, Nev., in September, has not affected Remotely Piloted Aircraft operations. On 15 September, 24th AF first detected and subsequently notified Creech AFB regarding the malware on their portable hard drives approved for transferring information between systems.  It was detected and isolated by the 24th Air Force using standard tools and processes for monitoring and protecting Air Force computer systems and networks.  The Air Force then began a forensic process to track the origin of the malware and clean the infected systems."

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The release went on to say the malware was detected on a stand-alone mission support network using a Windows-based operating system.  "The malware in question is a credential stealer, not a keylogger, found routinely on computer networks and is considered more of a nuisance than an operational threat.  [some reports said the but was common malware used to steal log-ins and passwords used in online gaming] 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 stated.

The infected computers were part of the ground control system that supports drone operations and it is separate from the flight control system Air Force pilots use to fly the aircraft remotely, the Air Force said.

 "It's standard policy not to discuss the operational status of our forces," said Colonel Kathleen Cook, spokesperson for Air Force Space Command.  "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."

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