Was the U.S. military drone virus caused by pilots playing Mafia Wars?

The malware that infected unmanned aerial drones in the US Air Force “is routinely used to steal log-in and password data from people who gamble or play games like Mafia Wars online,” notes the Associated Press, citing an anonymous defense official.

"That official did not explain why drone crews were playing Mafia Wars or similar games during their overseas missions," observes Noah Shachtman at Danger Room, who first broke the pwned drone story.

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  1. This is interesting but humanizing too. This war has officially reached the absurd stage, where it exists solely based on its own weight and momentum. What the fuck else are these guys supposed to do?

    1. The idea of Anonymous having remotely controlled killing machines, capable of turning a building basically anywhere to charred rubble, is deeply, deeply disturbing.

      On the plus side, it might be enough to get RIAA/MPAA to finally stop with the blatant lies and extortion tactics.

      And the idea that if you get caught on video abusing a puppy there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll come to find a smouldering crater might make people think twice about animal abuse.

      On second thought, Anonymous having an air force is a solid plan, and I endorse
      it.

  2. “That official did not explain why drone crews were playing Mafia Wars or similar games during their overseas missions,”

    Can I venture a guess? Maybe it was because they enjoyed playing Mafia Wars? What a stupid question.

  3. “That official did not explain why drone crews were playing Mafia Wars or similar games during their overseas missions,”

    I will hazard a guess:
    Flying is boring business on the whole. Mostly mind numbing boredom punctuated by short periods of extreme focus (and possibly terror). Doing the same thing on a remote cockpit sounds as exciting as watching paint dry, so they may try to keep themselves amused/awake/sane while cruising between places, or waiting for a mission to start.

    1. > Doing the same thing on a remote cockpit sounds as exciting as watching paint dry

      That doesn’t square with the reports I’ve read about how disorienting it is to be amped up and socketed in for a drone run, as these pilots were, then to be home for dinner forty-five minutes later, where you go from a track-or-kill mission to asking Sweetie how her day was and what Timmy and Sally studied at school.  The thrust of the story (I’m guessing it was on Wired, although I can’t remember for sure) was that these guys (mostly guys) were having the same problems leaving work behind that policemen have had for decades.

      Although maybe there’s an effect where former fighter jocks turned drone operators respond to the cockpit setting with all the stress activation of actually being airborne, by association, while people trained as drone pilots without the jet-fighter background have a different experience.
       

  4. That official did not explain why drone crews were playing Mafia Wars or similar games during their overseas missions, but if he had he probably would have said something like “that’s what people tend to do with computers that are connected to the Internet.”

  5. Speculating that drone pilots were playing Mafia Wars during missions just because malware designed to steal such credentials was found is a stretch.

    I would suggest that viewing smut or possibly cat GIFs is a more likely attack vector.

    P.S. Since when does “stand alone network” mean “bring your portable drives from who-knows-where and plug in” ?

    1. Speculating that drone pilots were playing Mafia Wars during missions just because malware designed to steal such credentials was found is a stretch.

      Agreed.  Similarly, malware which steals online banking credentials doesn’t come from the banks themselves.

  6. They were not likely playing games, or whatever, on the effected systems.

    The affected systems are not networked, which was why USB drives were being used to load mission data. What is more likely is that games were being played on the systems where that mission data was being prepared, and that virus copied itself onto the usb key to replicate itself.

    This is how Stuxnet was used to disable the Iranian SCADA systems that controlled uranium enrichment; those machines were not networked either.

  7. My bs detector went off as soon as the article implied drone pilots were alt-tabbing away from piloting military hardware on a Windoze box to get in some facebook time.  Really.

  8. Wow, I thought there was no more shitty waste of one’s time than playing Zynga’s sorry excuse for games. Yep, sitting on your ass in an air conditioned office in Nevada murdering brown people has got it beat.

  9. Yes sir, replace highly trained and educated officer corp with fresh out of high school jocks.  Penny wise and pound foolish.  These yahoos most likely have no clue as to what  malware is much less the ability to fix the situation. 

    These dumb lards don’t even know what habeas corpus means and are too greedy to not question why someone is paying them more than they are worth to murder people remotely.

  10. Are we pretending that soldiers aren’t people?  I mean– do tons of people play stupid Mafia Wars?  They do, eh?  Are soldiers people?  Hm, they are, from what I’m told.  Now if only we could figure out this complicated Venn diagram!

  11. Meh.  And shotguns are also used for skeet shooting.  This is like saying the murderer must have been a skeet shooter because the victim was killed with a shotgun.

  12. To quote a friend who was deployed to Iraq and  jumped though some hoops and often got up really early in the morning to keep playing a video game…. “While I’m here, I can’t see my wife. I can hang out with my friends.  I can’t drink beer.  But I can play this game and it helps me remember what normal is like.”

  13. Mafia Wars is, for the most part, authenticated and proxied through Facebook, so I assume this is a virus that steals Facebook logins.

  14. Deployed military personnel spend a huge amount of time sitting around doing nothing.

    This isn’t even really by some fault of scheduling or management. There are a lot of people who are at some point all needed at the same time, but who simply aren’t always needed to perform tasks for the entire duration that they’re on duty.

    Pilots are a good example of this (drone or otherwise). To be well prepared a given location may well need to be capable of having x number of aircraft in the air at the same time. They may even need to have y number of aircraft crews on standby in case they need to be deployed quickly. However, on an average day, they’re going to have fewer than x or y aircraft in the air. Those guys are going to find a way to kill time when they’re not flying an aircraft.

    The best thing to do would probably be to provide them some less problematic option to pass the time.

  15. Guys, cut the crap here, anything onboard an aircraft, not even talking about a drone, does not run any version of Windoes. These things run a real-time OS specially designed for it or derived from unix/linux with a special kernel. All this to say that there is not even a remote possibility that a standard virus can infect them. 

    This thing has been designed to target drones and obviously does a good job at it. 

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