Plugged In

Is ‘Mafia Wars’ to blame for Air Force Drone virus?

Plugged In

Reports last week that the Air Force's drone program had been hit by a virus raised all sorts of concerns about cyber-terrorism infiltrating the military. It turns out, though, that the whole thing could be Facebook's fault.

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Mafia Wars (Zynga)

Pentagon officials say the virus wasn't something that specifically targeted military systems, but was instead a fairly common piece of malware that's used to steal people's online gaming passwords.

Speaking to the Associated Press, officials noted the virus was one that typically targets people who gamble online or play games like Mafia Wars and was "considered more of a nuisance than a threat". And despite reports to the contrary, the Air Force said in a statement, the malware did not affect Remotely Piloted Aircraft operations.

The unnamed malware apparently got into the Air Force computers via an infected portable hard drive, likely a flash drive. (Ironically, those devices are banned from most Pentagon PCs because of the virus threat.)

That's good news for people around the Creech Air Force base in Nevada, but it raises the question of what soldiers were doing playing games on the base's computers, something the Air Force chose not to address.

In fact, the military would have preferred not to discuss this at all, but media reports questioning the security of the drone program forced its hand, it 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."

Viruses designed to steal people's credentials for games are hardly new. World of Warcraft has been a popular target for account thieves for years. There's no set way the viruses are spread, but it's almost never from the game itself. Instead, they're generally transmitted via phishing emails, malicious third-party sites or sites that help 'advance' the players progress, such as in-game gold sellers or leveling services.

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