Hacked Drone

For all who care to take the time to think on the matter, the recent attack on two Americans in Yemen – alleged Al-Qaeda operatives killed by an unmanned “drone” aircraft, with no trial or other sort of due process – is a rather disturbing new precedent. Among other issues (like the sheer principle of the act, or rather the sheer civil liberty principles it violated), there’s the question of what happens when other nations have a similar military capability and want to use it in the same way, i.e. to kill on foreign soil persons they perceive as dangerous. That is even the subject of an article in today’s (Sunday) New York Times: Coming Soon: The Drone Arms Race. (Killer quote therein: “Is this the world we want to live in? Because we’re creating it.”)

And then there is this tweet from the German newsmagazine Stern:

Tötungsmaschinen außer Kontrolle?: Computervirus soll US-Drohnen befallen haben: Ein hartnäckiger Virus soll… http://t.co/lYEUIOfJ



Seemingly little relief there: that first sentence after all translates as “Out-of-control death machines?” But the larger point is that US drone aircraft have now fallen prey to the same modern vexation that afflicts so many of us: computer viruses.

This Stern piece is based on an exclusive account from the blog by Noah Schachtman on the Wired website, which itself is worth a read. (And of course it’s in English. BTW did you know that the Air Force personnel who operate these drones, from many thousands of miles away at an obscure Nevada airbase, have to do so while wearing their flight suits, as if they were really there themselves, cruising the Yemeni skies?) What it basically adds is reactions from Air Force spokesmen to the Wired account and other similar media reports. Speaking on Fox News, a senior military official dismissed them as “grossly exaggerated,” adding that “The aircraft were never in danger of going crazy.” Yes, he acknowledged virus problems, but insisted that they in no way have influenced the deployment or use of these systems.

The Stern reporter goes on to end the piece with a juicy quote from the Wired article: “We try to eliminate the virus, but it keeps coming back!” And it reminds us that we already know from before that Iraqi rebels have succeeded in intercepting video-data sent – in the clear – from such drones to their controllers. In other words, sometimes things are not all rosy, no matter what official might say. The same could well be true with this virus problem.

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