Perhaps you've seen this movie: A virus infects a human-piloted spacecraft, and within days the mission is compromised and Earth is lost to the alien attackers. There's now a report that the first part of that storyline has come true -- only it's a computer virus on the International Space Station.
Space-oriented Web site SpaceRef.com has reported that a laptop aboard the International Space Station has become infected with a Level 0 virus, and on Tuesday the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed that a virus was carried aboard last month.
The governmental agency says the virus is a "nuisance," adding that it was on non-critical laptops that are used for relatively low-level functions like e-mail and experiments about nutrition.
NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries noted that the agency has previously had to deal with virus control as one of the threats in space, although specifics weren't given. "It's not a frequent occurrence," Humphries said, "but this isn't the first time."
While NASA didn't identify the virus, SpaceRef said it was one called W.32.Gammima.AG worm. This virus' claim to fame is that it tries to steal sensitive information, like credentials, from any of about a dozen online games, including ZhengTu, Wanmi Shije (Perfect World), HuangYi Online, Seal Online, Maple Story, Talesweaver, R2 (Reign of Revolution), and others. The games are popular in Asia.
The virus, which was first detected in 2007, was found on more than one laptop in the space station. No word on whether the infection was laptop-to-laptop, through an intranet or a USB drive, but the evidence points to a drive.
No Direct Internet Access
The mystery is how the virus managed to hitch an unpaid ride on the most expensive vehicle in or out of this world.
NASA's Humphries said that it was not clear which country had purchased the laptops, or when they had been brought onboard, although he did say that such hardened equipment is most frequently obtained by either the United States or Russia. There's no direct Internet access point for the space station, but a KU-band satellite data link is used for transfer of data and video.
Humphries indicated that all files and applications are scanned for viruses before going into space. When asked if command or control systems are connected to the same network as the infected devices, thus possibly compromising their performance, Humphries told news media that he didn't know and, even if he did, "wouldn't be able to tell you for IT security reasons."
Some observers have speculated that the laptops do not carry the kind of antivirus software that could have prevented infection, because the lack of a direct Internet connection made NASA conclude that infection was unlikely.