Computer worm strikes International Space Station

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Wired has published a fascinating story about malware penetrating computers at the International Space Station on a USB memory stick or compact flash card.

Fortunately, anti-virus software managed to identify the infection and prevent it from spreading unnoticed.

What confuses me is how the malware made it as far as the astronauts in the first place? Surely it should be possible to scan computers and storage devices before they are carried on the Shuttle up to the space station in orbit?

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In the past mission control has not held back in preventing astronauts from going into outer space when it has just been suspected they might contract an illness, so why be so lax about a computer viral infection?

After all, it’s got to be easier cleaning up a virus infection and ensuring that data has not been corrupted in the relative sanity of mother earth, rather than in zero gravity? And what if the malware had been a piece of malicious code that their anti-virus software had not been able to identify – after all, it must be hard to get regular security updates when you’re sitting in a tin can.

Interestingly, Wired quotes NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries as saying, “This is not the first time we have had a worm or a virus. It’s not a frequent occurrence, but this isn’t the first time.”

If there is any good news at all, it’s that the malware in question was designed to steal usernames and passwords from computer game players, not something that orbiting astronauts are likely to be spending a lot of time doing. After all, with a view like that who needs to play the likes of World of Warcraft?

Picture credit: NASA

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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