Malware infects space station laptops

Not the first time, says NASA; astronauts load up Norton AntiVirus

Malware has managed to get off the planet and onto the International Space Station, NASA confirmed yesterday. And it's not the first time that a worm or virus has stowed away on a trip into orbit.

The attack code, which space news site SpaceRef.com identified Monday as "W32.Gammima.AG," infected at least one of the laptops used on the station, an international effort headlined by the US and Russia.

NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries declined to identify the malware, saying only that anti-virus software detected a worm on July 25.

The first public report of malware about the ISS was logged earlier this month, on August 11. In NASA's daily status report on the station that day, the agency said. Sergey Volkov, the International Space Station (ISS) commander, was "working on the Russian RSS-2 laptop" and "ran digital photo flash cards from stowage through a virus check with the Norton AntiVirus application."

A week later, on August 21 Volkov "checked another Russian laptop, today RSK-1, for software virus by scanning its hard drives and a photo disk."

The next day, Volkov transmitted antivirus scanning results from the laptop to Earth, and American astronaut Greg Chamitoff scanned another computer for possible infection. NASA also said in Friday's report that all laptops on board the ISS were being loaded with anti-virus software.

"All A31p laptops onboard are currently being loaded with [the] latest [Norton AntiVirus] software and updated definition files for increased protection," said NASA.

W32.Gammima.AG, the name Symantec, maker of Norton AntiVirus, gives the malware, is a year-old Windows worm designed to steal information from players of 10 different online games, some of them specific to the Chinese market. Among the games: ZhengTu, HuangYi Online and Rohan.

The worm also plants a rootkit on the infected system, and transmits hijacked data to a remote server.

Humphries said that the worm poses no threat. "It was never a threat to any command-and-control or operations computer," he said. He refused to detail how the malware snuck aboard, citing "IT security issues," but other sources, including SpaceRef.com, speculated that it might have stowed away on a laptop or a flash card.

In fact, the August 11 ISS log entry hinted at digital camera storage cards as a suspect.

"There have been other incidents," confirmed Humphries, who works at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tex. "I don't know when the first one was, but the station will have been in orbit for 10 years [come] November."

"If there is any good news at all, it's that the malware 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," said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with Sophos, in a post to that company's blog. "After all, with a view like that who needs to play the likes of World of Warcraft?"

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?