Russian security expert Eugene Kaspersky says the International Space Station was infected by malware installed through a USB stick carried on board by a Russian cosmonaut.
Speaking to reporters at a National Press Club event in Canberra, Australia, last week, Kaspersky also said the infamous Stuxnet virus infected a nuclear power plant in Russia and "badly damaged" their internal infrastructure. Kaspersky refused to provide details or elaborate on how badly the virus affected ISS operations or how engineering crews cleaned up the mess left behind. Space can be scary enough when the system protecting you isn't infected with malware. This situation was probably even worse.
"The space guys from time-to-time are coming with USBs, which are infected. I'm not kidding. I was talking to Russian space guys and they said, 'yeah, from time-to-time there are viruses on the space station,'" Kaspersky told reporters in Australia.
Stuxnet was allegedly jointly created by U.S. and Israeli military forces to seriously damage Iran's nuclear program. (Coincidentally, that relationship is very complicated right now.) Stuxnet became public knowledge after it malfunctioned — or worked a little too well — and infected millions of computers worldwide.
An interesting thing to note about the Russian cases is how neither system was connected to the internet when the infections occurred, suggesting the viruses were deliberately planted by a foreign agent. Normally systems disconnected from the Internet's wild west are considered secure since a hacker would need direct, physical access to the system in order to install a virus. (Or they would need to trick someone with access into doing it for them.) Stuxnet was meant for a specific target, but once it spread across the world, the code was available for anyone — including malicious independent hackers or cyber terrorists — to manipulate at will. It could have been anyone who attacked the Russian systems.
Kaspersky has warned of the repercussions for releasing Stuxnet into the wild. "What goes around comes around," he said. "Everything you do will boomerang." He again stated that no one is safe now that the virus is widely available. Anyone can become infected, including Stuxnet's creators; a concern that has existed since its origin story was first reported. "There are no borders," in cyberspace, Kaspersky said. Clearly there are no borders in space, either.
(Correction: this article originally said the ISS was infected with Stuxnet. Upon further review of Kaspersky's statements, that's not the case. We're sorry for the confusion.)