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Computer virus infects International Space Station laptops

By Matthew Moore

Last Updated: 1:01pm BST 26/08/2008

A malicious computer virus that steals passwords has been brought on board the International Space Station, Nasa has confirmed.

The virus, known as W32.Gammima.AG, was carried into orbit on laptops brought up by astronauts in July.

The space station's core operations have not been affected – Nasa described the infection as nothing more than a "nuisance" - but an investigation has been launched into how security systems were breached.

W32.Gammima.AG is a worm virus that was first detected in August 2007. It copies itself onto computers in order to steal log-on information - including usernames and passwords - for online games. The virus then attempts to send the information back to a central computer.

At least two laptops on the ISS have been infected, suggesting that once on board the virus may have been transferred on a memory device that was plugged into both computers.

This is believed to be the first reported case of a space station computer getting a virus, but a Nasa spokesman said there had been previous instances.

"It's not a frequent occurrence, but this isn't the first time," Kelly Humphries told the Wired website.

Computers on the ISS are not directly connected to the internet, although they have access to a satellite data link which allows then to send and receive emails, information and videos.

The infected laptops are used by the astronauts to compose email and store information on nutritional experiments, and are not part of the space station's "command and control" network, Nasa said.

Nasa is working with its international partners on the space station, including Russians, to find out how the virus got on board, it said.

The ISS is a joint project between Nasa, the European Space Agency, and the space agencies of Canada, Russia and Japan. It has been continuously manned by astronauts since 2000.

Edited by bozodog
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