Newstradamus Reports: Navy Nailed By Virus
A few weeks ago, Breaking News brought LinuxJournal.com readers an unusual story, entitled "The Blue Screen of Megadeath," which we described as "scar[ing] the living daylights out of us." The story revealed that, in an effort to cut costs, all submarines of the UK's Royal Navy — including her four Vanguard-class subs armed with some 4,800 kilotons of nuclear weapons each — had been fitted with a stripped-down version of Windows XP. Now, just weeks later, fresh news out of the Admiralty suggests we were more on target — no pun intended — than even we knew.
We would be fibbing if we denied that we here at Breaking News are prone to a bit of hyperbole — quite a lot, even — but the story of the blue-screen-boom-boom-boats drew more than a few chuckles from our readers. We were prepared to admit that perhaps our crystal ball had a crack or two in it, until this morning, when we ran across an item out of Portsmouth, Hampshire (UK) — a traditional stronghold for the Senior Service and home to such distinguished naval relics as HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship. According to Portsmouth's The News, the Royal Navy — the same one we were assured was safe with Windows — has come down with a virus, leaving up to 75% of the Navy's ships with crippled communications.
Admiralty officials are remaining tight-lipped on the exact details, with spokesmen confirming that the NavyStar network — which provides internet and email not only for the personal use of seamen, but for ships systems as well — has been infected, but insisting that weapons and navigation are unaffected. Sailors on board affected ships have been allowed to use their mobile phones to stay in contact with friends and family, and have used the opportunity to report on the status onboard. One described the situation as "utter chaos," and noted that due to the lack of email, when the ship stopped to pick up cadets en-route to Liverpool, the crew had no way of determining how many were to come aboard.
Mike Hancock, a Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South and Commons Defense Select Committee member, told The News "It is truly frightening to think that a virus can spread this far and this fast through the network. It was an expensive system to build for what is supposed to be one of the most secure sectors." He also noted the effect on sailor morale, as email and internet access has become crucial for contact with families and obtaining information about happenings off-board. Adding insult to injury, the glitch came just as a report critical of the Ministry of Defence was released by the Public Accounts Committee, chastising the Ministry for breakdowns in data security, saying in part "The Department currently has an undesirable record on data security when it should be amongst the best in government."
If the affected system is, as Mr. Hancock suggests, supposed to be "one of the most secure" onboard the Navy's ships, then one has to wonder how far off the predictions of disaster and doom associated with Windows for Warships really were. We, more than anyone, want to be wrong in predicting the end of the world, but with 75% of ships unable to phone home, we're left wondering if a name change — to Newstradamus — might be in order.