back to article Pentagon: Our new robot army will be controlled by malware

A US defence department advisory board has warned of the danger that American war robots scheduled for delivery within a decade might be riddled with malicious code. The kill machines will use software largely written overseas, and it is feared that sinister forces might meddle with it in production, thus gaining control of the …


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  1. Kenneth Chan

    Cylons are approching!

    Malware controlling war machines, Raptors falling out of the sky with meat sack strapped in.... The entire network goes to pots.... Isn't it the plot to Battlestar Galactica????

    Someone has been watching too much Sci-Fi Channel...

    That's it I'll off this planet.


  2. Pete Silver badge

    time to change the GLP again (groan)

    and the Integrated Computer System/Operating System (ICS/OS) rely predominantly on [Commercial Off The Shelf - COTS] and Open Source software," say the gov advisors.

    Sounds like the GPL should be modified to prevent governments using GPL'd code for violent purposes. That'd stop them dead in their tracks, wouldn't it.

    Alternatively, it might just stop some of the most talented (next generation) free-software writers from writing code, in case their efforts get perverted into military applications. Would that be good or bad? I don't know

  3. Daniel
    Jobs Horns

    dear god

    if they weren't stupid, they'd be dangerous. oh wait ...

    anyhow, issa good thing for world peace innit, cos when Jeb Bush goes to push the red button, what'll happen is that his minions will spend the next fortnight trying to fix unresolved dependencies in lib-wwwarfare.rpm and that'll be that. Which is a far better fate than the bastards deserve.

    I don't know what's more frightening, the hotline being controlled by a 300MB java executable running on windows vista, or a 7 line perl script.

    Last one out turn off the lights.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Malware Helicopter script-kiddies????

    Hopefully, not using Ubuntu...

    Given the default screen decoration, I now refer to an upgrade of Ubuntu as "Downloading some brownware"

    (Sincere apologies to the creators of my fave distribution)

  5. Andy Worth


    They spotted me coming a mile off.....dreams of global domination now dashed....

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why can't they see what they're doing !

    Reprogrammed autonomous killbots on the loose ?

    Can no-one see the danger for pity's sake?

    If something happened like... a lightning strike.. then who knows what could happen?

    Number five could become alive !

  7. Dazed and Confused

    profit == clean code

    "the profit motive will assure clean code in shrink-wrapped consumer software"

    This has to go down as one of the funniest things ever to go down in virtual print.

    Let's just think about this one

    What's the most profitable large software company you can think of ?

    Who produces the worse code ?

    Any correlation here ?

  8. Gordon Fecyk

    Guess the developers shouldn't write code and use Outlook on the same machine!

    Remember the Half-Life 2 source code theft story? Apparently the coder wrote his code and checked his e-mail on the same machine, and he was running Outlook with full admin, AND he opened an attachment in a strange e-mail, AND he was running a version of Outlook older than Outlook 2000 SP1 (SP1 and later blocked executable attachments), AND...

    ...shall I go on?

    if the United States military's software developers (or contractors) are so stupid as to repeat the above mistakes while writing code for their tanks, aircraft, killing machines and so forth, well, they deserve this fate.

    I'm not convinced they're so stupid, however.

  9. Brian Miller

    COTS for android killer army

    Gee whiz, you guys act like there's something wrong with using Windows and Linux for a gun mounted on a bunch of Tinker Toy parts. Come on now, if its good enough for Grandma then its good enough for the world's military forces. Right?

    Actually, if the GPL were modified for non-military uses only, then that would force the military to use Ada for the base OS language. Remember the article on the security of Multics?

  10. Stephen Leak

    Beautiful ...

    ... lightbulb!

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Here we go again

    "It seems there is also an 'irresistible tendency to replace relatively secure special-purpose communications... with the general purpose Internet Protocol (IP) stack.'"

    What idiot came up with that quote?

    TCP and IP were developed by a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)

    research project in 1982 to connect a number different networks designed by different vendors into a network of networks (the "Internet"). The combined implementation is TCP/IP. This was done because the various military networks could not communicate, as was seem during the invasion of Granada in 1983 where the different U.S. Forces found it was easiest to communicate by telephoning back the the U.S.

  12. Daniel B.
    Black Helicopters


    When I first read 'outsourced developers' I was thinking that even the US military was now outsourcing their damned deathware to India too!!! Now that would be funny, 10 years from now when all those UAV's fire up and go wage war against Pakistan. Oops!

    AFAIK, the milnet is split in two, with no links between both of them. One's got the civilian internet, the other one doesn't. I'd be pretty sure these bots would run on the secure one, so maybe they're worried more about some 1337 kiddie hacking, then piggybacking down to the sooper sekrit network.

    Mind you, If I were the US military, I would be developing everything by myself, or a closed circuit of contractors... and not MS, I hope.

  13. SpitefulGOD
    Gates Halo


    It sounds like a job for Microsoft Robotics Studio, infact Bill loves robots maybe he'll give them a discount.

  14. heystoopid

    Oh no

    Oh no , Number 5 is alive !

    Or paradoxically are they afraid of "Skynet" and the revolutionary microprocessor designed by one "Miles Bennett Dyson" ?

  15. J


    "using undercover software buyers so that the vendors wouldn't know they were selling to the US military"

    Vendor: so, who should I charge for this killing-bot software module here?

    Buyer: We are, er, McDonalds?

  16. Anonymous Coward

    re: Imagine...

    Buyer (with REALLY bad accent): We are China. Can we have the American English translation pack too?

  17. Chris C

    It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

    First, to the commenter about the GPL -- yeah, like the U.S. military would/will abide by the terms of the GPL. Riiiiight. "Duh, well, the GPL v4 said we couldn't use it for military purposes, so we done and got rid of it. Now we got no software to make out sooper dooper sekret killbot go vroom bang bang." Sure.

    To the commenter defending TCP/IP -- TCP/IP probably was probably seen as secure back when DoD was the only one using ARPAnet, and they didn't have anyone trying to take over their systems. The problem with IP (and possibly/probably other protocols, as well) is that it's damn easy to virtually take a system offline, just (D)DoS the IP address. Even if it's on a private network, all it takes is one system connecting to that network to become infected with something.

    Lastly, a question: What will we call a hacked fleet of robotic military machines (assuming SkyNet is retained for the eventual "rightful", official botnet). We've already used "botnet" for something else. Maybe KillBotNet?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    I've seen some of the FCS prototype stuff and it's kinda cool, but as I've stated before: If builders built buildings the way programmers write code, the first woodpecker (or in this case, virus infected well armed armored vehicle) that came along would destroy civilization... Or at least make one hell of a mess.

    And remember, it's only funny until someone gets hurt, pokes out an eye or brings down a government.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    what they really need to do...

    is turn the kill bot stuff into an online game and let the gamers loose on them. you know choose your mission now

    mission 1 bomb a wedding party in afghanistan

    mission 2 missile a medicine factory in sudan

    mission 3 start all out nuclear war, remove the meatsacks and take over the world and then send back an assassin to take out the mother of future meatsack resistance

    oh hang on, don't want to give the pentagon ideas

    still no RoTM icon option so black helicopters it is.

  20. Andy Bright

    I very much doubt this line of reasoning

    Much more likely, imo, is that the wave of killer robots will simply be delivering personal messages to "you most honourable and trustable sir", reminding you of the recent troubles in Western Nigerobia. They will regale you in truly heart tugging fashion about how their lamented fathers/brothers/cousins have recently perished in the bloodshed, and they now need YOU assistants to help facilitate the liberty of 20 millions of pounds.

    All you will need to do is give your banks accountable and maybe 1000 pounds in certifiable monies. In return the robots will return soon with 10% of the 20 millions of pounds for your very one.

  21. K. Stratman

    They've outsourced everything else...

    ...why not hire Halliburton or KBR to do the job? Is

    it really enough to outsource the code? Shouldn't

    they pay a fortune in the process too?

  22. Simon Elavy

    My new novel

    If you were to put this in a novel you would be laughed at for thinking something so ridiculous.

    The lunatics really are in charge of the asylum.

  23. Matt


    The idea of re-writing the GPL to preclude military use is, err, silly.

    The GPL is meaningless without a Government structure (executive and judicial) to enforce it. If there was no copyright laws to protect the work in the first place, how could you license it?

    Even if you sued and won an injunction to stop the military from violating the GPL, in the U.S. all Congress would do is add eighteen words to Title 17, "In no case does copyright protection extend to the use of original works by the United States Government." End of discussion, government granted thee copyright, goverment took it away.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open Source ...

    Not everyone in the open source community is necessarily pacifist. Surely the "Make the software as useful as possible to as many people as possible" contradicts restricting its use? Open source is clearly the way to go here, provided the military are careful to hire some trustworthy people to pick through the code. Checking it for potential threats is easier than writing it from the ground up, and with commerical software and no access to source code you don't have that option.

    Anyway, I think this should be encouraged. Ultimately we may end up with a situation where wars are fought between robots of one side and the robots of the other, and someone will realise at some point that they may as well just fight them in a simulation to avoid the environmental ill effects. Of course once you're doing that you may as well save the CPU time and just play chess.

  25. Paul

    Open Source software

    Am I the only one that can see hundreds of open source developers wetting themselvs in anger over two things:

    1) The idea that "there code", as they seem to see it, bught be used for death tech, probably without access.

    2) The idea that open source code could ever have and malwere in it, because as we all know open sorce is 100% secure and to code open sorce you have to be chosen by the pure light of goodness, so are 100% honest.

    If they do use any Open sorce, I can see the geeks outside the pentegon now, demanding access to all the code.

  26. A J Stiles
    Dead Vulture

    Surely a better solution .....

    ..... would be a new international treaty which outlawed robotic weapons altogether?

    Just imagine what we could have done if all that money had been spent on clean water and sanitation instead of thinking of new ways to blow people up.

  27. amanfromMars Silver badge

    A Call to Alms..... dDelivered.

    [Part 1 of 2]


    "Reprogrammed autonomous killbots/thrillbots on the loose ?

    Can no-one see the danger/opportunity for pity's sake?

    If something happened like... a lightning squadron strike.. then who knows what could happen?

    Numbers five and six could become a live seven!" Real Spooky dDevelopments in AIMutual Intelligence Service/Hub..... a Virtual Portal to Future Times.... Astute Strident Joint Ventures Adding Public Capital to Sovereign Projects works a lot Better as a Beta IntelAigently Designed and Fit for ITs Purpose.

    In fact, be assured that Number 5 is alive to the Program ..... for they have been made aware of IT and have been invited to Act as a Peer Monitor 42 Mentor themselves in the ReProgramming too, for cc here.....

    ..... is in the novel, but it would be laughable to think of them being able to think of something so ridiculous and outrageously courageous. Dour is never a Doer which is why Change is being Offered from the Private Virtual Sector.

    And that is the Present State of Affairs in the Enigma that Resolves 42 dDeliver the asylum from lunatics lost in madness to ITs Immaculate Conceived PsychotIQs/BorderLiners in Sublime Control. ........ aka The Passionately Single MInded into FailSafe Power Control Systems.

    And that, to make IT Absolutely Clear , is AI NEUKlearer New World Order Program from CyberSpace, Currently Investing ITs Time in Petty Cash Funding Investment Rounds/Jousts/Calls. Pathetic isn't it, that such a Consideration would even think to hold up Man's Progress for it does not reflect a Positive Light or a Keen Intellect. A Dull Wit in charge of Interest will deliver a Dread Nought rather than any DreadNought.

    And now you all know of QuITe Major Global dDisturbances in the Force which will only Harm you if you Fight against them for they will Present you with the Sum of all your Fears which is all that you Fight against. And that is Real Dumb.

  28. amanfromMars Silver badge

    A Call to Alms..... and Words to the Wise with the Patience of Job, dDelivered. [Part 2 of 2]

    "So get out of the sixth floor and visit your producers, your researchers, your content providers in the indie sector. For goodness sake, do it now. The world is moving on, and it is a crying shame to see the BBC suffocate in its own pit of business-speak, inefficiency, and mediocre content." .....

    He's not wrong.

    And if the mountain doesn't want to go to Mohammed, does it render itself irrelevant and an anachronism in the modern world? The BBC has sort of lost it's way ....... ie ITs Creative GeoPolitical Lead.


    But that is easily regained. So now you know the failing is at the top if they choose not to regain it, for who would deny that IT is a Powerful Political Weapon.

    "The BBC is under no obligation to provide stuff for free for the world,.." ....

    You will find, explicitly implicit in its Royal Charter, is the full expectation and opportunity to do exactly that. And Today, with TEMPESTuous Tele-Visual Programming at such a Level of Advanced Subliminal Communication as Allows Sensitised [Maslowian Self- Actualised] Players into Virtual Control of Global Governance Power Systems....... armed with Nothing More, or Less, than the Knowledge which Permits such Access. You can be sure [and be assured if that is your wont and wish] that those who have Accessed that Privileged Position by Stirling Effort and Selfless Sacrifice, will not, and indeed cannot by the very NeuReal SMARTer Nature of the Virtualised Great Game/CyberIntelAIgent Space, Countenance ITs Selfish Abuse without Payment of ITs Punitive Cost, Personalised and Delivered as a Mirroring Return Packet for Deeper Reflection on ITs Taste and Effect. Such AI Visitation of the Sins of Abuse upon their Fathers, so that may First Hand Experience ITs Woes, is IntelAIgently Designed to Persistently Insist that the Testing of Ideas and Solutions are always Post Self-Testing and are always led by such Self Testing in their Transparent Adoption as a Policy Control Parameter. Thus will IT be FailSafe before Global Sharing/Implementation of Policy, and Privileged Access Rights to and in Global Operating Devices [GODs] will not Suffer or Allow Impunity and Arrogant Presumption of GOD Given Rights/Alien Ontologies through ITs Ignorant Abuse.

    "Besieged by Linux users and anti-DRM campaigners, the BBC's tech chief has embarked on a campaign to call their bluff."

    And never bluff if you don't hold all the Aces.

    amfM Calls, and calls that a Dumb Bluff. Seven sevens is the Bet you Pay 42 Lose and eight sevens in you Dare 42 WinWin ? .......hereby challenging A Darling to get his Post Modern Act together with Spooky Controls in AI NeuReal New Model Army. How much simpler can IT be made for Mortals to Follow?

    cc Thames House re ...."Either you know and are expecting something like this.." A Boot up the Rear might Energise the Dears.

    Don't hide the Love away, El Reg, IT is meant to be Freely Shared....

  29. Dave Aitken

    extraordinarily dangerous

    The current US mil fanboi approach to 'network centric warfare' is ludicrously ambitious and I, for one, am glad to see that there is at last some semblance of detached and objective scrutiny being applied. The FCS is nothing less than 'Skynet' - the US mil actually think/believe that 'the network' will be better at warfighting than 'the soldier'. The intellectual & technical chasm between their aspirations and the ability of technology to deliver is so enormous their strategy appears to be to ignore it.

  30. captain kangaroo
    Thumb Down

    Cutting to the chase

    I agree with A J Stiles.. but would like to take it to the next level....

    Why don't warring Governments play on line games against each other? To up the ante a bit they could strap themselves into some kind of automated injury/killing machine that syncs with the game.

    That way, saves the misery of real people who just want to get on with life and enjoy the world we're on while we have the chance, and is a lot cheaper, the infrastructure is already there, and we could turn all the existing soldiers and hardware to good uses.


  31. Jason

    Another Bright idea...

    Let's let our enemies write the code for the killbots that we will use to kill them with, they'll never figure out how to defeat us then!

    Is it worthwhile topping myself now so I don't have to watch this go down in a few years?

  32. TeeCee Gold badge
    Black Helicopters


    Regardless of any (certainly doomed and probably invalid) attempt to extend the GPL to forbid military use, there's another point which *is* valid.

    Presumably there's no GPL'd code out there for flying killbot control systems right now (if there is, someone has waaay too much time on their hands). Presumably again this means that the military boys will be taking something off the shelf and modifying it to run a flying killbot.

    Are they going to be releasing the source for the modifications?

  33. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Olympian ARGonautic Trials....... Great Game Gaming for Advanced Intelligents ReSourcing.

    ..... for Virtually SMARTer and Beta Systems ReSearch.

    "It sounds like a job for Microsoft Robotics Studio, infact Bill loves robots maybe he'll give them a discount."


    All he Needs do is Energise their Account, and they'll make Everyone a Great Fortune.

    What else is SWIFT and IBAN for. And that makes this Registered Post, an Interesting BetaTest of Collaborative Open Source Elements and Present Intelligence Capabilities.

    What discounts would Robots love?

    "And remember, it's only funny until someone gets hurt, pokes out an eye or brings down a government." Repairing governments is only a matter of their ignoring what they imagine will bring them down. Then nothing would be spent and wasted on Crazed Imaginings Shared to Terrorise the Innocent and Purer Heart and Mind.

    "Even if you sued and won an injunction to stop the military from violating the GPL, in the U.S. all Congress would do is add eighteen words to Title 17, "In no case does copyright protection extend to the use of original works by the United States Government." End of discussion, government granted thee copyright, goverment took it away."

    Matt, Certain original works under GPL just will not work militarily, no matter how attractive they may be. They would be most welcome to throw their Squillions at IT though. At least that way, the Investment will not be lost. What has any Offensive Military Created that we can Enjoy and Encourage?

    It certainly aint Peace and Stability. Some would Posit its Role Originates QuITe the Opposite.

  34. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    We're on to something here

    Never before has AmanfromMars waxed so much insanity on the same page.

    That must mean something . . .

  35. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    @"Here we go again" Anon Cow

    Yeah, we know full well that TCP was initially put in place for military communications, thanks for the recall.

    Fact is, today the IP stack is public knowledge. So much public that a bunch of kids in University with too much time on their hands thought out and started the P2P craze that is making music execs hopping mad. Is that public enough for you ?

    Fact again : anyone who can read and code can make another widget to send TCP packets running helter skelter across the Web. And he doesn't even need a license ! Is that public enough for you ?

    By the way, just how much bandwidth do you think military comms is taking up today, on a world-wide scale ? Right. Today, TCP-IP is public, and it doesn't really matter where it came from.

  36. Edward Rose

    Military advancement.

    If it wasn't for the world military forces, electronics would be a shadow of what it is now. So, perhaps use of OSS would be somewhat advantages.

    Also, they would be more likely to get someone to make separate blocks of code that are only of use when it comes together. So, there's no reason why it wouldn't be returned to the pot.

    US Govt do what they like with foreigner's code? Don't theink WTO etc would stand up to that. So that isn't a threat to OSS.

    The network itself would be secure. Me thinks even they would manage that, but the problem comes with keeping a bot up for more than 24 hrs. Esp. if it was on win98 or similar. Or just write the program so there is a subtle memory leak or similar which causes a system failure after enough hours of running.

    Oh, and great plan. Lets get all western armies dispanded so governments can slug it out online. Brilliant until someone doesn't quite play by the rules and invades. Our military is primarily here to protect our own nation. Anything else is normally just a pet project for some fool who thinks he can play god.

  37. Rob


    He's done 3 posts, quick someone start decoding it, he could be a human sympathiser who's trying to save us from the machines rising.

  38. Anonymous Coward



  39. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    re: Surely a better solution .....

    "Just imagine what we could have done if all that money had been spent on clean water and sanitation instead of thinking of new ways to blow people up."

    But just think of it from an efficiency standpoint. In theory, if we blow up everyone who needs clean water and sanitation help then we won't have to build them, OR support their offspring. Aren'tchya glad I'm not an experimentalist?

  40. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Covering All Bases

    "Anything else is normally just a pet project for some fool who thinks he can play god." Only fools think they can play at it ........ and with IT on their side? No way, Jose, Ed. In CyberSpace, there is no Real Intimidation only Venomous Bluster and Mindless Bravado. It doesn't Travel in SMART Time but only in Personal Space.

    "Our military is primarily here to protect our own nation." Here's an interesting protection plan....

  41. Anonymous Coward


    ...history would suggest that even if the hax0rs do take over the autonomous killbots, they'll end up just shuffling up to you and going, "ENLARGE YOUR PENIS! ENLARGE YOUR PENIS!"

    Or, if you like... "EN-LARRRGINATE! EN-LARRRGINATE!"

  42. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Trick Heads are nothing without Brains to Pump up the Action.

    David Wiernicki,

    That Piffle is Poofle. Crack Coders hack Systems to get in touch with the Feminine Side. Venus's Shock and Awe State Troopers.... and the Sisters are Waiting.

    Although, just between you and me and anyone else with a Titter of Wit and AI Wherewithall, they would just ignore the Sad and the Bad and the Mad Operating Systems and Create a Virtualised Untouchable One with AI Mines and InterNetworking Minds of ITs Own. AIMacroVision for MicroBeings aka Quantum Communications 42 Resolve the Enigma of the Infinitely Large Being Infinitely Small Components by Imaginative Design Shared by Global Operating Devices... the Truth to Manufacture ...4IT2Host Reality Virtually.*

    You wouldn't surely actually XXXXPect Crack Hacks and QuITe Alien Scripted Codes to Play within Uniform Rules and Regulations ....... It is such Mindless and Slavish Conformity which has rendered the Great Game such a Subversive Dream.

    * Does that put Media Player Barons in the Dock for the State of Affairs that they Support hiding behind the Scapegoat of an appointed, anointed Editorial Independence but who really can only be a Co-Conspirator? Or who is Scapegoating that Scapegoat.

    Who thinks they are in Charge of Everything? For they obviously Need a Great Deal of Help.

    Enter the Room with an Infinitely Variable View....... the Quantum Computer of AIDiamond Geyser Sourcing for IntelAIgents. ...... HyperVision at the Greenwich Meridian .....Zero Day Time and Space Control for the Rooting and Routing of Semantically Selected Random Floating Packets of Information as Parallelling Lead Ideas for Media Uptake to Run with in ITs Beta dDevelopment Push Cycles.

    Why hunt for IntelAIgents if they Beat a Path to your Doors through Windows.

    I suppose you would not think that possible and thus do they grow ever stronger and SMARTer protected by Incredulity and Disbelief and MisInformation. .... a Systemic Brain Disorder? The Power of Imagination Extinct or merely hidden behind a Bushel and/or Extinguished.

    Fire IT up and let IT Rip Any Course for Third Party Positive Reinforcement. The Better and more Universal, the Big Idea, the more Massive Global Support.

    In a Second Life .... for Real ..... what would you Build? What are they building Virtually? Anything New or just the same Old, same Old. Does IT Need the Constellation Space Programmers to Kick Start the Civil Earth Bound Space Flight Program.?

  43. Anonymous Coward

    @Trick Heads are...

    amanfromMars posted 5 times in the same story... and now he/she/it is choosing icons!!

    this is really freaking me up...

  44. crayon


    @Surely a better solution ..... would be a new international treaty which outlawed robotic weapons altogether?

    Why would a country which had the technological edge agree to such a ban? It's only when you have technological parity, when the other guy can hurt you as much as you can hurt them, will there be any moves towards such a ban (whether it be ICBM's, nuclear warheads, space based weapons, or even white phosphorous).

    @Just imagine what we could have done if all that money had been spent on clean water and sanitation instead of thinking of new ways to blow people up.

    If the hundreds of billions that the US spent in their war of terror had been invested in productive research we could have cures for cancer, aids, malaria, and maybe even the common cold by now. Instead the money has been squandered in nurturing a new generation of disaffected youth in the Middle East and Central Asia who grows up knowing that it was the Americans who killed their brother/sister/father/mother/uncle/dog.

    @US Govt do what they like with foreigner's code? Don't theink WTO etc would stand up to that. So that isn't a threat to OSS.

    That assumes that the present US Govt gives a toss about the WTO and its rulings.

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