Computer viruses—the scourge of technology on Earth—have now become a problem in space, too. NASA has confirmed that the malevolent programs have also posed problems in computers astronauts bring with them on missions, the latest occurring when laptops infected with the Gammima.AG virus were ferried to the International Space Station (ISS) last month. The possible source, according to a software download, a personal flash card or USB storage device. The site also reports that some laptops used in the ISS  lack virus protection and detection software.

The virus reportedly did not affect ISS operations, but it spotlights computer vulnerabilities hundreds of miles above the Earth's surface. The astronauts used the infected laptops to run nutritional programs and to periodically e-mail friends and family back home, the BBC reports.

Earthbound computers were first hit by Gammima.AG last year when the virus was found in computers running Microsoft's Windows operating system. The virus—known to spread through removable media like flash cards and USB memory sticks—turned out to be a worm that monitors Microsoft Internet Explorer use. Its specialty: stealing account information and passwords of players using the MapleStory online game, and sending that data back to the worm's author via e-mail or the Web, technology security firm Symantec reported in March 2007.

ISS computers can't connect to the Internet, but Gammima.AG has the ability to install itself on a user's computer, remain hidden and activate itself when a network connection is detected. NASA downplayed the news, calling the virus a "nuisance" on space station laptops used for relatively non-critical tasks, according to WIRED.

This interstellar infection provides insight into NASA security lapses as well how the agency's astronauts spend their free time. Apparently this includes indulging in multiplayer online role-playing games that involve embarking on virtual quests and slaying monsters. As if leaving the planet wasn't exciting enough.

(Image courtesy of NASA)