Security

Zero Days: Why the disturbing Stuxnet documentary is a must-see

Zero Days is a documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney about the cyberwarfare Pandora's Box that was opened with the Stuxnet malware. Find out why Jack Wallen highly recommends the film.

Image: Magnolia Pictures

"We're waiting for something bad...well, it happened."

When it comes to tech in television and film, you watch knowing that most likely they'll overdramatize things or portray technology in ways that are either not possible or are possible but not probable.

I gave up watching Scorpion because the TV show's approach to technology was laughable at best. Over the last couple of months, I've been binge watching the TV series Madam Secretary, and one particular story arc unfolded that was possible, probable, and frightening. I won't give the plot away (the show is quite good), but it turns out, that plot device could very likely have been inspired by something many of you already have a cursory knowledge of and possibly have dealt with.

In a word...Stuxnet.

Did a cold chill just shoot down your spine, only to race back up and smack you with a nasty case of brain freeze? It should have.

Or not. Cursory knowledge is the key. Most likely, when you dealt with the Stuxnet malware, you had no problems cleaning your infected machines and assumed it was nothing more than a distraction to your regularly scheduled duties.

I beg you to give the film Zero Days a watch. If you can come out of that viewing without at least a few questions on your mind, you're doing something wrong.

Zero Days is a documentary by filmmaker Alex Gibney that goes to great lengths to uncover the truth behind Stuxnet (aka Operation Olympic Games). I don't want to spoil too much for you (because you should give this in-depth look at how powerful cyberwarfare has become), but Zero Days paints a picture one would associate with science fiction.

Thing is, this fiction is real.
And it's dangerous.
And it most likely won't be stopped.

SEE: Video: Cyberwarfare ... in less than two minutes

What is Stuxnet?

When we think of malware, we usually associate it with a small group of black hat hackers in a grab for cash. Either that or hacktivists such as Anonymous doing everything they can to hold people accountable for their actions or inactions.

Stuxnet was something altogether different...and altogether disturbing. Stuxnet was political. This was an attack, by a nation state, to prevent an Iranian nuclear facility located in Natanz from producing weapons-grade uranium. The operation brought about covert assassinations, espionage, and two global allies (with clashing agendas) coming together to try and stop the proliferation of nuclear armaments within Iran. The cyberattack failed, and it soon came to light who was behind Operation Olympic Games—I'll let you watch the documentary to find out.

SEE: Special Report: Stuxnet may be the Hiroshima of our time (ZDNet)

A glimpse behind the curtain

How Stuxnet was discovered is a fascinating and frightening look into the world of politics and cyberwarfare. It's also a glimpse behind a curtain that reveals how little we truly know of what goes on in the world, and how cyberwarfare might be the thing we should fear the most.

Imagine a single piece of brilliantly written malware that could bring about a world war. Imagine not having the slightest idea it was happening. Imagine the impact of a nation state shutting off a country's power. It's one thing for your city to lose power for a day or a week...but should the entire country lose power, people die.

That's the picture Zero Days paints, and it's not all that hard to believe. To go to war, a country no longer needs to have stockpiles of cash to fund nuclear arms. With enough intellectual firepower, a piece of malware could be created and unleashed to cripple an adversary.

SEE: Cyberwar: The smart person's guide

World War 3.0

To think that Stuxnet's actual target was a nuclear facility...well, that's a two and two you can easily put together. Once you've watched those covert dots connected, it becomes very clear that the world desperately needs a cyberwarfare treaty.

The Pandora's box has been opened, and it cannot be closed. It's World War 3.0, and it's not a game. The targets are not your identity, your bank account, or your operating system—the targets are programmable logic controllers and other physical devices that control major systems...innocuous boxes that you wouldn't think could wreak such havoc on the world. It turns out...they can.

Imagine:

  • A virus that would infect hospital machinery.
  • A virus that would infect devices controlling water decontamination.
  • A virus that would infect oil pipeline machinery.
  • A virus that would infect food processing plants.
  • A virus that would infect air traffic controls.

The list goes on and on. Should your imagination circle around the idea, it's easy to see why documentaries like Zero Days have come to light.

SEE: Inside the secret digital arms race: Facing the threat of a global cyberwar

Watch and learn what you cannot unlearn

I highly recommend every person in the IT profession watch Zero Days. For some, this might be a case of the more you know, the less you wish you knew. For others, it could empower you to step forward and demand change and/or accountability.

No matter how it affects you, you will not be able to unlearn what comes across in this powerful documentary.

Also see

Disclaimer: Scorpion and Madam Secretary are CBS shows. TechRepublic, TV Guide, and Metacritic are CBS Interactive brands.

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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