How the Next World War Could Start

In you're not a hacker, top government official or part of director Alex Gibney's unrelenting film crew, you might never have heard of Stuxnet, or the term "zero day," for that matter.


But it's a term that's relevant to all of us who depend on modern civilization: "If you get up in the morning and turn off your alarm and make coffee and pump gas and use the ATM, you've touched industrial control systems. It's what powers our lives," David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times explains in Gibney's new documentary "Zero Days." 

The long-term threats facing our interconnected system escalated when computer worm called Stuxnet was discovered in June 2010.

The worm was designed to attack digital computers used for industrial automation and zero-day (also known as zero-hour or 0-day) refers to the immediate need for mitigation against data exploitation once an attack has been made.

Hackers will use Stuxnet to tap into vulnerable systems, take down a network and steal its data. And it's small enough to fit on a flash drive.

"Like the [2008] attack on Centcom [United States Central Command]'s computers, the Stuxnet worm, which Iran admits has affected 30,000 of its computers, was a sophisticated attack almost certainly orchestrated by a state. It also appears that intelligence operatives were used to deliver the worm to its goal," the Guardian reported in September 2010. 

"Its primary target, computer security experts say, was a control system manufactured by Siemens and used widely by Iran, not least in its nuclear facilities," reported The Guardian, which also cited the 2010 incident as an opportunity "to imagine what an all-out cyber war might look like."

So why aren't we talking more about Stuxnet? 

"Two answers, before we even get started. I don't know, and if I did, we wouldn't talk about it anyway," Michael Hayden, former CIA  and NSA director says in the film. 

"Zero Days" premiered at Berlin Film Festival in February 2016 and will have its US premiere in July. The documentary from the Oscar award-winning director of “Taxi to the Dark Side” investigates the intelligence operations behind cybercrime, the involvement of the UK intelligence outfit and the Israeli Government's role in an proposed, potential attack on Iran.

“When the government keeps secrets, sometimes it’s important for filmmakers to keep secrets,” Director Alex Gibney remarked, on the lack of major exposure leading up to the premiere. “The disquieting thing is we know so little. We’re just beginning to understand and attempting to come to grips with the fact that this realm of cyber weapons is developing very rapidly not only by the U.S. on other countries, but by other countries in the U.S.”

Which means it may take a while to find out if a war - or cyberwar - is even happening.

“This is part of three technologies that presidents have used in order to avoid war [that involves ground forces]. The first two are Special Forces and drones, followed by cyber warfare which “enables you to have the effect of disabling an adversary’s facilities without ever stepping on their soil," Gibney said. 

Watch the trailer:

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