Anyone who has ever wrestled with their computer reacting oddly, occasionally shutting off for no reason or losing data after downloading a seemingly innocent piece of software knows the frustration, inconvenience and frequently substantial cost of getting everything back to “normal” (if there is such a thing in our digital age). Those who delight in playing video games at home or with multiple players around the planet know the thrill of annihilating an enemy or the bitter taste of defeat, but then can get on with their “real” lives (whatever that means) as if nothing happened.
In Alex Gibney’s latest cautionary tale (cross-references below) the increasingly dangerous and uncontrollable world of nation-state cyber warfare is given a full hearing on the big screen and a verdict that there are no truly good or bad countries around the globe, just varying degrees of bullies and cheats who will stop at nothing to get their way.
With remarkable similarity to the Trojan horse tactic, the opening exposé of Stuxnet (a virus which was apparently developed jointly by Israel, the U.S. and Britain to wreak havoc with Iran’s nuclear program—especially its centrifuges which could be shut down or destroyed without a command, only and unalterably by its very sophisticated binary code) is notable for the montage of “I can’t answer that” replies from many of those in the know through to the very uncomfortable revelation that the CIA, NSA and U.S. Cyber Command purposely kept its existence from Homeland Security.
The example of Stuxnet’s effectiveness on Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz may have some short-sighted viewers cheering the sabotage on: “Hurrah, perhaps technology will be able to put the nuclear genies back in their bottles and force rogue states to their knees.”
But inevitably, of course, the non-kinetic weapon falls into the hands of Russia via Belarus and—lo and behold—is turned against its creators via attacks on Saudi Aramco and major U.S. banks.
Gibney and his production wizards have crafted a visually intriguing (computer code imaginatively depicted, ideally placed historic footage, maps which artfully demonstrate that no one is “safe” from attack) production that many will hope is, in fact, just science fiction. Best in class—amongst the more typical talking-head interviews—is a whistleblower who is “disguised for her protection” and then magically “unmasked” in a manner that ideally sums up Gibney’s purpose. JWR