The good, the bad and the ugly

The documentary Zero Days is a cautionary tale of technology and its unintended consequences

The good, the bad and the ugly
If not for the Academy Award winning documentarian Alex Gibney’s Zero Days, the audience at the Berlinale film festival would have been far more disappointed by the ‘gentle snowfall’ that, unfortunately, did not leave a trace but for wet roads and pavements.

As things went, the documentary systematically unspooled an undeclared cyber war unleashed by USA and Israel to contain Iranian nuclear programme, giving thrillers a run for their money.

It is the story of Stuxnet, self-replicating computer malware (known as a “worm” for its ability to burrow from computer to computer on its own) that the US and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility — and which ultimately spread beyond its intended target.

Stuxnet does not need the support of internet and can infect standalone networks and can control the equipment connected to the network while sending a false message of ‘all normal’ to the operator at the terminal. And the Operator totally looses control of the equipment and can’t even switch it off. How this malware was delivered to the protected network can by itself be the subject of another spy thriller.

Stuxnet, an NSA and CIA project with Mossad under the code name “Olympic Games” and controlled by the Cyber Command Centre infected the networks all over the world, including the US, that the Homeland Security department invested all its talents and energies to trace it back to its own backyard, sitting on top of the NSA building.

The enraged Iranians launched another virus to shut down the banking activities in the US for a brief period to demonstrate that they can give it back in kind. As one expert admitted Olympic Games is nothing in front of the other programme NZ which they have developed as an offensive weapon which will provide US an option to get into full fare war, disabling adversary’s abilities.

The film highlights how the covert operations ended up with unintended consequences — a programme to slow down Iranian nuclear programme has turned into a monster forcing all nation states into developing their own malwares to infect others’ networks and the possibility of these programmes falling into the hands of rogue ‘non-state actors’.

The film ends with two contradicting statements — one by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemning the loud silence of the world to protest against the statement by Iran to wipe Israel out from the face of the earth and the other by president Obama that it is always better for the world to arrive at negotiated settlements and the agreement with Iran will pave way for world peace.

At the press conference, Gibney explained why it was important for him to take this story out of the technical pages of the paper.

“This story of Stuxnet deals with questions that the United States has started to reckon with ever since 9/11— and we’re still reckoning with it now, with ISIS. When you start dealing with terror, do you need to adopt the tactics of the terrorists in order to defeat them? But by so adopting, do you ultimately give them the victory that they wouldn’t be able to get by any other means? In other words, when you become like terrorists, are you the good guys anymore?

“Except for the fact that you believe you’re good guys because you’re a democracy and they’re not. You can’t just say that because we’re the good guys, we don’t have to play by the rules. Sometimes people make pragmatic decisions to do nasty things, but the best of people do those things because they see them as momentary aberrations rather than policy. The danger comes when those momentary aberrations end up amounting to policy,” said Gibney.


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