The Cyber

Can a secret still be a secret if everybody knows about it?

Top brass US intelligence officials, including former NSA director General Michael Hayden, seem to think so. “Stuxnet, no comment!” echoes like a mantra throughout the beginning of Zero Days, Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, airing on Showtime November 19th. Unfortunately for the higher-ups at NSA, the secret’s out and pandora’s cyber box has been thrown wide open.

NSA

Trevor Paglen, National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, Maryland, 2013 . 

Co-designed by NSA and Mossad to wreak havoc on Iranian centrifuges back in the mid 2000’s, the Stuxnet virus, “the Stradivarius of malware,” has ushered in a whole new world, one in which physical objects in the real world can be turned into targets for sophisticated cyber weapons.

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From Alex Gibney’s Zero Days

Nations around the world have rules of war IRL—treaties and red lines for nuclear and chemical weapons—but what are the rules of engagement online? Al-Qaeda whistleblower and all-around intelligence guru, Richard Clarke, tells us about the critical need for a new Geneva Convention for cyber warfare.

The Internet began with beautiful dreams of free-flowing information, of unfettered access to all the world’s information, of technology making the world a better place. But behind all the promises and wonders lay hidden vulnerabilities. Now with each hack, each breach, each leak—all spawning thousands of news stories around the world—we’re all being forced to confront the other side of paradise.

This hour, it’s digitally assured destruction, with Walter Isaacson, Richard Clarke, Alex Gibney, Jeremy Allaire, Sara M. Watson and Jonathan Zittrain.

Timeline: Weaponizing the Web

  • 1952: The National Security Administration (NSA) is founded secretly by the Truman administration to surveil communications and provide intelligence to governments.
  • 1952: Israel’s intelligence corps Unit 8200 founded.
  • 1989: Tim Berners-Lee conceives of the internet at CERN.
  • 2007-10: The US and Israel sabotage Iran’s uranium enrinchment facilities at Natanz with Stuxnet, malware coded by the NSA in conjunction with Unit 8200. It’s the first time a cyber attack affects real-world infrastructure. (Reuters)
  • 2009: United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) created under the Obama administration as the “offensive” outgrowth of the “defensive” NSA. (Washington Post)
  • 2010 Iran creates their own cyber command organization, قرارگاه دفاع سایبری‎‎ (The Cyber Defense Command).
  • 2012: Iran’s Cyber Defense Command releases a virus that erases three-quarters of the files at Aramco, Saudi’s national oil company. (New York Times)
  • 2013: Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald leak NSA documents, revealing the scope of the U.S. executive branch’s global surveillance powers. (The Guardian)
  • 2015: Obama administration releases official cyber policy. (The White House)
  • 2016: Justice Department indicts seven Iranian hackers for breaking into major US banks and attempting to shut down a dam in NY. (Bloomberg)
  • 2016: Alex Gibney documentary reveals large-scale offensive cyber program, Nitro Zeus. (New York Times)

Extended interviews



Main photo: U.S. Air Force/Capt. Carrie Kessler

Guest List
Alex Gibney
Director of Zero Days, a new documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus that airs on Showtime November 19th
Walter Isaacson
CEO of the Aspen Institute and biographer of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein
Jonathan Zittrain
Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School and co-founder of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society
Richard A. Clarke
Former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism for the United States
Jeremy Allaire
CEO and founder of the digital currency company Circle and Chairman of the Board of Brightcove
Sara Marie Watson
is a Research Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and affiliate with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society

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  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    Fascinating, illuminating program rife with intrigue yet well-grounded in terms of keen intellect and well-reasoned perspective. I’m very interested in any technique, technology or other means or change making a net-positive effect in restoring confidence, capacity to trust and place fidelity in core social contracts and institutions, namely voting and banks. There are many inherent vulnerabilities to electronic voting platforms and devices as presently configured. Yet I am optimistic that blockchain-technology applied to the issue of electronic voting — rendering it decentralized, transparent, open and verifiable i.e. hack proof — and currency flows holds a great deal of promise for the betterment of democratic processes in the form of free, open, fair elections; and in the economy as resources currently diverted to less productive uses (hyper-financialization and inequality) become repurposed in more productive, equitable quarters of the economy.

  • Potter

    I am so glad you got this discussion in-between the other exciting titillating “news” during this anxious time. The internet has changed our lives for the better on the whole I think and made us each count if we want to partake. It enhances freedom and democracy. But we are also vulnerable and need to be cautious.

    It will be a very sad day for us if we cannot believe the accuracy of our voting machines in this election where already the darkest spirits are at work. As well and prior to election day these weeks we have to suffer and sort out wikileaks “droppings”.

    Wonderful guests as usual.

    Thank you!