So I know this story is now a few months old but I had some free time today while I was putting together IKEA furniture (surprisingly simple) so I listened to another TED talk. This one was given by Ralph Langner, one of the German forensic IT guys who went about dissecting the Stuxnet virus and eventually identifying its target and how it works. Watch the video – it really is a cool story. It also raises some interesting ideas.
What should this story teach us? The fear of a new kind of warfare is nothing new. Hollywood has been warning us for years (Bruce Willis, John Travolta, and even Sandra Bullock way back in the 1990s) about dangers of this new computer-based world. What this story reminds us though is that it really is not just in hollywood. It also is not only identity theft and online banking accounts that can be targets. There is a whole new realm of international espionage going on and it is computer based.
Okay, but why does that matter? In the case of Stuxnet it seems to have been a joint effort of US and Israeli organizations working together to help delay Iran from developing nuclear technology that may be refined and weaponized. Besides the questionable logic of if that really was the most effective tool to be used in countering Iran’s nuclear program, it also raises the question of “what next?” This is one of the points that Mr. Langer brings out. Okay, so the US used a virus-type program on an Iranian nuclear plant, but how many more targets are there? Globally, the vast majority of the targets for this new kind of weaponry are in the West. Is the US prepared for the tables to be turned?
This may be advancing the conversation too far but consider the historical parallel of the nuclear age. Again, the US was on the forefront of the technology. They were the first to develop it, they were the first to use it. Then came the Cold War, kept cold simply because of the MAD principle. Neither side would use the weapon because their was Mutually Assured Destruction. That is not the case here. There is no reason to think a sort of MAD principle will be developed. While the US currently is at the forefront of these new cyber technologies, this video caused me to consider the future. The consequences could be staggering.