Liam O’Murchu was the first person at Symantec to see the STUXnet code, and, as he told me when we talked on May 11, 2016, red flags went off about the elegant coding and suspicious dearth of bugs. I was interviewing him along with his colleague, Eric Chien and with Alex Gibney, the documentarian who chronicles what STUXnet is, how it sabotaged Iran’s nuclear program, and the disturbing implications of a piece of code that can think for itself and can cause havoc in the real world, not just the virtual one, as summed up beautifully in his documentary, ZERO DAYS.
During our conversation, we covered the brilliant way that Gibney visualized the technical aspects of the story for those without a hi-tech background, the uses and misuses of misinformation, how Liam and Eric reacted to a putative suicide by a techie who may or may not have known too much, the way the law lags behind technology, and the brouhaha over the U.S. government wanting Apple to provide a backdoor in order to unlock a terrorist iPhone.
We started, though, with whether or not knowing about STUXnet, as well as other government implemented code out there in cyberspace has made the more or less paranoid, or if it was just so much confirmation of what they had always suspected.
ZERO DAYS is Gibney’s documentary about malware, secrecy, and defining terms in modern warfare. The subject is STUXnet, a worm that infiltrated the Iranian nuclear program, using virtual code to destroy actual equipment. The implications, though, go far before the ability of code to wreak havoc in the real world, and reveals a shadowy world where legal niceties vie with necessity, and necessity is all too subjective. Speaking with security officers, journalists, and the people who first cracked the code, that would be Chien and O’Murchu, Gibney shows us a world that we might have suspected existed, but until now, was not as sharply in focus as it should be. Chien and O’Murchu are security analysts at Symantec.
Gibney’s previous work includes GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF, SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT and STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE. In 2015, Gibney received a Peabody Award for MR.DYNAMITE: THE RISE AND OF JAMES BROWN.