Oscar and Emmy-award winning Alex Gibney is no doubt one of this country’s premiere documentarians. With films like Taxi To The Dark Side; Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; No End In Sight; The Armstrong Lie; and We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, Gibney is not afraid to shine a light on tough subjects. With his latest documentary, Zero Days, the light goes into the shadowy corners of malicious cyber warfare, a weapon as potentially powerful and destructive as any smart or dirty bomb. The future is here, and it’s horrifying.

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Cyber war and the story of Stuxnet

With astonishingly clear storytelling, Gibney presents the scary facts of cyber warfare through the discovery of ”Stuxnet,” a self-replicating computer virus that once imbedded into a computer system can burrow from computer to computer on its own and launch a series of commands. When the Stuxnet virus pops up on the radar of anti-virus companies around the globe, these cyber detectives analyze and decipher the codes. What are the malware’s purpose, target, and intended payload?

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The U.S., Israel, Iran and cyber warfare

As the film digs deeper into Stuxnet, it becomes apparent that Stuxnet is not some random hacker code but a militarized code. Through cyber and “off the record” channels it becomes apparent that the CIA and the U.S. military unit Cyber Command worked with Israels’s Mossad to create this code, dubbed operation “Olympic Games” to use against Iran’s nuclear build up.

The film suggests that Mossad tweaked the code and launched it out into the world so it couldn’t be definitively traced in Iran. The problem is that by launching a virulent code out into the world essentially allowed enemies to take, study and use the code for their own nefarious purposes.

Equally distressing, as the film’s experts point out, is that the U.S. is dedicating all of its resources on cyber offense as opposed to cyber defense, which could be very, very costly if a malicious virus was launched against the U.S. Homeland.

Zero Days and the defense against cyber war

Like the best action thrillers, Gibney and his team of filmmakers travel to Moscow, Germany, Israel and around the U.S. to seek out the answers and discoveries from these cyber experts. Those interviewed include Liam O’Murchu and Eric Chien from the anti-virus company Symantec, Sergey Ulasen, an antivirus expert in Belarus, Ralph Langner in Germany, the former head of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden, a code-like animated whistleblowing figure within the U.S.

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Cyber Command, and journalist David Sanger of The New York Times, who broke the story of Stuxnet and the “Olympic Games.” Their answers and historical accounts are sobering.

All of these experts agree that cyber warfare cannot continue to exist in the shadows. There has to be a global debate to set up rules for this warfare, just as there were Nuclear Arms negotiations back in the Reagan era. 

Gibney notes in his film’s press notes, “I hope this film wakes a lot of people up.

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We need to insist that our political leaders tell us the truth… From this moment forward, we’re going to have to reckon with this new challenge of the potential of cyber war.”

Zero Days opens July 8 in theaters, and On Demand, Amazon Video, and iTunes.

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