3 minute readThe Age of Stuxnet

The Los Angeles International Air Meet of 1910 holds a special place in aviation history. The Wright Brothers had flown as early as 1903, but their first public demonstration flights took place in 1908. At the Air Meet — the first aviation fair in America— a certain William Boeing asked nearly every aviator there for a ride, but never managed one.

That meet marked the beginnings of aviation — the dominant technology in warfare for the last 100 years.

2010, marked a different, and perhaps equally seminal event — the Stuxnet worm was discovered by German cybersecurity expert, Ralph Langner. Since then, Langner and his team have called Stuxnet a cyber superweapon — the first of its kind. It has been designed to burrow into the sort of industrial control systems that are used in power generation facilities, oil refineries and nuclear reactors. What is interesting about the worm is that it has been created to ignore everything else till it reaches one particular piece of equipment, which it is instructed to destroy. The target is a particular Iranian nuclear reactor.

Langner has gone on the record describing the worm to be so sophisticated as to be almost alien. He believes the US created it, with some help from Israel.

He’s also pointed out that by creating the worm, the US has introduced it to the world. For anybody with enough motivation and money, the worm can be deconstructed, analyzed, learnt from, and, ultimately, used to create versions with different purposes and targets.

The world changed forever in 2010 and the jet age is firmly behind us.

Which leaves us to grope in the dark. We are all very much like the aviation pioneers of 1910. We cannot attend a course or earn a degree that will allow us to learn how to defend against cyber-weapons. Their creation needs no formal education, either.

If anything, the prominence of the hacktivist group Anonymous in the public discourse over the last year or so, clearly points to the fact that the tools and knowledge required to craft attacks are available to those of us possessed with a fertile mind and a yen for learning. And that governments can be shaken with this knowledge.

Which brings me to this column’s disclaimer: As we explore this brave new world, we will, in the interests of informing each other, reach into bits of the Internet that are perhaps best left alone. That said, this is not, and will never be, a tutorial or how-to guide. This is old-fashioned reporting combined with internet-age opinion, with a few glances thrown at a crystal ball, now and then. I will be wrong from time-to-time. I am naive and only differently informed, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m better informed.

So, to be clear, this is not a column about technology. I hope to address the massive changes sweeping through our social fabric. A telling example is the notion of privacy, which is vastly different for those born after 1990 and those born before. This difference is enough to drive changes that are unsettling and, in some cases, downright scary.

I believe every column is a conversation. Not between a writer and a reader, but between all of us around the points we choose to address.

And one last thing — if you’re using a computer that runs Windows, you may feel you have to limit your curiosity to reading the pieces here.

So what do you think?