Snobbish protestations to the contrary, Stuxnet is a big deal in the cyber world. The little (computer) worm that targeted Iran's nuclear program and served as a middle-of-the-night, cold-sweat wake-up call for cybersecurity professionals the world over was not merely the opening shot in a cyber war, a recent Vanity Fair article argues.
It was a akin to the dropping of a nuclear weapon.
“Stuxnet is the Hiroshima of cyber war,“ Michael Joseph Gross writes in the article for the glossy monthly. “That is its true significance, and all the speculation about its target and its source should not blind us to that larger reality.“
Stuxnet has engendered its fair share of speculation. As for the culprit, the money's still on Israel or some combination of the United States and Israel. But the worm's revelation has also spurred debate in the cyber community. Was this truly the beginning of a global cyber war? Is talk of cyber war even helpful or only inflating and inflaming the rhetoric of IT security?
“In the end, the most important thing now publicly known about Stuxnet is that Stuxnet is now publicly known,“ Gross sums up the riddle of Stuxnet's impact. “That knowledge is, on the simplest level, a warning: America’s own critical infrastructure is a sitting target for attacks like this.“
On the topic of cyber war, he calls Stuxnet the “first unattributable act of war.“
If cyber war comes, it will likely look like the war on terror, Gross writes, because of the slippery nature of the enemy.
“Cyber conflict makes military action more like a never-ending game of uncle, where the fingers of weaker nations are perpetually bent back,” he writes. “The wars would often be secret, waged by members of anonymous, elite brain trusts, none of whom would ever have to look an enemy in the eye.“
While some have decried the overwrought language and imagery of cyber war, Gross relies on a simple warning. “We have crossed a threshold,“ he writes, “and there is no turning back.“