Friday, June 1, 2012

Viruses, Politics and Slippery Slopes

The news about the computer virus Stuxnet and its heir-apparent, Flame, is a disturbing development in international diplomacy that we need to pay careful attention to.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Iran appears to have intentions against a number of other nations that we cannot stand by and allow to develop.

But I’m not sure that supporting the development of VERY complex, VERY intelligent viruses is the answer.

When diplomacy fails and we have to resort to using traditional ordinance against regimes that we consider evil, the ordinance cannot be used against us in return since by using it, the ordinance itself is also destroyed.  The regime may have its own ordinance to use against us but they are not using our own against us.

However, the use of viruses is a different matter and as demonstration of the danger inherent in its use, let’s roll the calendar back to the 1980’s and a relatively unknown person by the name of Osama Bin Laden.

It served our purposes back in the 1980’s to provide him with money, training and intel to help him and his cohorts to repel the Soviets in their effort to invade Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, this training created a mind that was better enabled to turn against us, producing 9/11 and the significantly changed world that we now live in.

Encouraging, supporting, enabling or creating the virus that Iran now confirms is attacking it has the potential to produce a similar result on a much larger level.

Since the source code for the virus is now in many people hands, including the people whom it was supposed to attack, it won’t be long before variants of it are retasked to accomplish other tasks.

Such tasks could include using it against our own infrastructure including banking, transportation, communication, energy and self-defence systems.

When this happens, we will cry foul and claim that such actions violate international law.

This may be true but the fact of the matter is that we will have played a greater hand at enabling the antagonist than we would care to admit.

Our politicians need to think longer-term and understand the strategic and tactical ramifications of what they are doing and how their actions could come back to haunt us.

And we need to work harder at holding them accountable.

Otherwise, when the banking system goes offline at some point, trains stop moving, water supplies do strange things, cell networks go down, our electricity turns off or our defense systems deactivate or activate prematurely, it may be too late to complain.

Think it’s impossible?

Having been on the inside of many of the organizations in these respective spaces, I can assure you that it is extremely possible, especially given the sophistication of Stuxnet / Flame.

And besides ….. it’s when we believe that we are impervious and immortal that we are at our most vulnerable.

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – June 19, 2012

On June 19th, the Washington Post confirmed through sources that the US and Israel worked together to create the Stuxnet and Flame viruses.  It is a slippery slope indeed.  The story is here.

Addendum – August 7, 2012

Officials have confirmed that drone technology developed in the US is now being used by drug cartels to look for gaps in border security.  We have to be careful that technology designed to make our life more secure doesn’t place it in greater risk as a result.

Addendum – August 21, 2012

And then we have this headline Is the US government helping cyber crooks? as crooks may be using a variant of the Stuxnet virus to steal information (including banking info) from American citizens.  The problem now is that the evil has been released and has unlimited potential.  Can it be stopped?  I wonder.


  1. I think that this will really hit home for anyone in software development or information technology, including myself. Even without your breadth and depth of knowledge and experience I can easily see your worst case scenario come to fruition. I'm very unnerved that we would even consider doing this.

  2. Too many decisions made without thinking of the long term impact ... a guarantee to create trouble for us down the road.

    Thanks for the kind comment, Nathan!