Stuxnet Perspectives

The New York Times is offering up two op-eds on the past and future of cyberwarfare. Novelist William Gibson (who writes stories about hackers) gives us a historical take on where computer viruses have been and what motivates their creators. He says he was surprised to learn that most cyber pranksters care very little about money; they create worms, viruses and the like because they canfor the sake of vandalism. He warns that Israelor the United States (the two states suspected of developing the Stuxnet worm that has caused delays in Iran's nuclear program)may have opened Pandora's box because amateur "hobbyist worth his or her salt will, in turn, be admiring the Stuxnet code that shut down the Iranian centrifuges, looking to imitate and improve on it." And he says they'll be looking for ways to disable other important infrastructural systems like "water treatment and distribution, sewage, oil and gas pipelines, electrical transmission lines, wind farms and nuclear power plants."

Former homeland security official Richard Falkenrath predicts that cyberspace will be the realm of the next "the next global arms race" and wants to the United States get a head start. He warns that global "collateral damage" to civilian computersStuxnet also messed with technology in America, Indonesia and Britainwill be "the norm, not the exception." As such, Falkenrath wants to explicitly authorize the president to use offensive cyberattacks "before our courts are forced to consider the issue and potentially limit executive powers." After all, he writes, "as bad as this arms race will be, losing it would be even worse." (Nothing quite like diving headfirst into an arms race with an unknown opponent who has unknown capabilities, is there?)