'Stuxnet Is the Hiroshima of Cyber War'

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Michael Gross takes a stab at writing the definitive magazine piece about Stuxnet, a computer worm that presumably attacked Iranian nuclear facilities, in this month's Vanity Fair. He's done some great reporting and this piece is, you know, written. If you're at all interested in Stuxnet, this is a must read.

Regardless of how well it worked, there is no question that Stuxnet is something new under the sun. At the very least, it is a blueprint for a new way of attacking industrial-control systems. In the end, the most important thing now publicly known about Stuxnet is that Stuxnet is now publicly known. That knowledge is, on the simplest level, a warning: America's own critical infrastructure is a sitting target for attacks like this. That aside, if Stuxnet really did attack Iran's nuclear program, it could be called the first unattributable act of war. The implications of that concept are confounding. Because cyber-weapons pose an almost unsolvable problem of sourcing--who pulled the trigger?--war could evolve into something more and more like terror. Cyber-conflict makes military action more like a never-ending game of uncle, where the fingers of weaker nations are perpetually bent back. 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. For people whose lives are connected to the targets, the results could be as catastrophic as a bombing raid, but would be even more disorienting. People would suffer, but would never be certain whom to blame.

Stuxnet is the Hiroshima of cyber-war. That is its true significance, and all the speculation about its target and its source should not blind us to that larger reality. We have crossed a threshold, and there is no turning back.

Read the full story at Vanity Fair.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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