The Definitive Story About the Most Sophisticated Cyberattack in History

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The story of Stuxnet, a piece of malware that almost certainly targeted an Iranian nuclear facility, is complex and dense. Most of the interesting stuff is buried in the half megabyte of code that the worm is made of, and telling a good story about the details is nearly as difficult as figuring them out in the first place.

That's why a new story on Wired's Threat Level by Kim Zetter is such a triumph. She got access to the security researchers who deciphered the worm and figured out how to tell the most technically informed story about Stuxnet I've ever read. While it may not contain any bombshell revelations about the worm, it will still stand as the definitive story about how the worm works and how we figured that out.

The other longform piece about Stuxnet, Michael Gross' Vanity Fair piece, a wonderfully devastating conclusion about what Stuxnet means. Zetter doesn't go into that explicitly, but by virtue of her blow-by-blow reporting about the shambling collaborative brilliance it took to reach real conclusions about the worm's behavior, we can draw a few of our own:

1. Unless the Pentagon and NSA have access to security researchers far superior to the known experts, this country is not ready for a war that uses software to cripple real-world infrastructure.
2. We probably won't know that who or what we're fighting until it's already on.
3. We probably won't know we've been attacked until after its already happened, perhaps months or even years later.

If you are interested in the future of cyberweapons, you owe it to yourself to read Zetter's piece. Even if you already know the basic features of the story, her writing and reporting will sharpen it in your mind.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. 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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