Zero Days review

zerodays-posterGoing about our daily lives, it’s easy to forget the bubble of fear that looms large for humanity until we are reminded of it. And lately, the reminders are a constant. Whether it’s new terroristic threats abroad, or right in our backyards, the proof of our resiliency as a species lies in the ability to go about our lives making the most out of rapidly declining situations. So what’s one more thing to keep you up at night?

Enter documentarian Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine), who brings us the inside story of Stuxnet, the US-Israeli produced malware that brought down strategic parts of an Iranian nuclear plant, before unwittingly being unleashed on the world. In Zero Days, Gibney scopes the “basics” of the most complicated malware of its day, and how such powerful technology may be outpacing its human creators with regards to security and politics.

Gibney’s documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is one of my favorite documentaries because he manages to take the dry, intricate issues of corporate fraud and make a compelling accessible film. Zero Days isn’t quite as successful in this area because greed and ego are much familiar concepts to grasp than the creation of self-replicating computer malware. The beginning of the film spends a little too much time explaining how Stuxnet was created, with talking heads from various international security firms explaining how the virus was first detected and how it was painstaking pulled apart by people much smarter than anyone you probably have ever met. As this explanation continues, streams of code dance across the screen like a diagram that should make things clearer but doesn’t until I’m left with the only pieces of information I really need: Stuxnet is one nasty piece of software because it self-replicates with no commands to do so, and we helped create it.

Zero Days really gets interesting when it starts exploring the ramifications of such advanced technology, and the problem with secrecy surrounding such dangerous projects. Because even to this day, both the United States and Israel deny direct responsibility for creating this software, even though it’s all but generally acknowledged elsewhere. Such secrecy surrounding Stuxnet make it all but impossible to have an educated discussion about the creation of international treaties for use and laws for the creation of such software in the future. The aggravation in Gibney’s voice is palpable in a few scenes of this film where his questions are met by experts with stonewalling and a lot of “I can’t answer that question, even if I wanted to.” Even if I wanted to. Which leads me to believe that the people most informed on this type of technology want desperately to do the right thing, to bring international law and politics into the 21st century but are unable to because silent denial and stealth operations are still prized over tough conversations. Despite fears over Iran’s nuclear program, the fact remains: we knowingly ambushed another country’s energy facility, technology (by the way) that the US willingly gave over decades ago. We committed cyber-warfare.

zerodays-postThe final act of Zero Days goes into the sobering reality of this new frontier of cyber warfare. Forget about drones. Everything that makes our society function, and much of the world function, exists on the electrical grid. One malware program could destroy transportation, communications, water, sewage, you name it, for days, weeks, months. People could die by the thousands without an enemy ever touching our soil. It just takes a push of a button. If Gibney succeeds at anything with Zero Days, he succeeds in drilling this point home. There is a great risk just around the corner, greater than any single bomb blast in a crowded subway, that we can only hope to manage through open dialogue and cooperation at the highest levels of government.

Zero Days is a glass of cold water to the face. A sometimes dense, but necessary wakeup call to us all about handling our technological creations with respect and understanding the ramifications they could inflict on us all.

Zero Days opens today at the Ritz Bourse.

Author: Jill Malcolm

Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.

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