Irresponsible Sensationalism

by Rocky DeStefano in

From Vanity Fair’s - A Declaration of Cyber-War article. 

“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.”


First please allow me to get one thing out of the way.  Yes Virginia, there is Bad stuff™ happening out there in the world.   Individuals, Criminal groups, Corporations and Nations all with various motivations, resources and techniques seek control of information, money, people, etc.  Espionage, War, Greed all exist.  It’s been happening for thousands of years and will continue for thousands more.   And now to our story..

I’m not debating that Stuxnet was interesting in the context of incident escalation.  I’m not debating it in the context of “war”.  I’m not even debating the attribution or targeting aspects suggested in this and other Stuxnet publications (though I reserve the right to do that in the future).  I will debate, with every fiber of my being, that Stuxnet on any level compares to the absolute horror that was Hiroshima.  

Overall this is a very well-written article certainly better than anything I could ever accomplish.  Obviously it is romanticized to a certain degree and as such will attract a much broader audience than most of the other Stuxnet articles. I get it, I really do, the messaging has to match the audience and I appreciate the effort given to expand the message that we’re facing serious threats and assuming escalating risks on a daily basis.  I do suggest you read the entire article as it has some interesting perspectives to consider.  As you progress through the article you’ll encounter several salient points, fairly thorough research by the author and quite possibly a movie script in the making.   

One might notice that pieces of this article might be considered flawed, for example much of the attribution assigned was hypothesis or theory rather than anything resembling facts based on empirical evidence but that’s an entirely different rant.  Anyway… The point is that there is a lot of solid information to devour and a lot of context that is provided for us to consider, some of it even being relevant to the Stuxnet story.  It makes for interesting reading and hopefully some aspects of this story will resonate with people outside our standard circles and help them realize there are sophisticated adversaries and targeted threats that puts all of us at risk.  

And then… in the last paragraph the “True Significance” of the story is defecated upon us and we’re asked to chew on the excrement comparing the instant deaths of 80,000+ souls and the lingering suffering and painful demise of millions more to this “cyber attack” that affected exactly 0 people.  This is one of those quotes that instantly and completely irritates everything within me.  I’ll just say it this way.  This is irresponsible, offensive and utterly sickening attempt to exploit a tragedy and the authors, editors and overall publication should immediately reconsider this wording and apologize. 

I’d suggested somewhat jokingly on twitter that a more appropriate analogy for Stuxnet might be the  “underwear bomber”, meaning a new, targeted, fairly sophisticated technique that failed miserably as an attack of war (unless you count “Security Theater” by TSA as a win for the bad guys).  I’m sure you guys will come up with even better and more accurate analogies, but I’m confident it won’t equate to stuxnet equaling one of humanities worst moments.

But as the anonymous reference is quoted in the article as saying “In this business, fear is my friend.”  And as an industry we wonder why no one listens to us.   With friends like this, who needs adversaries?  Can we all at least fight the same war and not some fantasy romanticized and artificially inflated to the point it would necessitate ninja pirate cyborgs riding armored unicorns to fight it?  Our battles are hard enough as it is.  Let’s just focus on the facts.  Bad stuff™ is happening and we need to collectively focus our energy on figuring out better ways to deal with it.  



Reference Information:
Article: Vanity Fair - A Declaration of Cyber-War

Author: Michael Joseph Gross

Original Source:



UPDATE-1: Seems Vanity Fair wasn’t the first to make this assertion.  I had never seen ZDNET’s commentary where the reference is explored in more detail.  To make tha parallel more tolerable they use the attributes of launching a new weapon type and announcing to the world that is it viable virtually gauranteeing an arms race of cyber weapons (I’m paraphrasing).   I still think the entire thing is over the top, irresponsible and diminishes the actual impact of what happened but I’m always interested to hear your side?  What do you think?

Source: ZDNET Special Report: Stuxnet may be the Hiroshima of our time


By David Gewirtz | January 18, 2011, 4:12am PST