Berlinale 2016: Alex Gibney's Eye-Opening Cyber War Doc 'Zero Days'
by Alex Billington
February 18, 2016
Do you think what Edward Snowden revealed about the surveillance state is terrifying? Wait until you see this documentary. What documentarian Alex Gibney uncovers in his new documentary Zero Days is incredibly frightening and extremely worrying. But that's his point - he wants to thrown open the doors to these top secret operations and allow the people of this planet to debate and discuss what's happening. Zero Days begins by examining the malware known as Stuxnet, a self-propagating virus that seems to have been written by the NSA specifically to attack centrifuges in Iran. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. From there it presents a case that we've entered the era of cyber warfare, but few people know about what's occurring.
The term "zero day" is a reference to a virus that has never been seen before and has no anti-dote yet, so no patches or security systems have been developed for it. Gibney's documentary is extremely fascinating in the way it starts out by playing clip after clip of interview subjects refusing to answer any question or even comment on Stuxnet in any capacity. The more Alex Gibney encountered this, the more it made him curious about what is really going on, and once he figured it out, he decided it was time to make the "top secret" details he encountered public for the sake of debate. Zero Days is ultimately about the era of cyber warfare, with nations sabotaging and attacking infrastructure through computers, and doing it completely incognito.
Remember how we all made fun of the goofy, ridiculous plot of Live Free or Die Hard, where Timothy Olyphant as the villain crashes the entire US power grid from inside a truck? This documentary shows that is real, and it is already happening (and could happen more on a larger scale in the future). Well, not the part about the truck, but the part about crashing a power grid with computer hacking/viruses. It's possible. And there's a couple of discussions in Zero Days where sources indicate that this kind of attack has already been tested in the Middle East. Not only is that freaky to consider, but this is just the start - it goes on to point out that other nations follow whatever the US does, and if they see this as okay, they'll join in as well.
Over the last few years, Alex Gibney has been making docs about interesting subjects (We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, The Armstrong Lie, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine) but nothing that is shocking or challenging on a global scale. As another critic stated, Zero Days sees Gibney "return to hunting the biggest game". With this he is taking on the most powerful governments of the world, featuring some incredible leaks from inside the NSA that are revealed by a person who is not actually the source. And they go on to say that Stuxnet is nothing, that's just a small experiment. What they're really working on is much bigger. We have entered a time where cyber wars are being waged.
There's always excellent production work in Gibney's documentaries, and that makes them stronger in the end. With Zero Days, the doc actually explains in detail, without shying away for the sake of addressing those not versed in computing, how Stuxnet works and how viruses can actually destroy physical objects. It features plenty of fancy graphics that visualize cyber attacks, and best of all, the code they show when referencing Stuxnet is actually code from the malware itself. None of the Hollywood BS where they use some fake printf("hello, world") crap just so people can say "oh, I understand what's happening." Gibney is at the top of his game with this one, and it shows. A must see for anyone who cares about the future of humanity.
Alex's Berlinale 2016 Rating: 9 out of 10
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