A response to Hamilton Reed’s column ‘Stuxnet, Flame and the future of cyberwarfare’

As a kid, I was often told by my teachers that sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. That never rang true to me when an insult thrown my way particularly stung, and I don’t think it rings true in the grown-up world either.

Cyber warfare, as my fellow opinion writer Hamilton Reed pointed out in his column, “Stuxnet, Flame and the future of cyber warfare”, is very real and very threatening to our way of life in the modern world. Where I disagree with him, is that this is not necessarily a bad direction.

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You know what else is bad for our way of life? Nuclear fallout.

Mr. Reed said that the stuxnet attack on Iran was an act of war. I disagree. I think it was the best chance of preventing war that I’ve heard of.

I’ll explain stuxnet a bit more because it is genius. Stuxnet is a computer virus that targeted a non-critical component of Iran’s nuclear development facility. This basically just means that they didn’t notice it until someone else pointed it out. Who was that someone else?

To infect the Iranian nuclear facility, stuxnet had to infect thousands of computers in the region, staying inert and yet copying itself onto anything, usb, writable cds, etc. It was an anti-virus company that found stuxnet. Months or years after it was deployed. It had halted the Iranian nuclear program for at least months, maybe longer, before being discovered.

Why is this a good thing? Iran has said that when they have nuclear capability, they will use it. They have essentially declared war on Israel and the U.S. already, they are just waiting for the capability to strike.

It’s like being prevented from drinking and driving by someone taking your keys away. You fully intended to do it, but you can’t find your keys and you don’t know why.

This is the benefit that cyber abilities gives us. Unfortunately, there is always a downside.

Our society is extremely dependent on technology. “Live Free or Die Hard” — an excellent movie for the sole reason of launching a police cruiser into a helicopter — is entirely about how much technology drives our lives and the consequences of that technology being infected.

It’s horrible. Chaos. With no control over water, sewage, traffic, power, or transmitters, America would be ravaged.

And it is only going to get worse.

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The way technology is growing, almost everything has electronic components. Nothing needs to be connected to the Internet, or a power cable, or anything for it to be hacked.

The sad part of it is, embedded systems, the stuff that goes in your car, phone, watch, buildings, etc, are actually becoming less secure and easier to hack due to the ease of programming and the improvements in performance.

So yes, Cyber warfare could destroy us. It would go down to a battle of who is smarter and faster. Though if it went down to a battle of whose bomb was bigger I think we would be equally — if not more — dead.

Cyber-attacks happen every day. You know someone whose Facebook has been hacked. You get spam every hour. But that is also the type of stuff that lets someone from Geek Squad fix your computer virtually. It can help people. It can be used to prevent fighting.

We should just all invest in a little better virus protection.

Sarah Romer is a senior electrical engineering major. Her column appears Thursday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.