HBO documentary film “The Perfect Weapon” gives us a very urgent message on certain very dark sides of our ongoing cyber age. As our digital technology is more advanced day by day, our human society have come to depend more and more on this remarkable technological development, but we have also become quite vulnerable to the increasing dangers behind that technological development, and it is often chilling to see that the virulent applications of digital technology on cyber-warfare have already been started and then entered our reality without any inhibition at all.
In the beginning, the documentary, which is based on David E. Sanger’s nonfiction book “The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age”, shows us how the US government came to commit a small but damaging incident of hacking which can be now regarded as the starting point of the new era of cyber-warfare. In 2007, President George W. Bush was searching for any possible option for quickly stopping the ongoing nuclear program of the Iranian government without causing another war. After his high-ranking military officials suggested cyber-attack via malware program, he approved of preparing a covert cyber-attack operation before leaving the White House in 2008, and this covert cyber-attack operation was one of numerous top-secret stuffs briefed to President Barack Obama during his first year at the White House.
Several interviewees in the documentary explain to us how this covert cyber-attack operation was executed not long after being ordered by President Obama. Although the target in question, which is a huge centrifugation facility for enriching uranium-235 for making nuclear bombs, was heavily protected by a number of security measures, all they had to do was developing a malware program and then delivering it to an Israeli intelligence agency, which would then plant that malware program in the computer system of the facility via one of its secret agents.
After some period of hibernation, the malware program, which is now called Stuxnet, caused a substantial amount of damages to the Iranian nuclear program once it was activated. The mission was surely accomplished, but it did not take much time for the Iranian government to discover who was responsible for the incident. The Iranian government subsequently established a secret agency for cyber-warfare just like the US government and other powerful governments already did, and it subsequently gave a very hard lesson to Sheldon Adelson, an influential right-wing American casino billionaire who happened to say in 2013 that he had no problem with bombing Iran with nuclear weapons. Not long after a video clip of him saying that was spread out all over the Internet, the accounting system of his company in Las Vegas was struck down by a hacking attack which was apparently connected with some very displeased people in Iran, and it certainly showed to American people that what happens in Las Vegas sometimes does not stay in Las Vegas at all.
And this hacking incident was followed by a series of more disturbing ones. When Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were about to write and direct comedy film “The Interview” (2014), they thought they were just making a silly satire lampooning the public image of the current leader of North Korea, but then things become quite serious shortly after the trailer of the movie came out. When the North Korea government showed lots of displeasure via their public statement, it looked like just another usual case of petty pique from North Korea, but, what do you know, the Sony Studios, which financed the production of “The Interview”, subsequently got heaps of their internal documents and e-mails hacked and then leaked in public, and, as many of you probably remember, lots of media fuss consequently followed while the movie itself, which is incidentally not very good in my humble opinion, sank down in the US box office as many of American movie theaters did not want to get associated with it at all.
However, this hacking incident looks like a mere farce compared to the massive interference of Vladimir Putin and his Russian government on the 2016 US Presidential Election. Having already tested many different kinds of cyber-attacks on Ukraine, the Russian government was ready to go onto a full-throttle mode at that time, and its extensive operation of misinformation and disinformation on the Internet, which was also accompanied with the hacking on the Democratic National Committee, was one of the major factors contributing to that shocking outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election.
While knowing well that his 2016 US Presidential campaign was helped a lot by the online interference of the Russian government, President Donald J. Trump did not do much about that, though he approved of accelerating the advance of the US military on the ever-expanding field of cyber-warfare. In 2018, a troll farm belonging to the Russian government received a big cyber-attack, and that was certainly a clear warning message from the US government, which probably led to the relatively less amount of misinformation and disinformation poured upon the 2018 mid-term elections in US.
Meanwhile, the documentary also points out how the Chinese government has also been deeply involved in numerous kinds of cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage for many years. As insidiously extending its online tentacles to here and there around the world, the Chinese government is ready to go for the top by any means necessary, and it is surely alarming to see what may happen sooner or later because of that.
Overall, “The Perfect Weapon” will not surprise you much if you have seen other similar documentaries including Alex Gibney’s “Zero Days” (2016), but it did its job as well as intended at least, and you may be more concerned about what will possibly happen during the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election, which has been quite susceptible to cyber-attacks during last several months. I cannot help but worry about whether the same thing will happen again to cause more disruption of American democracy, but, like many others around the world, I can only hope for the best.