Colbert couldn't make Stuxnet or cyberwar funny

Satire only works if you help an audience understand the threat

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(Israel's culpability is still unconfirmed, by the way, though there is plenty of analysis tying it and the U.S. to its development and testing. In covert operations, it often makes as much sense to claim you're capable of a devastating but underhanded attack as it is to be capable of it and actually carry it through. If nothing else, it can serve as a deterrent, which is one theory on why Saddam Hussein kept trying to give the impression he still had chemical or biological weapons long after both were long gone.)

The Colbert Report bit on Stuxnet wasn't that successful, either as information or entertainment.

There was certainly enough material there for good satire:

  • The image of Iranian scientists flummoxed by the misbehavior of their own equipment;
  • Covert, (almost certainly) snickering involvement (alleged) of anti-nuke U.S. and Israeli intelligence operatives;
  • Extreme dichotomy between the public concept of virii as script-kiddy vandalism vs. the real-world destructiveness of the actual Stuxnet;
  • And the quick slide into the ridiculous as radical chaoticists at Anonymous stole and posted some code from the virus itself.

The details may just have been too complex to boil down, or the threat may have seemed too abstract.

Colbert did hit one point that most people don't really get – that Stuxnet is a real break from everything people have understood as "cyberwar" or "hacking" until now.

Most people consider Stuxnet, Julian Assange and the kids who steal each other's Facebook identities all to fall into the same class of hacker.

They're not, any more than the whistleblower who steals information to expose corporate skulduggery is anywhere near as vile as the corporations killing miners, oiling the Gulf, fleecing investors and destroying the economy by breaking the rules and blaming others when they're caught.

Unfortunately, whistleblowers and Facebook eavesdroppers tend to get caught and punished, partly because it's not necessary to have specialized knowledge to understand what they've done.

Those committing more esoteric crimes – or pushing cyberwar beyond online harassment, to the point they can destroy or deteriorate weapons in the real world – are harder to blame because it's harder to understand concretely what they've actually done.

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