Through the Wormhole s05e04 Episode Script

How to Collapse a Superpower

The most powerful nations fear a new form of warfare that could bring them to their knees.
In this age where armies, governments, and economies all depend on an intricate global infrastructure, you don't need guns and bombs to bring down a superpower.
All you need is imagination.
Shift time by a millionth of a second and create chaos.
Use the human body to spread a killer computer virus.
Turn the technology we are addicted to against us.
Will human ingenuity triumph? Or will our ingenuity prove our undoing? Space, time, life itself The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.
You and I rely on our modern civilization, but there are plenty of people who don't like it, for a variety of reasons, religion, politics, or maybe fear about our future.
For now, let's call these people "terrorists.
" Terrorists don't fight by conventional means.
They strike in ways we don't expect.
Now, we have given them a weapon that could change the global balance of power.
The stability of the U.
, Europe, China, and any global power depends on high-speed digital communication.
With a little imagination, could a few terrorists sabotage this massive network, cripple a mighty nation, perhaps even tear down modern civilization? Batter is Jackie Robinson.
One ball, one strike.
Two on, two out.
When I was growing up in Mississippi, I loved to listen to the old Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games, broadcast live all the way from New York.
It amazed me to think that my family was cheering one of Jackie Robinson's big hits at the same instant as tens of thousands of fans at Ebbets Field.
Way back, it's gone! That's a home run for Jackie Robinson.
Invisible radio signals that connected millions of people and synchronized us all.
They're coming out of the dugout now to shake hands Today, we are more connected than ever before.
And all the machines that connect us, the machines that keep the modern world running, rely on precisely synchronized time.
But could time be turned against us? The National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, is the home base of physicist Judah Levine.
Whenever you use a computer or your cell phone, you're tapping into Judah's greatest creation, the Internet time service.
The Internet time service sends out signals that let computers synchronize their clocks to within a millionth of a second, and the number of devices that need precise time is skyrocketing.
The growth has been compounded for 15 years.
And so, we started out with we have about six billion requests a day.
No single clock keeps time for the world.
has a dozen, each measuring time in different ways.
The accuracy of Judah's clocks is vital for controlling electric power grids, synchronizing telecommunications networks, timing financial transactions, and perhaps most importantly, making the global positioning system work.
Imagine if terrorists threw those clocks off by just a tiny bit.
What would happen? The G.
navigation system depends on the fact that all the satellites are synchronized to the same time, which is called G.
system time.
The system fundamentally requires that, and it won't work without it.
It just doesn't work at all.
It's not that it degrades.
It just doesn't work.
Around the world, more than 5,000 planes are in the air at any given time.
To keep them from colliding, controllers must track time, speed and distance with great precision.
A few seconds' disruption in th network could mean disaster in the tightly packed airspace around a major airport.
Now imagine that effect simultaneously hitting the entire infrastructure that keeps a superpower running.
Power plants, hospitals, food delivery, oil production, all depend on time-critical functions.
Throw them out of sync, and there could be a catastrophic chain reaction.
Small effects, if they're not damped out quickly, can grow to become much bigger problems.
Judah's challenge is to keep that chain reaction from happening.
His biggest threat comes from hackers.
The last year or two has seen a dramatic increase in hackers.
It used to be that you really had to understand how to write some of these attacks, but now, one person writes the attack and distributes it among 50 people or 500 people or 5,000 people who don't necessarily understand even how the attack works, and all they have to do is copy it and run it.
So it's a problem that's only gonna get worse.
Judah's Internet time service protects itself by spreading its clocks around.
This goes back to the original purpose of the Internet distributing control so losing a few sites won't take down the entire network.
The N.
Internet time service is more difficult to jam, because it's so distributed.
There are 45 servers.
They're all at different locations.
They don't have the same address.
They don't have the same physical physical networks.
So jamming all of them simultaneously would be I wouldn't want to say it was impossible, 'cause probably nothing's impossible, but it would be quite a job.
But the illusion of security may be the greatest threat we face the false belief we are safe when we are not.
People tend to believe what they see and what they are told, especially when it comes from a trusted figure.
I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.
America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.
But what if you couldn't trust anyone anymore? With today's technology, it is easy to turn harmless words into something completely incendiary.
I seek war with Islam.
If someone sees this fake and believes it is real, it could start a religious war.
Islam has demonstrated hatred rather than peace.
I seek war with Islam.
Protecting our identities and those of our leaders against a terrorist assault is a top priority for governments, militaries and businesses.
Here at Switzerland's Idiap Research Institute, one man is shoring up the virtual battlements that keep out the cyberterrorists.
Sebastien Marcel is an expert in biometrics the science of using the unique signatures of the body to verify a person's identity.
Biometric security is a vast leap beyond passwords and I.
cards, which is why a shadowy army is trying to defeat it.
The challenge is to make the task so difficult for possible attackers that they will just not try to do it.
There are many different kinds of biometrics fingerprints, the iris, the way you walk.
The more individual the biometric, the harder it is to hack.
Sebastien plays the dual roles of cyberterrorist looking for vulnerabilities and defender of the system.
We always come first with a form of attack, then find a countermeasure for that.
Then give us an idea on another way to make a more clever attack.
And then we do it again and again.
Eventually, we will reach a point where it's not going to be possible to make any new form of attacks that can bypass the system.
If a terrorist tricks security systems into believing he is the president or one of his trusted aides, he could start a war.
It's not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Even something unique, like your face, isn't enough to safeguard your identity.
So here I have the laptop which is protected by biometric face recognition.
We have an account created by a colleague and I'm trying to be recognized as my colleague, and, uh, my well, basically, doesn't work because I'm not her.
I've taken a picture of my colleague here and I'm just going to show it in front of the camera and let's see what happens.
So here, you can see that I've been able to log in very easily, actually.
It was instantaneous.
Now, Sebastien switches back to guard duty.
He activates a countermeasure that strengthens the laptop's biometric shield.
The software looks not just for a specific face, but also blinking eyes.
So here, you see that, actually, well, it's no longer possible to enter the system.
Even this added layer of biometric defense cannot, however, deter an imaginative attacker.
By scanning a photograph with 3D imaging software, Sebastien has created a mask of his colleague.
So now, I'm going to put the mask of my colleague on and try to see if I'm recognized.
So, I've been recognized and because I was blinking, and I was able to bypass the countermeasure.
It is harder to copy someone's body than a password, but nothing is foolproof.
The more biometric data available photographs, medical records, fingerprints, the more vulnerable we become.
You can take any public biometric data you can find on from the Internet.
You can find some pictures of people, even presidents, world leaders and to build these kind of attacks.
Playing the role of attentive defender and malicious invader has taught Sebastien that he is in a life or death race with no finish line.
The infrastructure that supports modern civilization may always be one clever attack away from disaster.
My feeling is that if this problem is not taken seriously into account, then we might see an attack that was successful.
So this is the major risk.
This is the new arms race for the 21st century, staying a step ahead of those who want to infiltrate our networks.
But there is one attack we might never see coming when people themselves are hacked and turned against their own country without their even knowing.
If someone wanted to bring a superpower like America to its knees, where would they strike? We expect attacks on our financial and military networks, but human bodies may also be vulnerable to hacking.
Could our newest high-tech medical devices be giving terrorists an opportunity? Could they create a sleeper army of unwitting assassins? Dr.
Mark Gasson is pioneering the latest generation of medical implants, such as pacemakers, Insulin pumps for diabetics and deep brain stimulators.
So this is an implant for a medical device.
It's much like a pacemaker.
We use it for deep brain stimulation.
So it would be implanted in the chest cavity and then we would run cables from this up under the skin and into electrodes that we put deep into the brain.
This type of device, once it's implanted in the body, you don't want to have to remove it to change any settings, so it has wireless capability.
Implants are modern miracles.
But the downside is that these devices use radio frequency transmissions to transfer data.
And the devices they talk to, called readers, can be hacked.
If you know how to construct a reader that communicates in the right way, then you can essentially pretend to be a legitimate reader talking to it.
This type of device and many other medical devices don't have any security to stop you from doing that.
This lack of security could have deadly ramifications.
If a networked device is in your body, it could be remotely triggered to kill you.
Imagine a foreign power wants to assassinate a leader with an implant.
A concealed reader could be altered to shut down a pacemaker or pump a fatal dose of Insulin into a diabetic's bloodstream.
A device like this will have a certain range that it operates in.
So if we put a device attached to a podium, for example, then we could have it targeted specifically at the person standing at the podium.
A reader could be designed to transfer a digital virus to an implant, say, in the prosthetic leg of a general.
The virus' real target may be the White House security system.
The general could leave the center of government open to a terrorist attack.
It sounds like the stuff of fiction, but Mark has already proven it can be done.
In 2010, Mark hacked himself.
He implanted a radio frequency transponder, like this one, in his hand.
The microchip contained personal information and passcodes that opened the security doors at his lab.
After the chip was up and running, he infected it with a computer virus.
So by infecting my device with a virus meant that when I accessed the building, the building reads the virus out of my device and then transmits that to the system that controls, uh, the access to the building.
So once that had occurred, the virus actually infected that main system, which meant that anyone else that was getting access to the building had that virus copied to their typically, they use smart cards.
So the virus was able to propagate in that way.
Mark watched the virus jump from his wrist to the system, where it rapidly caused a security nightmare.
The virus that I infected my device with was able to corrupt the whole system.
So it actually stopped the system from functioning at all.
All the system could then do is make copies of the virus onto the smart cards and other devices that people would be using.
And that means they then couldn't get into the building, and if they went to another building that used the same system, they would just continue to spread the virus on.
Mark proved that implants could not only be infected with toxic code they can be used to transfer toxic code.
This has ominous implications.
By building information highways across the world, we may have given our enemies an express Lane into our most vital systems via the devices in our bodies.
How do we defend ourselves from a world filled with cyberterrorists? This man may know.
He's using computers to track down and fight deadly viruses, both digital and biological.
Influenza, smallpox, H.
Global pandemics happen every decade or so.
Sometimes, they kill tens of millions.
Now there are new threats.
Digital viruses that spread like lightning and could tear our critical global networks apart.
What lies ahead could be even more frightening a pandemic designed to combine the worst of both viral worlds, electronic and biological.
Zero day.
That's the day a destructive new virus enters the world.
The lack of awareness on zero day means complete vulnerability, whether the virus is biological or digital.
Is there a way to stop these threats before they spread? Alex Vespignani believes there is.
Alex is a professor of Physics, Computer Science, and Health Sciences at Northeastern University.
He's an expert on contagion, natural and electronic.
Actually, I did start with digital viruses, and because of the analogies, especially in the techniques that you can use mathematically to describe the spreading of those viruses, we started to get interested in biological viruses.
Alex's lab tracks viral outbreaks of all kinds and looks for ways to minimize their impact.
In 2009, a virulent flu bug named H1N1 flared up in Mexico City.
To predict how and when the flu would spread, Alex and his team designed a powerful program called G.
the global epidemic and mobility model.
models all and predicts how they will interact.
So, in the computer, we take one person that is in Mexico City, and board on one flight that is simulated in the computer, and if that person is a carrier, will transmit the disease to another geographical area in the world.
We repeat those simulation many, many, many times, and this will tell us what is the most likely pattern that the epidemic will follow in the future.
anticipated when the H1N1 flu pandemic would reach its peak in different regions around the world.
Alex also uses G.
to track outbreaks of computer viruses.
When he first entered this field, digital and biological viruses followed similar paths of infection.
A virus would be physically carried from person to person, or machine to machine.
Outbreaks would take weeks or months to unfold.
On the left, we have a virus that spreads because of proximity, and in this case, what you see is that the virus spreads every time that people get in physical proximity, so in touch with each other.
This takes some time.
Biological viruses still spread this way, but digital viruses now have something influenza and ebola don't the ability to travel around the world at the speed of light.
A single computer virus can infect tens of millions of computers before anyone realizes what is happening.
So on the right side, we have a virus that spreads wirelessly, basically, on the Internet.
This doesn't require the physical proximity.
You don't need the carriers to be in a place to transmit the disease.
The disease is teleported, in a sense.
And you will see that, in just a few minutes, it reaches the entire population.
So it blows out like a big explosion all at once.
How do you fight pathogens that can spread around the world in seconds? Alex's colleagues are trying to create a global digital defense, similar to the human immune system, bits of code that act like biological t-cells, swarming viruses to isolate and eliminate them.
Unfortunately, clever hackers are getting better at creating undetectable viruses.
In the digital world, viruses or malwares are constantly changing, so that it's not easy to write an algorithm that detect them and clean the machine right away.
Trojan horse malware is specifically designed to blend into the background until it reaches its intended target.
Once it invades a critical system, say, the control software of cooling rods at a nuclear power plant, it can lay dormant for weeks or months.
Then, one day, it activates.
This is day zero, and the new malware is going to exploit the vulnerabilities of those servers.
It can hide here or proliferate over the Internet, and finally unleash all the damage it has been programmed for.
But there is an even more disturbing threat.
What if terrorists apply the principles of malware to biological pathogens? Imagine biological viruses designed to masquerade as harmless germs.
They'd spread throughout the population, then detonate.
It would be a nightmare scenario.
But the dangers of engineering pathogens are so great, and the results so hard to control, that even terrorists may not risk it.
Even the simplest biological viruses are much, much, more complicated than computer viruses.
As soon as you start manipulating a virus, it's very difficult to guess what is going to happen.
It's a very dangerous game, so trying to alter nature is something that can easily lead to doomsday.
The future may be filled with frightening outbreaks unless we find a way to lock down our critical information networks.
In a world where privacy is fading away and everything is open to attack, can there ever again be such a thing as a secret? During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States were locked in a nuclear arms race.
The philosophy behind it was M.
, which stood for "mutually assured destruction.
" Today's arms race could be called "mutually assured decryption.
" Computer networks develop ever-more secure encryption schemes, and ever-more powerful attack networks figure out how to crack them.
But there may be a way to stop this madness by creating a code that can never be cracked.
Roarke Horstmeyer is a cryptographic researcher at Caltech.
Though he works with computers, he follows an ancient quest.
Roarke seeks the perfect code, a foolproof way to keep secrets secret.
So this is an example of a secret code.
And right now, it doesn't look like anything.
Most of us see random letters, but an expert sees a message encrypted with a Caesar cipher, named after Julius Caesar, who used it for clandestine communications.
The way you crack a Caesar cipher is you just look for the most frequent letter.
So here, "I" is the most common letter.
And you know that "E" is the most common letter that appears in the English language.
So I can match "I" to "E," and then I can count and see that that's four letters changed.
Repeating the same for "X," I can count back four letters and see it might be representing "t.
" X-L-I is being converted to "the.
" Letter transposition codes were high-tech in the Roman empire, but in this age of computational power, they are trivially easy to break.
The modern gold standard of cryptography is the one-time pad.
This technique adds or subtracts a different value for every single letter of a message.
The way it works is, for each letter of what you're trying to keep secret, you choose a different and random number to permute that letter.
Essentially, each letter has a different code, so guessing one letter won't help you figure out any of the other letters in the message.
Only someone with access to the one-time pad, the code book itself, would be able to make any sense of this.
But even this technically perfect code can be cracked.
The one-time pads used by governments and businesses to protect their secrets rely on specialized machines that generate random numbers.
But Edward Snowden revealed the N.
has compromised those machines.
The random numbers they generate are not actually random, so the N.
can crack even these theoretically uncrackable codes.
As more information about what the N.
has been and is capable of has come out, it's been a big motivating factor, I think, to a lot of cryptography over the last year.
Roarke and his colleagues went searching for an ideal generator of randomness, and they found it in light.
We realized, or saw, actually, visually, how random light can behave when it interacts with disordered particles, like in dried spray paint.
So it's easy to create a lot of randomness by shining light on scattering particles.
Using lasers, Roarke directs a beam of light through a sheet of polymer-dispersed liquid crystal.
It's a variation on the L.
display you might find in a laptop screen.
We create our one-time pad by shining laser light through our scattering material.
The laser illuminates the scattering material, the light scatters through it randomly, and then emerges on the other side as an interference pattern.
Once the unique pattern is created, you can turn it into a code.
Every letter or numerical character is represented by light or dark spots in the polymer.
Each square micrometer of random pattern in the polymer provides enough light and dark spots to embed millions of code words.
Say two spies create a shared code pattern.
Then they separate, never to meet again.
The first spy encodes a message with his piece of polymer and sends it to the other spy.
Spy number two receives the encoded communication and takes out his piece of polymer to view it.
When he subtracts the shared pattern from the code, he can read the secret message.
But unlike a conventional one-time pad, this code can't be duplicated.
The three-dimensional layers of crystals embedded in the polymer sheet cannot be captured by a photograph.
The randomness doesn't just exist on the surface of the material.
It exists inside the material.
And any attempt to get inside the volume will destroy it, or change the way it behaves, essentially.
An unbreakable code could shore up all of a superpower's critical networks against infiltration by enemies of the state.
But humans, not technology, have always been the weakest link in security systems.
What if the assault on our society is more insidious than terrorism? So subtle, in fact, that we may not realize it's even happening? A superpower would reel from successful attacks on its bridges, its electrical grid or its water supply.
But what if an attack is already underway? An attack not on physical objects but on society itself? An attack from within? Is our addiction to the Internet sowing the seeds of our destruction? The campus of Swansea University sits on the picturesque coastline of southwestern Wales.
But like college students everywhere, these young men and women are more absorbed in the digital world than the natural world.
Most of them were born in the 1990s.
They don't know life without the Internet.
And for some of them, being offline would be physically and emotionally traumatic, because the Internet rewrites the brain as much as ecstasy or heroin.
Professor Phil Reed has worked for years finding treatments for autism and drug addiction.
But a few years ago, he noticed a disorder that is just as widespread the effect technology is having on our minds and bodies.
Now, I think the Internet is really something new here, because what we're seeing is a piece of technology that is almost designed to isolate individuals.
If you were to change the way society worked, this would be a really good way to do it.
Phil wanted to find out if the Internet is addictive enough to cause withdrawal symptoms.
First, he tested the mental state of participants before and after they spent time online.
He found heavy users experienced profound negative mood swings when they're cut off from the net.
But the impact of withdrawal goes deeper than spoiling people's moods.
Shutting down the Internet connection triggers the body's fight-or-flight response.
So we're looking at their heart rate, their blood pressure, the galvanic skin response.
It's like they're facing a threat all of the time.
Their heart rate's gone up.
Their blood pressure's gone up.
Their skin conductance is high.
It's suggesting that long-term exposure to the 'net might actually be placing a strain on people's physiology.
They might feel relaxed, but in fact, they're hyped up.
But the most disturbing effect of Internet addiction is what it does inside the brain.
Phil and other researchers have been scanning the brains of heavy Internet users and finding disturbing alterations in their mental architecture.
In terms of where we're seeing changes in brain matter, we're seeing them up at the front, here, um, especially pre-frontal cortex, but also cortical changes, but also down the side, in terms of the motor areas of the brain.
So we've got changes all over.
People who surf the web can experience a 10% shrinkage in key brain regions, according to one study.
That's the kind of damage you might get from a serious case of meningitis.
It would permanently change how you think and behave.
Any new technology can be regarded like an alien parasite, and that goes for anything that we use.
We think it's serving us, and initially, it does.
But eventually, our society and ourselves, we become dependent on it.
The Internet is now an essential tool in every powerful nation on earth.
But its many benefits come with side effects that could shatter society.
Will it ultimately prove a force for good? Or will it be the tool of our self-destruction? We don't know.
Essentially, we are running a beta test on the population of earth.
If you were designing an aircraft, you'd have backup systems.
We never do that with society.
We never have a backup system.
It's all or nothing, and the way we seem to have gone is digital.
An addiction to technology may be the greatest weakness of a superpower.
By trying to improve our lives with machines, we may lose ourselves in software.
And there's one more thing to consider.
What if the Internet wakes up? Could an all-powerful digital consciousness become the final superpower? Our society is under threat on many fronts.
Terrorists could attack our time service, they could disrupt the power grid or the water supply network or our satellite links.
But we should be careful not to focus too closely on these individual threats.
We may be staring at the trees and missing the forest.
The real threat could be the Internet itself.
Christof Koch is one of the foremost neurobiologists in the world.
He is chief scientist at Paul Allen Institute for brain research in Seattle.
For Christof, the mind is purely a product of the web of neurons in the brain.
So if the Internet were a brain, how would its complexity stack up against a human brain? The Internet is, by far, the most complex artifact ever built by mankind.
It has on the order of probably than there are synapses in your typical brain.
It certainly raises the possibility, given the enormous complexity of the Internet, that now, or sometime in the future, it may feel like something to be the Internet, that the Internet itself has some degree of sentience.
Some say the Internet may already be sentient or self-aware, but its level of consciousness may be similar to that of a newborn.
Let's say the Internet has some sort of dim awareness.
We have to ask how intelligent is that awareness.
You know, if you're a little baby, you can be somewhat dimly aware of your mom, and that you're hungry, and that you're looking for milk, but you're not really very intelligent and you're not able to do a lot.
But presumably, the Internet will learn and evolve.
It will grow up.
If it does, how will we know when it has become more than just a glorified calculator? One way to gauge consciousness is to apply the turing test.
This imagines asking a man and a machine a series of questions without knowing who or what is giving the answers.
If you can't figure out which one is the machine, if the machine has fooled you into thinking it is human, then for all practical purposes, it might as well be intelligent.
Where do I look? At you? At me.
Christof proposes a new, improved Turing test that measures not just intelligence, but consciousness.
The test uses visual imagery.
The computer must decide whether a series of photographs are right or wrong.
Any humans looking at these photographs would know they are not real, but modern day computers are still easily fooled.
A computer, unless you provide it with a very, very large list, an almost infinite large list of all the exceptions, could not deal with that.
And that's the basic nature of this turing test for visual consciousness.
Christof wants to apply this test to the entire Internet.
If the vast global network of computers passes the test, by his definition, it is awake and aware.
But what if the Internet is conscious? What would it want? How will it behave? Will it be friend or foe, servant or master? To the extent that the Internet developed independent behaviors would be scary, could be very scary.
Of course, it could have all sorts of security implication.
To that extent, that would certainly be a signal that there's something independent, autonomous there.
If the Internet begins to do unpredictable things, we will know we are dealing with a new form of life.
It may even follow an important precedent in the biological history of planet earth the absorption of smaller, simpler life forms into the bodies of larger, more complex ones.
The future of humanity may be similar to that of mitochondria, the power generators inside most biological cells.
Mitochondria were once independent organisms, but over evolutionary history, they were taken over by larger cells.
The once-independent mitochondria became a mere power source for their Masters.
We, and the civilizations we now think of as superpowers, may be absorbed by our own creation.
But what would it want from us, other than occasional repairs? Perhaps it would want our energy.
Or perhaps it will desire the one thing it doesn't have a soul.
The soul is really spooky.
If you can't measure it, why do you need it? What function does it do that you can't do with physical stuff anymore? So today, with the existence of computers, there isn't any need for soul stuff, because it can all be done using computations, using algorithms in software.
A conscious, superpowerful Internet may not need a soul to function, but experiencing the joys and sorrows of humanity would give it another way to understand the world.
So our defining difference from technology may ultimately keep the human race from becoming its victim.
Throughout history, every technological advance has led to new forms of warfare.
The Bronze Age gave us the ax and the sword.
Iron gave us the cannon and the gun.
The Information Age has birthed its own weapons.
But information is not a physical resource that can be mined and controlled, like iron and bronze.
It's a resource of the mind.
In this new age, the fate of a nation, even the mightiest superpower rests on one thing the power of human imagination.