'Zero Days': 5 Takeaways From Alex Gibney's Cyber Warfare Doc

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

The politically charged pic had its first screening on Wednesday at the Berlinale.

Zero Days, Alex Gibney's eye-opening and potentially debate-fueling documentary about state-sponsored cyber warfare, had its first worldwide screening on Wednesday at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Here are five major claims from the politically charged documentary that could follow in the steps of CitizenFour and lead the charge into next year's awards race.

1. The U.S. spent millions developing advanced malware to attack Iran

The NSA developed an extremely advanced cyber weapon at a cost of hundreds of millions and perhaps even billions of dollars, under the code name Nitro Zeus.

It was authorized by president Barack Obama as a contingency tool to be used should the U.S. be dragged into conflict with Iran to avoid full-scale war.

Nitro Zeus, or NZ, was designed to infect Iranian networks and civilian infrastructure, shutting down the country's power grid, phone lines and defenses while also preventing the Iranian military from communicating.

2. The original Stuxnet virus that hit Iran was made more aggressive by Israel

The precursor to Nitro Zeus was the notorious and highly advanced Stuxnet Virus, which attacked Iran's Natanz nuclear facility in 2010, destroying 1,000 centrifuges, and was created by the NSA in collaboration with Israel.

The design of the malware was to keep it from spreading outside of the facility, but Israel made its code more aggressive and launched the attack without U.S. knowledge. Stuxnet later spread around the world.

3. Stuxnet has been copied and used in other major cyber attacks

Blueprints of the Stuxnet code have since been found in that of other major cyber attacks believed to be state-sponsored, some even against the U.S.

"It's like leaving ammunition on the battlefield and then finding it's being used to shoot you," said David Sanger, the New York Times correspondent and cyber warfare expert who contributed to Zero Days while speaking at the press conference for the film.

4. NSA workers want people to know about Nitro Zeus

Workers at the NSA who contributed anonymously to the making of Zero Days want Nitro Zeus to be public knowledge because of the potentially devastating nature of its attack, which could lead to massive loss of life if essential public services, such as health care and water filtration, cannot function.

They also want it known because, like Stuxnet, the cyber weapon could be copied and used against the U.S. by countries or even non-state actors.

5. Nitro Zeus was a bargaining tool in the Iranian nuclear deal

The development of Nitro Zeus probably played a major role in the historic nuclear deal signed with Iran last summer.

"If you ask officially what made Iranians come to the negotiating table, they'll says sanctions," Sanger said. "If you ask them in private, they'll say sanctions and the things in this film."

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