“Well, if the answer to that was ‘yes,’ there was only one place it could be. Natanz.”
“There are reports that it’s gotten loose, though,” I said, reports of Stuxnet worms showing up all over the cyberworld. To which Clarke has a fascinating answer:
“It got loose because there was a mistake,” he says. “It’s clear to me that lawyers went over it and gave it what’s called, in the IT business, a TTL.”
“If you saw Blade Runner [in which artificial intelligence androids were given a limited life span—a “time to die”], it’s a ‘Time to Live.’” Do the job, commit suicide and disappear. No more damage, collateral or otherwise.
“So there was a TTL built into Stuxnet,” he says [to avoid violating international law against collateral damage, say to the Iranian electrical grid]. And somehow it didn’t work.”
“Why wouldn’t it have worked?”
“TTL operates off of a date on your computer. Well, if you are in China or Iran or someplace where you’re running bootleg software that you haven’t paid for, your date on your computer might be 1998 or something because otherwise the bootleg 30-day trial TTL software would expire.
“So that’s one theory,” Clarke continues. “But in any event, you’re right, it got out. And it ran around the world and infected lots of things but didn’t do any damage, because every time it woke up in a computer it asked itself those four questions. Unless you were running uranium nuclear centrifuges, it wasn’t going to hurt you.”
“So it’s not a threat anymore?”