Russian Meddling is Just the Beginning: ‘Zero Days VR’ Provides First-Hand Experience of the Perilous World of Cyber Warfare

The truth is not out there, but it should be. That message is at the core of “Zero Days VR,” an adaptation of the Oscar short-listed Alex Gibney documentary by the same name, which has been acquired by WITHIN for syndication on its app, and has been released for the first time ever on iPhone and Android.

The Emmy nominated experience, which world premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, uses virtual reality to tackle the shadowy world of government-sanctioned cyber warfare through the story of Stuxnet, a 2010 computer virus reportedly used to attack Iranian nuclear facilities by security agencies in the United States and Israel, although neither country will admit to their involvement. The virus is the first known computer worm to result in real-world physical destruction and has been linked to the fourth dimension of war.

We designed an experience that makes the invisible visible.”—Yasmin Elayat, Director, ZeroDaysVR

Where Gibney’s 2016 Participant Media documentary uses interviews and news footage to dig into the mystery of the virus’ unprecedented power, the VR experience shrinks the viewer down to the size of a computer’s motherboard to watch as the virus physically spreads to infect computers across the globe. It’s a visceral experience that only VR is capable of, and it drives home the message that once code this lethal has been unleashed, it is almost impossible to stop it.

The chilling implication this medium makes clear: we have only just begun to understand the grave perils of cyber warfare. Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections and North Korea’s hack of Sony would be child’s play in comparison to a full-scale attack on the infrastructure of a major American city in which scores of people could die.

“This is an intangible topic often misunderstood by the general public, even as it’s currently affecting our daily lives. It’s an unregulated form of warfare where our governments are tight-lipped and information is highly classified,” says “Zero Days VR” director, Yasmin Elayat. “There is an urgent need to educate the public on the high stakes and potential to disrupt critical infrastructure. The global community needs a serious conversation about the rules of regulation around cyber war.”

A secondary character is brought to life using Depthkit — an accessible volumetric filmmaking tool that enables storytellers to create VR experiences featuring real people captured in 3D. Depthkit is created by Scatter, which produced the experience alongside executive producer, Gibney. Using Depthkit, the creators captured an actress (who stands in as an amalgamation of all the NSA informant testimonies heard in the narrative) and placed her inside the interactive virtual reality story. She appears as a 3D apparition, and gives voice to those who fear the secrecy surrounding the technology will result in a deadly counterattack.

“What we can do, can be done to us,” the character says ominously towards the end of the experience.

Still image from the Emmy Award winning experience Zero Days VR, now available on WITHIN.

“Volumetric filmmaking enabled our team to natively integrate a real, three-dimensional capture of key testimony from an NSA informant into the digital world of Stuxnet. This exciting new format allows us to tell stories that we believe can’t be told in any other way,” says Elayat, who is also one of Scatter’s co-founders. We designed an experience that makes the invisible visible. We created impressionistic, immersive worlds to illustrate this complex information in an innovative way and to spread literacy around this urgent topic.”

The clarion call of “Zero Days VR” is for the country — and the world at large — to wake up to the clear and present danger of what is being called the next chapter of modern warfare. A voice in the experience likens the Stuxnet virus to August 6, 1945, the day the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Of equal importance, and rarely broadcast in the media or acknowledged by the government: after Stuxnet, Iran hit the U.S. back via a large-scale attack on its banking systems. This, “Zero Days VR” warns, is just the beginning.

“There’s no doubt that we are in the age of cyber warfare — from the Russian cyber intrusion in the 2016 presidential elections to the Russia and Iran-backed Facebook subterfuge where hundreds of fake accounts have been launching disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks,” says Elayat. “Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security, states that the next largest threat facing the United States will be an online attack.”

For more information, and to download the app and experience, go to www.with.in/app