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Netwars Turns Cyberwarfare Into An Immersive Multimedia Project

A group of journalists, researchers, science advisors, and art studios and organizations have combined to shine a spotlight cyberespionage.

Getting your router, computer, and email accounts hacked simultaneously can’t often be described as a lucky experience. But it was at least a matter of good timing as it happened to this writer as he was in talks with the creators of netwars, a crossmedia project that explores the impending threat of cyberwarfare.

Since the NSA revelations, a number of folks are more familiar with the existence of cyberespionage but sadly still lack any real knowhow in the all-encompassing realm of cyberwarfare. Terrorists and not wifi-enabled toasters are at the top of their worries list. And even less are employing customized tanks to block cell phone signals.

But a tight-knit group of journalists, researchers, science advisors, and art studios and organizations are looking to change all that with a crossmedia project that will include a TV documentary, an interactive web doc, and more. It’s time you saw cyberwarfare for what it is.

The Creators Project: Would you say that raising awareness is netwars / out of CTRL's main objective?
Saskia Kress, Executive Producer of netwars: Yes. When we started the project our initial idea was to raise awareness, and in a way that is not as abstract. It was the pre-Snowden era, and now awareness is very high. But we wanted to put the topic on another level as well. We want to show the whole consequences, NSA is only one part of a bigger problem, and surveillance is only one part of daily cyberwar.

We have to also stress our journalistic backgrounds, that is our normal daily work that we try to use as our compass on critical things. And now we find new ways of storytelling that are not just linear. So we thought it’s...worth [it] to tell the story in a different way, to emotionalize it, to have different platforms, to have different target groups, to reach as many people as possible, and to tell the whole story but in a more contemporary way.

Or an alternate question would be: how much of it is intended as an art project and how much of it as an educational tool?
It’s more of an education tool. Everything started with a more journalistic focus. It’s a rather complicated topic but a very relevant, real-time subject matter. And with the means of crossmedia, it gave us a new and wonderful possibility to tell a story on different platforms. And of course there some art elements in the visuals of the project and in the composition of all these formats, giving us the opportunity to tell the story in an artistic way. When you use comic features to fictionalize a story, and when you work with artists, it becomes an art project. But the core of the project remains journalistic, everything is fact based.


The cover of the graphic novel app platform.

In the concept stage, was it always envisioned as a crossmedia production or did that arise from a need to cover the breadth and depth of cyber warfare/espionage?
From the very beginning it was intended as a crossmedia production. We saw the potential...and it fits perfectly...on different platforms. The target group and audience we wanted to reach, they are people who are techy [and] web orientated. We thought we [had] to use these possibilities. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet them where they are naturally, in the web. We didn’t want to start as we would usually start, with a linear style of a TV documentary. So this time we conceptualized differently.

Other than through subject matter, are the various projects linked or interconnected somehow? Is it possible for an audience member to take in the project through just one of its individual forms? Or should they be inclined to check out the TV series, graphic novel app, etc, as a whole?
Every platform can live on its own, so it´s not necessary that you have to listen or read every platform. Every platform has its own speciality.  But still, there´s a connected user journey.

The TV documentary tells a critical status quo. That means--we have a problem with our daily infrastructure. It is really vulnerable and the TV documentary tells the story of how vulnerable it really is, and how easy it is to attack. We follow hackers who demonstrate this right in front of our cameras. That´s a dangerous status quo.


Footage from the TV documentary.

The [interactive] Web documentary personalizes the whole story. So that means–you can say why does cyber warfare affect me if it’s happening so far, far away? A power plant is attacked by a virus--but I don’t care, I’m not part of this. Cyberwar doesn’t affect me at all. So the main idea of the Web documentary was, yes, it affects you everyday. You really are an active or a passive part of cyberwar and we will show you how it works, so that’s the reason why we made an interactive story and why we aimed to have the story’s salesman convince people of this through his or her interactions with him.


A working example of the web documentary.

You lose personal data all the time. He shows you what kind of data is used in daily cyberwar. For example, you can be part of a botnet without even knowing, and [a] botnet can attack something that you are a zombie member of. We grab your personal data to show you a what-if scenario.

We also want to stress that everything is legal. We don’t hack your computer. We don’t push a virus onto your computer. We just show you how vulnerable you are. That´s the intention of the project – to prove that everyone is affected, and...the whole idea of personalization and emotionalizing it.

The graphic novel is to fictionalize the whole story. So that means if the problems are not solved, we can end up in a what-if, worst case scenario...in a science fiction environment. But this worst case scenario situation is not science fiction at all, because it’s all fact based. Everything [runs] out of control and that’s the reason why we invented this graphic novel.


An exclusive panel from the graphic novel.

The cyberwar topic is changing everyday, so many things are coming up, and so we came up with the information portal for people to go to, to inform themselves on the subject matter. You can go onto the portal and get exclusive info we’ve gathered. We have a news service and exclusive content. You can go there and gain a broader view on the whole topic.


The Netwars news hub.

The E-book tells the backstory of the graphic novel, a kind of prequel. It´s not exactly the same story as the graphic novel. It´s where everything starts, where everything begins.

In your research and interviews with noted hackers/journalists, what has been the most alarming or unnerving bit of information you've come across?
Our intention for the TV documentary was a stress test. We wanted to prove with real hackers how easy it is to hack into a control system of a very critical infrastructure. And it worked! It is the first time a real stress test was being filmed in this way. And what was most alarming was the result! It was a real surprise for our team and for our experts.

Anything else you might want to add?
The subject matter becomes bigger and bigger every day. Before, it was a niche topic, but now it´s the center of the world.


Click here for the official netwars teaser trailer. 

For more information on netwars visit their sharp website at netwars-project.com. Also, look out for these important netwars/out of CTRL release dates: *April 15, 2014 (Arte/ ZDF) – the TV documentary will be released. *Mid-April – the Web documentary will be released. *Beginning of May – the graphic novel, E- and audio book will be launched. The E-book contains six parts, one part will be released every week. The graphic novel will be composed of three parts, one released every four or six weeks. The graphic novel will also be available in five languages – German, English, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish.

All media used is the property of the netwars team and is used with their consent.