I caught Hackers on Hulu a few months back and marveled at not only Hollywood's portrayal of 90's culture, but also the standard trope of hacking being cinematically displayed as some virtual reality (VR) folder rendering with hacker and security bits zapping each other throughout the system. Don't get me wrong; there have been great cyberpunk and hacking movies and television shows throughout the years, but common Hollywood stereotyping makes you treat any foray into cyberspace by the entertainment industry with great caution, lest you see Matthew Lillard running around on rollerblades.
I recently bought the first season of Mr. Robot on Amazon Instant Video after hearing a lot of good things about its portrayal of hacking. I was told that it was the most realistic portrayal of hacking on television.
Although the overaching story is the typical hacker vs. the world narrative, the individual stories, and the moments of Elliot discussing technology and modern digital usage are some of the most authentic scenes I've ever seen portrayed.
Traditional hacking can be seen throughout the television series as Elliot works at a security firm, while simultaneously leading a hacker group. From the correct usage of Unix/Linux bash commands to specifying a Raspberry Pi as a piece of hardware to link into a building's climate controls, Mr. Robot does a great job of not only using real technology and real programming/administration, but makes the appropriate choices in the right situations. The writing team must have a pretty solid group of consultants that it's using while developing these stories.
The most interesting aspect of the show is that much of Elliot's hacking when investigating various individuals (such as his therapist's boyfriend) comes from hacking that borders on social engineering. He uses social networking posts to get a handle on personal habits and patterns, hacking passwords, collecting data, and ultimately uncovering a person's dirty secrets through information in their emails, private messages, etc. There is even a scene where Tyler Wellick uses a co-worker's public Instagram posts to find out where the person frequents so he can set up a "chance" meeting. This isn't traditional hacking from the Linux terminal, but it shows how hacking has evolved with current digital lifestyles. The weakest part in any security chain is usually the human element, and today's social media obsession has made it much easier to exploit the person behind the computer or security switch in order to gain information or access.
Bill and I were talking about this the other day, and it was a topic that we were considering turning into a podcast episode. Not just with today's crop of adults, but think about the security implications for children today that are growing up in a digital age. There is now much more information out there to mine, and it's not just something that advertisers are collecting and analyzing. The weak link of the human element is getting even weaker as we start to be more and more willing to share personal information online.
In any event, check out Mr. Robot if you get a chance. If you're a systems administrator or programmer, you'll probably enjoy the technological aspects of the show and its realistic portrayal of hacking.
(Photo by Rich Bowen)