For most people, hackers have become a pop-culture phenomenon, thanks to movies like Hackers (1995). And there have been many more depictions of hacking on TV over the years. Each one was a little different, but most have one thing in common: they’re utter nonsense.
Why is Hacking So Badly Represented in Movies?
Most scriptwriters and producers don’t think they can present real hacking methods in an exciting way. So they don’t even try to make it accurate to real life. Instead, they depict people typing furiously with long lines of code running on the screen. And let’s not forget the intense music there to up the drama.
And while there is merit to that idea — at least there was 25 years ago — things are a little different now. The general moviegoer has become much more tech-savvy. Most people know how to use computers and own smartphones or tablets. You can’t fool someone with flashy graphics and fast tech wizard typing anymore. These comical depictions have become even more cringe-inducing to those with any knowledge of how hacking actually works.
Despite that, some movies and series haven’t given up on those cheap gimmicks yet. In a relatively recent episode of Arrow, Felicity entered into a ridiculous hacking “match” against the antagonist. In the episode, they sent surges to each other’s computers, leading to the bad guy’s computer blowing up. There’s nothing realistic about that.
But there are also a few shows that do get it right. Mr. Robot is the most noteworthy mention here. The writers did thorough research. They’ve even admitted to using consultants for the more technical parts, which no doubt paid off. Everyone praises Mr. Robot for its accuracy, and nothing is boring about those scenes. Laypeople still understand the gist of point A to B, and those who do know the lingo have a deeper appreciation for what’s happening.
The Ramifications of Depicting Hacking Accurately
There are legitimate reasons for not showing real-life hacking techniques in movies or TV shows. In 2003, the movie Matrix Reloaded showed the realistic part of hacking, using the Linux program Nmap. Soon afterward, the Scotland Yard Computer Crime Unit released a press release to warn people away from emulating those techniques in real life. While there wasn’t a tangible increase in hacking attempts in the UK after that, it’s still a warranted fear.
Authorities and companies don’t want people trying out hacking techniques they saw in a movie. Though one could argue that those who have the know-how could get that information somewhere else.
After all, anyone who can call themselves a hacker never learned how to do what they do through a movie. The best a movie could do is inspire wannabe-hackers to start learning.
Plus, if a method of hacking is popular enough to make it into a movie, then cybersecurity experts would already have preventative measures in place to protect against it.
Learning Valuable Lessons Through Entertainment
On the other side of the argument, there are also many valid reasons to show audiences how hacking works. One of the most significant benefits of portraying what hacking would be like in real life is that it arms people with knowledge on how to defend against it.
Let’s go back to Mr. Robot for a moment. The series spends a good chunk of time showing how big a role human error plays in successful hacking attempts. And that’s much closer to what happens in real life.
It’s easy for a hacker to get into a network or steal data via an email phishing scam or by taking advantage of some other social exploit. More technical efforts need more advanced skills and time. People have caught on to some of these tricks, hence the increase in downloads of tools like NordVPN that protects one’s connections to the internet. But cybersecurity software isn’t always enough, especially against social engineering attacks. This is why it’s better to let people see what threats they face at the hands of hackers rather than a blinking computer game.
At the end of the day, all anyone can do when faced with absurd hacking methods in movies is laugh it off. Maybe it’s a good thing that masses don’t see anyone using real hacking methods on TV. But everyone could do with a dose of reality every now and then. And considering the increase in digital attacks, some cybersecurity knowledge wouldn’t hurt either.