Hackers on Hackers

1 October 2016 - Articles

So it’s 10:30pm on a Sunday and the wonderful Jake Davis has asked me to give my thoughts on the ludicrous movie that is “Hackers” (1995). It’s been years since I watched it, so I broke out the popcorn…

“Hackers” is a movie that I hold fondly in my heart for disregarding all realism and jumping straight in to Hollywood style hacking scenes; It shows hacking more like black magic and spell-casting than the realistic 14 hours staring at green text on a black background scenes I see in my day job as an ethical Hacker.

The movie starts how it means to go on, with Law Enforcement raiding a house with assault rifles and pistols drawn – to arrest an 11 year old boy. That’s our hero Dade and he’s sent to court, charged with crashing a phenomenal 1507 computers.

Dade, is banned by the court from accessing a computer for 7 years – which presumably means he gets lost a lot without Google Maps and failed all of his exams without Google Search. However Dade shows it’s all basically in vain as he breaks in to a TV network with some Grade A social engineering – no computers needed for that bit at least!

The movie is filled with obscure quotations that every hacker holds dear. I’m talking about quotations like “There’s an Olympic sized swimming pool on the roof.” and not that time Dade’s Mom noticed his excessive computer use and presumed he was gay, asking “You do like girls, don’t you?” or the horrific “Leather, lace and water sports. Transvestites welcome.”

Fantastic quotations can be found throughout, with lines like “Spandex, it’s a privilege not a right!”, as do the subtle references to all areas of malicious hacking and the police response that follows. From the begging we see Hackers being treated badly by law enforcement with the secondary antagonist, Agent Gill, describing why:

“Hackers penetrate and ravage public and private computer systems…These people are terrorists.”

It’s not just children that Law Enforcement point loaded guns at though almost all of the main characters get their properties raided at some point and each time there’s a truck load of police officers, each carrying a drawn firearm, to arrest a single unarmed computer nerd.

More references to real world hacking can be found with two demonstrations of Phreaking, the art of hacking in to telecommunications networks. I also give them points for an example of hacking the Internet-of-things as Dade stays up late to rig his school’s fire suppression system to line himself up for another quotation:

“Pool on the roof must be leaking.” Gosh, you really can find everything on Shodan. A second IoT hack shows them messing with traffic lights for a little tactical interdiction.

There’s lessons in Phreaking, hacking IoT, but you’ll learn nothing about OPSEC as “Joey” the handless hacker breaks in to an ATM across state lines in an attempt to show how “leet” his is and finally earn his hacker-name. That’s denied though as his crew push him on to bigger and better things of hacking the Gibson (a supercomputer though to be so secure that it’s impenetrable).

The Gibson is a typical supercomputer – with a 3D interface and a 3 letter password protecting its critical data; They don’t dwell on weak passwords though as the point when Joey hacks the Gibson the antagonist rides in on a skateboard and introduces himself as “The Plague”, because even the bad guys have handles (sorry Joey!).

Rest assured, the quotations keep coming with Mr The Plague gives us a lesson in ego with “Have no fear, I is here” and a lesson in ethics with: “There is no right and wrong. There’s only fun and boring.” He may have a huge ego but his partner in crime knocks him down a peg with the comment “I see we’re still dressing in the dark Eugene” which nicely mirrors our heroine putting down the hero with “I hope you don’t screw like you type”.

The real world hacking continues right up until the finale with physical access assessments, dumpster diving and malicious software attacks as the heroes use their “best viruses” to all hack the Gibson together and go after the Kernel.

In summary – Hackers is a movie that delivers Hollywood drama in the form of black magic style hacking, references to social engineering, hacking, phreaking, dumpster diving, hilarious handles, malicious software and MIT Nightwork. Plus more law enforcement raids on computer nerds bedrooms than I could count. Overall I would rate the movie Hackers and its performing cast as: very impressive, superhero like even.

That’s it!

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