Considering that technology has become a major part of our lives by now, it’s only normal for it to appear in movies and TV shows. However, writers and directors aren’t always techy people and studios may not have the budget to hire tech consultants. So, when a production wants to tackle a tech topic of interest, such as hacking, the result is often hilarious and based on myths, prejudice, and urban legends. Hacking in movies can be depicted in truly hilarious ways. From ominous scenes with hooded figures sitting in dark rooms to special agents that type on the same keyboard at the same time to stop a cyberattack (that’s a scene that actually exists), Hollywood doesn’t quite get hackers. And it’s all fun and games, but many people form opinions about technology from movies, and there’s a lot of disinformation on the topic.
The average person can easily become a victim of cybercrime. When a movie or TV show does a good job at accurately depicting what hacking really is about, it’s worth mentioning. Though rare, these are the movies and TV shows that can teach you some valuable things about cybersecurity.
Mr Robot (2015-2019)
Mr. Robot is an intense, fast-paced drama about Eliot, a brilliant but troubled young cybersecurity engineer and vigilante hacker, who is recruited by a mysterious anarchist, “Mr. Robot.” Eliot gets caught up in a secret society that plans to destroy all debt records by encrypting a large finance corporation's data. The writer of the show, Sam Esmail, said that he was fascinated by hacker culture and that, to make the show accurate and relevant, he hired a team of consultants. That definitely shows because Mr. Robot was praised not only for its gripping storyline and complex characters but also for the way hacking is depicted. Some of the best scenes include Eliot exploiting the ShellShock bug and stopping a DDOS attack in the first episode. The show also does a great job explaining how devices and operating systems can be exploited and deliver some great commentaries on the burnout that tech workers can be exposed to.
Silicon Valley (2014-2019)
Silicon Valley is an HBO comedy series telling Richard Hendricks's story, an engineer who created a game-changing compression algorithm and tried to make it in Silicon Valley. Starting in a home tech incubator, Richard and his friends struggle to keep their startups afloat as big players from the industry are trying to take them down. Although it’s a comedy series, Silicon Valley is also a parody of tech culture and got overwhelmingly positive reviews for how it depicts the industry (co-creator Mike Judged based the show on his experiences in tech). There are some accurate scenes about how hacking works. In one episode, the boys do the Wi-Fi pineapple scheme in a desperate attempt to increase the user base on their peer-to-peer network (also called a Man-in-the-middle-attack).
One of the shows is how hacking is sometimes just a matter of social engineering by stealing login credentials from a post that had been casually left on a conference room table. The show’s humor and approachable tone make cybersecurity terms easy to understand, so after watching it, you’ll know quite a bit about tech. For example, you’ll learn that public Wi-Fi can be quite dangerous and that hackers can use a seemingly innocent free hotspot in a coffee shop or airport to access personal data, and that by using a strong encryption system, you can stop them from doing so. In fact, the better you understand how hacking really works, the more you’ll understand how you can protect your devices with tools such as antivirus and VPNs.
The Social Network (2010)
Although The Social Network isn’t a movie about hacking per se, it has some scenes that show exactly how Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook from the ground up – and yes, that partly involved scraping the Harvard database for information, for which he faced disciplinary action. Around the beginning of the movie, Zuckerberg hacks Harvard’s network to collect students' photos for his website (then called FaceMash). To make this scene, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin literally copied what Mark Zuckerberg confessed to doing. Although it wasn’t technically a “hack” because he didn’t need access to the SQL database, Mark Zuckerberg crawled the pages that were accessible to Harvard students, extracted the data from them, and stored it in his own database. It’s a perfect example of what could happen if a database isn’t secure enough. Fortunately, websites were built much simpler back then, and almost anyone with basic coding skills could build something like Facebook within weeks.
Although Hackers is older than the rest of the movies and TV shows on this list and the Internet wasn’t even widely available when it came out, this crime film is still relevant today and, if you watch it with your programmer friends, they might nod at some of the scenes. The movie follows a boy hacker who, after being convicted for making a virus that crashed Wall Street computers, gets caught up in a plot to defraud a major oil company. Although not all the movie is realistic, some concepts depict reality. For example, the movie explains that hackers mostly use viruses and trojans to access people’s computers. It also spends a lot of time discussing weak passwords and the importance of social engineering. During the movie, the main character gets access to secure systems by using the most common passwords, which still happens today. If you still use passwords like “password” or “qwerty123” for your Web accounts, this movie might convince you to change them.
Hacking isn’t always as cool and dramatic as it’s depicted in the movies. Hackers don’t type furiously on black screens in dark rooms and hack the CIA database in 10 seconds. Sometimes, it’s a matter of months. Other times, it’s a matter of social engineering. However, the hacking results can be quite scary, which is why it’s a good idea to understand what it really entails and how you can protect yourself from cybercrime.