Whilst at the Puppet Triage-a-thon today we put on a few films that featured hacking and hackers. This prompted a discussion of the worst hacker movies of all time and their appalling representations of technology. I present our brief list. Note SOME of these movies were good despite the appalling use of technology … others not so much.
What a cast of off-beat and improbably handsome computer hackers: Crash Override AKA Zero Cool, Acid Burn, Lord Nikon (token black hacker!), The Phantom Phreak (token Puerto Rican hacker!), Cereal Killer and of course my personal favourite: Mr The Plague. In the classic “Damn you meddling kids” scenario famous since Enid Blyton and Scooby Doo our youthful hackers foil the evil plans of evil hacker The Plague to steal money and sink oil tankers?!? Add and stir rapidly a bumbling Secret Service agent, a lame romantic sub-plot, hip young folk on roller blades and a club scene soundtrack. Instant hot geek.
The Good: Social engineering at the start of the movie as Crash Override hacks the TV Network.
The Bad: The typically ridiculous depiction of the actual hacking. The appalling clothes. Matthew Lillard.
Oh my … where to start with Swordfish? We have the classic hand-wavey construction of a virus to hack 1024-bit DNA Binary SSL HiTek Security TM. We have “Axl” Torvalds - famous and bloodily assassinated Finnish hacker. And of course we have Hugh Jackman’s improbable hacker pentetrating a government system in 60 seconds with a gun held to his head and whilst getting blown. Oh please.
The Good: Ummm… Halle Berry?
The Bad: Pretty much everything technical AND non-technical in the film.
P.S. None of which compares to John Travolta’s massive piece of over-acting in a performance that would be truly hideous had Travolta not made Battlefield Earth.
Another “blackmailed hero forced to do wrong” story has Harrison Ford as a corporate security expert forced to rob his own employer. Mayhem ensures, family kidnapped, lamest bank security ever and incredibly tenuous connection between the title of the movie and the plot.
The Good: Using his daughter’s iPhone as a USB drive…
The Bad: Using his daughter’s iPhone as a USB drive… Oh wait. Completely unrealistic security controls. Also firing his secretary on the spot? Yeah the script writers have never worked in a bank.
Rogue AIs, war dialing hacker, cute teen romance, nukes and Cheyenne Mountain? What’s not to like about this movie? Computer hacker breaks into what he thinks is a game company but rather finds a back-end into a top secret NORAD system. From there whilst trying to play a war game he accidentally triggers the countdown to World War III and nuclear war. He then rushes to try to stop the AI launching it’s missiles and “winning” the game.
The Good: Actually resembling good depiction of social engineering, war dialing, and how a hacker compromised a system back in the day. Except the AI of course. Everyone knows the US government doesn’t have an AI running war games at NORAD…
The Bad: Actually there’s not much to hate about this film. I mean the AI theory (tic-tac-toe as learning tool) is kinda lame but generally it’s good fun AND has Ally Sheedy.
P.S. We don’t discuss the sequel - WarGames: The Dead Code. IT DID NOT HAPPEN. DID NOT HAPPEN.
What is it with buttons/ciphers/boxes that can magically hack through all encryption instantly? Yep here’s another. This time in a unique twist a mathematical genius comes up with a box that allows all encryption to be overcome. Naturally it also magically interfaces automatically with every system ever developed.
Throw in a quirky team of hackers lead by on-the-run super-hacker Robert Redford (BTW no one background checked this guy for 30 years? Really? Whatever…). The team’s line-up even sets the pattern for a number of future films: young kid looking to prove himself, cynical older operative, brilliant but disabled tech, conspiracy obsessed oddball, etc, etc.
Sneakers though does have some street cred. Despite the magic cypher box they use some nifty social engineering and much of the ‘tiger team’ hacking they perform at the start of the movie is reasonably feasible. They even hearken back to the glory days of phone phreaking with a Cap’n Crunch reference.
The Good: Cosmo on InfoWar - “There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!”
Open source. Obviously most people know us because of the beaucoup bucks we make as rock-star developers but many people don’t realize it’s also mandatory to have our model-like good looks. This movie thankfully captures that and the purity of our code. Like some others in the list it’s not a true hacker film, more a glorified action movie/thriller, but some code is actually cut and they do introduce open source software.
The Good: Hmmm. Ummm. “Look! Over there! A large software company that really isn’t Microsoft… honest.” Probably vaguely raised public awareness that open source code exists.
The Bad: That anyone got paid for this film.
Reclusive but beautiful developer (giggles) discovers secret Internet conspiracy and is forced to go on the run. Against all odds do you think she’ll win through? Yeah I totally didn’t either. So apparently every website has a magic link (and you can bet about a thousand idiots added that icon to their sites right after the movie came out) that allows you to take control of it. Despite the magical decryption link this isn’t actually a hacking movie. The main character cuts code and the evil terrorists use the Internet to conduct their foul deeds but it’s largely a rather poor action movie.
The Good: Nothing.
The Bad: A little icon on every web page that unlocks the secrets of the Interwebs…