Cyber Inspires Hollywood: “Mr. Robot” not Perfect, but Close

July 10, 2015//Ellen Neveux

Last Updated: May 30, 2018

Cyber Hollywood finally commits to accuracy
Hollywood has fallen in love with the Black Hat vs. White Hat storyline. They make cyber movies and cyber TV shows with quick-typing, genius ex-cons that put aside their criminal ways to fight an even smarter – but unstable – hacker terrorist. Throw in a few car chases, explosions, and roof-to-roof jumps and you got yourself a cyber hit.

Are these productions an accurate portrayal of the cyber crime world? Sometimes. Though more often the focus is simply entertaining an audience. So for IT and security professionals, it’s refreshing to find a show that pays attention to the details.

USA’s “Mr. Robot” is the newest show on the cyber street. With only two episodes aired, it has gotten both great reviews from critics and praise from experts for their commitment to accuracy.

What makes this cyber show different

‘Mr. Robot’s’ Cyber Crime Expert Talks Accuracy
Forbes.com – by Abigail Tracy (with Michael Bazzell, Mr. Robot’s technical consultant)

Speaking about Sam Esmail, one of Mr. Robot’s directors – “Instead of showing hackers typing frantically and bypassing every firewall in a system, he focused right away on social engineering, email phishing and the more realistic ways that criminals will get to your information. Then there is all of the computer code. We make any computer code shown on the screen accurate. We don’t need to fake it. There is no reason to put random characters up to please the audience. We want that code to be accurate so that even the most sophisticated hacker or technical person out there will not roll their eyes at a scene.

Talking about concessions for accuracy, “We have had a couple of scenes where there was a general place that we wanted to get to, but the technology and the hack being used didn’t really play out. It was not very realistic, it was not even plausible and we corrected it.”

Read full Forbes article

What “Mr. Robot” gets right

MR. ROBOT IS THE BEST HACKING SHOW YET—BUT IT’S NOT PERFECT
Wired.com by Kim Zetter

Hacking as coping mechanism

Hackers gonna hack. There are many types of hackers, and many motivations for hacking. But one of the things Mr. Robot really nails is the portrayal of a certain type of hacker who hacks to make sense of the world and connect to it. While Elliot displays some of the symptoms of someone suffering from Asperger’s—avoids eye contact, doesn’t like to be touched—there are hints that these peculiarities are more the result of nurture than nature, coping mechanisms developed after his father’s death to deal with a cruel mother and a crueler world. ‘Never show them my source code,’ he says in voiceover. For Elliot, life is The Matrix, and he’s always on alert to prevent anyone from finding the bug in his code that could be used to exploit him. But these are just surface coping mechanisms; hacking is his primary mechanism for controlling a world that he feels powerless to control and for making connections in a world in which he feels disconnected. ‘What do normal people do when they get sad? They reach out to friends or family,’ he says as he huddles in his apartment crying. ‘That’s not an option [for me].’

Hacking Lingo
‘Mr. Robot’ doesn’t just get hackers right, it also gets hacking right. The team behind the show is clearly interested in technical authenticity and have made an effort to get the lingo, the tone, and the on-screen code right. In the pilot episode’s opening scene, Elliot tells the kiddie-porn purveyor that although the guy used the Tor network to anonymize his online activity and encrypt his traffic, the exit nodes in Tor bleed plaintext unless the sender encrypts the data end-to-end—he who controls the exit nodes controls the traffic. There are also references to Gnome, Linux, rootkits and .DAT files.

This kind of geek name-dropping can be trite if not backed by other bonafides, but the show delivers. Esmail has said he was adamant that the show wouldn’t use green screens—a blank green screen used in production that gets filled in afterward (usually with nonsensical code) by the post-production team—or show implausible hacks (e.g., the ridiculous BlackHat scene when Chris Hemsworth’s character hacks the NSA). We see the fruits of his insistence when the Allsafe staffers try to halt the DDoS attack and when Elliot types commands into a terminal window. Mr. Robot also isn’t afraid to drop references that only a hacker or security pro would get. When E-Corp is struck with the DDoS attack, Elliot exclaims, “Is this a R.U.D.Y. attack? This is awesome!” It turns out the attack, rather than a botnet assault involving massive traffic—the source of most DDoS takedowns—is driven by a persistent rootkit/worm that was implanted by Fsociety on E-Corp’s servers.”

Read full Wired article

Here is a peek at USA’s cyber hit “Mr. Robot:”

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