As someone who spends way too much time in Internet land, especially around the data protection and hacking crowd that I come across running a VPN review site, I wind up talking about hacker movies often. With Blackhat, starring Chris Hemsworth, stirring up interest in hacking movies again, we had a bit of a debate around the office. Not all hacker movies are created equal—some feature evil hackers and some feature heroic hackers. This list is going to remind you of old hacker flicks you may have forgotten and prompt you to put them into your computer for a viewing now, when you may have once put them in your VCR! I’ll start with the good ones and work down to the not-so-good ones.
Sorry for the cliche, but this had to be my first choice. This movie shows a bunch of silly teenagers using computers to pull pranks, and then finding a more sinister use for their skills. Hackers romanticised the hacking culture in a way that no other movie really has. That was best summarized in the one famous line:
“Remember, hacking is more than just a crime. It’s a survival trait.”
It wasn’t an accurate portrayal of hacking itself, but it certainly hit a tone that many identified with.
Many tout this as the greatest hacker movie of all time as it centers around a heroic David Lightman (played by Matthew Broderick), as a hacking hero who defeats an enemy bent on starting a nuclear WWIII, uses real world hacking techniques, and he even wins the girl! The memorable line “Shall we play a game?” comes from this film and shows an intelligent AI outsmarting the likes of its human counterparts.
Office Space may not be a strict hacker movie, as it more closely followed a corporate technology meets comedy angle but it certainly showcased the importance of those neglected programmers that are at every company. The real hacking angle centers around the stealing of the leftover decimal points from countless transactions—a fantasy that many hackers chased after the movie aired.
This takes place from the point of view of a definite white hat hacker – specifically, a cybercrime team that is tasked with stopping cybercrime. The twist is around a serial killer who has some zany scheme to comment on the cruelty of the world by broadcasting his murders on a website. The more views his website gets, the faster he kills people. Some of the numbers seemed a bit off, but most of the language was true to the tech culture.
This refers only to the first one; that’s it! A movie that can easily crossover into the themes of existentialism, religion, hacking and kung-fu is a-okay in my books. The focus of the movie is more around the hackers themselves than the actual hacking, since nothing more complicated than those green CRTs ever shows up on screen.Yet, it had that edge of escaping the technological world we’re creating that seems ever more relevant today.
Haven’t heard of this one? It focuses on a true-to-life story from the 1980s about a German hacker who used nothing but a now laughably underpowered Commodore 64, a BASIC program, and the mighty speed of a 2,400 baud modem. What did he do with these now useless pieces of technology? Compromise the security of the USA’s nuclear power plants, of course. The movie succeeds as a typical piece of European drama, with a bit of a The Da Vinci Code feel to it.
If they were going to make a slightly less-serious hacker movie, they couldn’t have picked a better comedic actor to throw in it than Dan Aykroyd. He works with a group of hackers led by Robert Redford who are penetration testers that wind up being blackmailed by... well, let’s not ruin the whole movie.
Ok, now we’re getting into bad territory. This almost true-to-life story follows real life convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick. The movie takes a fairly fictionalized approach to the actual events of his life, but it does have a bit of excitement about it. I must say, watching the villainous Kevin take on the wronged Tsutomu Shimomura can be a bit of fun, but I don’t think I’d watch it twice.
Sorry. Sorry... sorry. I had to mention this or I’m sure I’d have my hard drive fried. This movie is truly an awful example of hacking made into something it isn’t as the producers went over the top trying to add to the visual excitement. If they had just kept it true to life, how much visual excitement would have really needed? Out of all the awfulness of this movie, the truly most offensive thing may be Hugh Jackman’s earring. Wolverine can’t have piercings, they would heal over! What have I missed? Or what have I offended you with by its inclusion in a best hacking movies list? Comment below!
About the Author: Marcus is the security writer and analyst for the Best VPN Provider blog. Catch him there every Wednesday for the latest development in the world of infosec. You can also join the team on Twitter for a constant stream of what’s happening in online security and hacks. Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc. If you are interesting in contributing to The State of Security, contact us here.
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