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Representations of the security industry and ‘hacking’ have become ubiquitous in popular media in recent years, representing computer security enthusiasts in what one might consider a less than realistic light.

Being a television and movie fan myself, I thought that I would talk a bit about this phenomenon and how it affects us as security professionals.

The largest mistake in movies is to portray security or hacking solutions in an overly simplified way that bears little relation with reality.  One of my favorite examples occurs in the film “Firewall”.

At one point, Harrison Ford decides to take code from a computer screen by ripping the light emitting bar out of a scanner and somehow directly plugging it into his daughter’s iPod and holding it in front of the screen.

A second example that I see often is the emphasis on physical building penetration while the data theft is portrayed as simple.

A character or characters will spend countless hours rehearsing lines and identities in order to work their way into the building, and yet bypassing network security infrastructure is depicted as only requiring the insertion of a ‘special’ thumb drive in any computer on the network.

Though, interestingly enough, with the discovery of MS13-027, maybe this isn’t as unlikely as it initially seemed.

Hollywood and the television industry don’t always get it wrong. Some movies do their research and get it right.

For example, in the film ‘Wargames’, the main character gains access to a computer system because it made use of an easily guessed password.  I am always pleasantly surprised when I see something real like this in a film.

At the end of the day it is about perception.  How many times have you heard friends or family making comments about how easy a security penetration of a certain system would be, and proceed to describe some type of MacGyver solution that would be unlikely to work in the real world?

I don’t have a red “Hack” button on my keyboard and, no matter how cool it would be, I can’t create a “master key” to any firewall on the planet using a flash card, bailing wire, and a stick of bubblegum.

Tripwire University
  • philA

    One thing that I love about movies is that it gives us a glimpse of the future and a visceral sense of what may be possible.. Real life imitates art and I'm often amazed at the creative genius of this medium.

  • The imagination part is a benefit for sure – we all remember the Enterprise crew and their mobile phones, etc. But media has to make sure they get the real stuff right or it just looks foolish. I mean, what were the odds that the aliens were using a compatible operating system when they uploaded the virus in Independence Day? I mean please people, do some basic research first…

  • lasfek

    Nice blog.