Hollywood movies and TV shows = perception! Strange but it is true. What is shown in movies is often believed by the movie goes. Hacking and hackers are one concept that Hollywood and for the matter, almost any movie industry around the world has got wrong. Hackers and hacking are shows as some sort of Robinhood character who steals from rich companies to give it to the poor.
Most movies that show a super genius nerdy hacker immediately able to crack a nuclear device code within seconds or rob a bank by bypassing their security in just minutes. They are shown in a rather romanticised way to enjoy instantaneous success and always manage to stay one step ahead of the law.
In truth, hacking requires several man-days to break into an ordinary encrypted password with 256 AES layer. But then, Hollywood has to show the hacking and hackers within 2 hours max. Yet what is shown in movies impacts thousands of moviegoer who think hacking is done with a click of fingers. We have received countless requests from boyfriends/girlfriends who want to hack into their exes Facebook or WhatsApp account. When told that it is not easy, they say but this particular movie showed the protagonist crack it instantaneously.
In truth, common folk hardly try to understand the secret underbelly of hacking. If they were told that hacking sometimes involves days of hard work just to get a simple password would be useless as their brains are impregnated by the movie fare.
In this article, I try to bust certain myths shown in several Hollywood and indeed other movies around the world.
1. Instant password guessing
Most movies dealing with crime or heist show the master password in less than a minute. A perfect example is Bond movies which invariably show the quartermaster or Q as he is called crack any password within minutes. Some movies show a villain put a gun on the master hacker’s head and voila, the hacker cracks password in a jiffy after a few random tries.
Do the Hollywood directors know about the thing called password retry limiter which almost all apps and services use. This system locks out the hacker after a certain number of failed password tries.
In other hacker movies, the protagonist seems to guess the correct password immediately by surveying the surroundings. In many movies, the hacker is shown eyeing the bookshelf and deducing the password correctly reading a page of that book. Have you ever set such a stupid password? I guess not.
Real password breaking takes thousands and sometimes a million attempts. You can read about the password hacking techniques here. If a limiter is not enabled, which is rare nowadays, hackers use sophisticated software to do all the cracking and this software can hours if not days to crack an encrypted password because most passwords are complex and run eight characters or more in length, manual guessing as shown in the movies isn’t going to work.
2. Cross-platform hacking
If a cybersecurity expert, a pro hacker or a nerd, you must have had a stomach hack seeing “Independence Day,” in which the protagonist plants a computer virus into an alien mothership located somewhere in the universe. It is shows like Aliens run their machines on Windows or Linux machine.
In real life, an Apple Mac Malware can’t run on Windows and vice versa.
3. All systems are interconnected
Hollywood movies have never heard of the term Airgapped computers. They easily show a computer installation of an enemy nation interconnected with the US grid and the genius hacker finds no difficulty in hacking it. They seem to forget that all military connections are kept of the grids and can’t be accessed through normal Internet connections.
4. All information pops up instantly
The great Hollywood hacker trick is to pop up information or find a rogue agent within seconds. They forget that not all security cameras are linked and some are heavily firewalled. When any information is requested, the “computer nerd” types in a single command and the answer comes back in seconds. Many movies show the spies using a super genius hacker to track the hero’s location based on his using credit card or a mobile phone. The spies and villains then jump on the hero and he has to flee.
Contrast this to real life, you can’t track the exact location of someone using a mobile phone to call you. You can only triangulate the location which can differ by as much as a mile. Finding somebody crossing a road in distant Berlin through an interconnected camera is almost impossible because first, you did have to find an insecure camera which can be exploited and second, the protagonist has to be available near the camera once you find him/her.
5. Every program is a hacker’s dream program
Almost all movies show what looks like a DoS screen which the hacker uses to crack the password or find someone. The UI shown in the show is almost neat and tidy as it has been made just to track the protagonist. In real life, hackers use different operating systems languages and they look horrible and seem all gibberish to a layman.
In fact, sometimes even the coder is confused with all the gibberish codes that are thrown around and finding the right data in the tonnes of codes that is generated can take days.