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Hollywood Treats Hackers Pretty Well 216

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the sandra-bullock-on-the-other-hand dept.
angry tapir writes "According to Damian Gordon, a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology, hackers are treated pretty well by movie-makers. Gordon studied 50 movies, produced over five decades, to help write an academic paper for the International Journal of Internet Technology and Secured Transactions. The results amazed him. In the movies, most hackers aren't teenaged whiz-kids. They're professionals, over 30 years old, who work in IT."
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Hollywood Treats Hackers Pretty Well

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  • Yes, but (Score:5, Funny)

    by colmore (56499) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:01PM (#31274828) Journal

    Too bad scenes of someone typing furiously at a computer are boring as hell.

    • Re:Yes, but (Score:4, Funny)

      by uberjack (1311219) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:17PM (#31275098)
      As are command prompts, apparently. I'm still searching for that elusive hacking app with fancy graphics and controls that's portrayed in all hacking movies.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's open source. Write it yourself.

        • > "The results amazed him. In the movies, most hackers aren't teenaged whiz-kids. They're
          > professionals, over 30 years old, who work in IT."

          With all due respect, Robert Redford raised the average age quite a bit. :-/

      • by rugatero (1292060)

        I'm still searching for that elusive hacking app with fancy graphics and controls that's portrayed in all hacking movies.

        We should get that woman from CSI to write one in VB.

      • Re:Yes, but (Score:4, Informative)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:07PM (#31275926) Homepage Journal

        To be fair, Trinity not only used the command prompt, but a real, actual security tool. However, the exeption does prove the rule, doesn't it?

        The last Die Hard movie was unbelievable in every respect (just like the previous three) but it was a great homage to us nerds. In fact, the only characters in the movie who weren't nerds were McClain and his daughter (and possibly the assassins as well, but those characters weren't developed enough to tell).

        It even had the middle-aged fat nerd in his mom's basement in his "command center"!
        "How do we find his house?"
        "Uh, it'll be the one with the lights on."

        It had the extra-nerdy attraction of two of the main characters played by Tim Russ and Robert Beltran (Tuvok and Chakotay). If you have enough suspension of disbelief, it's an incredibly nerdy and entertaining movie. Just get the unrated version, the theatrical release was crap. "She's at the bottom of an elevator shaft with an SUV crammed up her ass". How they thought a Die Hard without "yippiekayay motherfucler" would be a box office hit was beyond me, but they fixed it in the unrated DVD.

        • by shermo (1284310)

          John McClane didn't have a daughter in the last Die Hard Movie!

          http://xkcd.com/566/ [xkcd.com]

          Yes it's the matrix but POINT STILL STANDS!

        • Re:Yes, but (Score:4, Funny)

          by dangitman (862676) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @06:01PM (#31279270)

          Dear Die Hard,

          You rock. Especially the part where that dude is on the rooftop, and you use Emacs to reconfigure his system files to cause a buffer overflow.

          P.S. Do you know Mad Max?

          Homer J. Simpson

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Trinity used nmap and a tool called `sshnuke,' a tool that presumably exploited the SSH1 CRC32 exploit. If you want to talk about realism, nothing really gets more real than this in the movies. Here's a picture [nmap.org] of this Hollywood anomaly.
      • by HTH NE1 (675604)

        You might be able to pass off an established botnet's command and control system as being decked out with Hollywood-friendly graphical control systems (even twinkling with their mundane activities being monitored) while also allowing for a realistic example of someone typing really fast for a few seconds and exerting immediate visible control. Even without going to massively split-screen mode, you could have some of zombified machines in the same room just to confirm his latest code works before it is unlea

      • Re:Yes, but (Score:4, Funny)

        by The Archon V2.0 (782634) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:29PM (#31276228)

        As are command prompts, apparently. I'm still searching for that elusive hacking app with fancy graphics and controls that's portrayed in all hacking movies.

        Hell, no. Have you seen the fonts on those things, they're HUGE! You get less characters per screen than a VIC-20. And you have to sit through 20 seconds of animations of lined globes and screen-filling blinking/pulsing OVERRIDE and SYSTEM MALFUNCTION and PASSWORD DENIED every freakin' time you do something. It's like the UI designer made it for an uninformed audience watching the action second-hand on a television set, not for the person using it!

      • Re:Yes, but (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Jeffrey_Walsh VA (1335967) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:07PM (#31276780)
        check out the "ease-of-use of the Zeus crimeware toolkit":
        http://www.symantec.com/connect/blogs/zeus-king-underground-crimeware-toolkits [symantec.com]
        In the YouTube video at 1:48 you can see the ZuesBuilder gui
    • Re:Yes, but (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rsborg (111459) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:55PM (#31275696) Homepage

      Too bad scenes of someone typing furiously at a computer are boring as hell.

      You know, I think movies like Wargames, Matrix (and to a smaller extent, Sneakers) did this pretty decently. For example, the scene where Neo is first contacted by Trinity [youtube.com] is a great example of how powerful text can be, if used properly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rysc (136391) *

        In fact Sneakers is probably the best hacker movie to date. Wargames is certainly in the top five, too.

        • Re:Yes, but (Score:4, Insightful)

          by dangitman (862676) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @06:29PM (#31279498)

          In fact Sneakers is probably the best hacker movie to date. Wargames is certainly in the top five, too.

          Heretic.

          Wargames in the top five hacker movies? Nonsense. Wargames is the greatest film ever made. No need to restrict the statement to "hacker movies." Get out of here with your foolish Sneakers superiority complex.

      • My question is, why do hackers always type so slowly? In fact, the only time I ever see people typing quickly on a keyboard is when they're obviously faking it. This always bugs me.

        • by elrous0 (869638) *
          That's one of the many things I like about Wargames. David can actually type like someone who's pretty used to using a computer. And his room actually looks like mine did in the 80's.
    • Ever seen Swordfish [imdb.com]? There's a laughably funny attempt at making Hugh Jackman hammering away on a keyboard look sexy and energetic.
  • by Rysc (136391) * <sorpigal@gmail.com> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:02PM (#31274842) Homepage Journal

    The person's themselves may be realistic in terms of age and profession, but nothing else is well treated. Movies continue to routinely portray unrealistic and nonsensical computer interactions and capabilities, which is particularly harmful to a depiction of a hacker.

    • by Manip (656104) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:08PM (#31274932)

      While hackers are often shown to have super-technical abilities that make no sense, so are the "good guys." I think to some degree it kind of counter-balances the whole thing.

      Computers/technology isn't accurate in films but that is a small part of a much larger science rant in which all of the fields of science are abused for your viewing pleasure, biology, chemistry, engineering, and psychics.

      Heck even psychology is abused in movies and that is borderline pseudoscience anyway....

      • by camperdave (969942) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:31PM (#31275282) Journal
        While hackers are often shown to have super-technical abilities that make no sense, so are the "good guys."

        I'm confused. You say that hackers are shown to have super-technical abilities, but so are the good guys. That doesn't make any sense.

        [Blink]
        Wait... Are you trying to say that hackers are the bad guys?
      • by Rary (566291)

        Computers/technology isn't accurate in films but that is a small part of a much larger general rant in which all of the fields of anything are abused for your viewing pleasure.

        The above modified statement is, in my opinion, much more accurate.

        As a software developer/general nerd, I cringe whenever someone on screen starts talking about technology. As a private pilot, I cringe whenever someone on screen starts talking about aviation. I've watched movies with people from all kinds of professions who cringe when their particular area of expertise is represented on screen. And don't get me started on those painful scenes in which actors who obviously have never picked up a musical in

        • Yes, you hit the nail on the head. They mkae up little factoids to put in the movie or TV show that a quick Google would show was wrong (or before the Internet a quick call to the appropriate deparment of a local college, would have taken a little longer than using Google does now, but not very much time). These factoids add nothing to the plot, sometimes the real facts would have actually furthered the plot more than the made-up one they use instead.
      • by Xelios (822510) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:57PM (#31275732)
        CSI is particularly bad for this, "see if you can enhance that license plate" [moronail.net]
    • by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb.gmail@com> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:11PM (#31274982) Homepage Journal

      I beg to differ, I'm pretty sure Hugh Jackman's character in Swordfish was treated pretty well...during some of the "hacking" scenes, anyway.

    • by 0racle (667029)
      Harmful to whom? Stop defining yourself based on what some script writer, who has no real idea what they're writing about, puts on the silver screen.

      Movies are entertainment and what 'hackers' do, no matter what the definition of the word you feel like using, is really very boring to watch.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bakkster (1529253)

      What, you mean you've never hacked the Gibson!? Just because you're a bad hacker doesn't mean they should dumb down the hackers in movies for you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I think even the "realistic" parts of the portrayal are accidental. I mean a white male of professional age in a setting with lots of computer equipment isn't exactly a stretch. It's probably the opposite: most hackers fit into the most boring stereotype known to man.

    • I think everyone thinking I can take over cities on a whim is treated well... Hackers are good guys more than they are bad guys in movies.
    • What... like this [youtube.com], this [youtube.com], this [youtube.com] or this [youtube.com]?

  • Stupid (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:03PM (#31274854)

    Why did this "study" get funding? Because it would make headlines.

    Poor old Professor Knowsmath and his study of non-commutive ring structures in siberian oscillations. He'll have to make do with the money the university raised from raffling off that cat (4 euros).

  • News Flash! (Score:3, Funny)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:03PM (#31274864)
    Hollywood takes creative license ... produces more entertaining product.

    Nothing to see here. Move along ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ltap (1572175)
      No. It provides a more entertaining product... for stupid people. Anyone who has any knowledge of the subject matter or is intelligent enough to note the inconsistencies will be put off by it and dislike the writers for it.
      • Re:News Flash! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 0racle (667029) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:17PM (#31275102)
        If they had to stick with real depictions of, well in this case hackers, every movie about it would look like Office Space and Dilbert. We've seen those so apparently no other movie about or related to the subject can ever be made.

        Most people in any profession, if they can't let go of their insistence on reality, dislike or down right hate movie portrayals of what they do.
        • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:27PM (#31275230)

          IMost people in any profession, if they can't let go of their insistence on reality, dislike or down right hate movie portrayals of what they do.

          I'm waiting for the movie about 'Slashdot Karma Whores'. I'm positive I won't like the way those guys are portrayed. Stupid writers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Sir_Lewk (967686)

          I don't think this is true at all. Movies like Wargames manage to be decently realistic (at least not offensively unrealistic) and not boring at all. Best part of that movie is when he has to spend time researching his target.

          • Re:News Flash! (Score:4, Insightful)

            by dangitman (862676) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @06:32PM (#31279524)

            I don't think this is true at all. Movies like Wargames manage to be decently realistic

            Yes, a kid having conversations with an intelligent computer, who then evades authorities and escapes from the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD facility, and nuclear war is averted which the computer is convinced of the futility of war... is decently realistic. For unusual values of "realistic."

        • by Jurily (900488)

          We've seen those so apparently no other movie about or related to the subject can ever be made.

          That might be because someone sitting and thinking is not inherently fun to watch. Make a movie about your day at work and let me know how well it sells.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        It's called "suspension of disbelief" and you need it for damned near any movie or TV show, especially action flicks.

        • by Ltap (1572175)
          Suspension of disbelief only applies to unlikely things, not impossible things.
  • Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ltap (1572175) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:05PM (#31274884) Homepage
    While the age of hackers in movies seems to have increased lately (Die Hard 4, the most braindead one yet when you ignore television shows them as paranoid 20-somethings), they aren't shown as particularly mature.
    • by Nukenbar (215420)

      I would argue Independence Day still has the most absurd hack of all time.

      From the article: "A Mac hacking into an alien operating system and loading a virus. That's Steve Jobs' dream: The power of the Mac"

      • I would argue Independence Day still has the most absurd hack of all time.

        I concur. Like any alien race would be using anything less than a 256 bit instruction set architecture. When's Apple gonna come out with one of those, huh? I thought so. I'm still waiting for a 256 bit FSB!

      • Hey, now, they could have figured out the nature of the alien technology and figured out how the systems worked and figured out flaws and weaknesses in the ships systems and then figured out how to implement a virus to disrupt those systems and figured out how to make the mac interface with the ship.

        He had plenty of time! Maybe he did it when he was drunk.

        Or, maybe he downloaded a trojan toolkit from the interwebs. Probably found it on limewire, that's where all the other viruses are!
        • Nah, the aliens were using Limewire, and that is the vulnerability. Any race that uses that aboard a mothership is not as advanced as we think. They had to get their alien porn fix, you know, and that opens up all kinds of opportunities.
        • by dangitman (862676)

          He had plenty of time! Maybe he did it when he was drunk.

          Sounds plausible. [youtube.com]

    • Maturity in IT really means that you're at the point where you finally realize, 'there really is no magic'.

      • by dangitman (862676)

        Maturity in IT really means that you're at the point where you finally realize, 'there really is no magic'.

        Huh? Why would you think there was magic in the first place? Does anybody start a career in IT believing it is run on magic?

    • Hackers are paranoid. Hell look at /. users and how insane half of them are about privacy. And hackers, ones in north america rather than russia/china are generally pretty young. Often university or even highschool aged. Older than that and most of them get out of it or get a job. I mean not everyone has money to full time hack. And hacking is 50% contacts and being on the cutting edge. You won't be the best unless you spend a lot of time at it.

      As for mature, they are (mostly) doing something criminal for
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ltap (1572175)
        Not really. It depends on what you're doing, but an activity being criminal doesn't necessarily make it bad. Most of the less mature and less dedicated ones tend to give up when they fail to achieve some ideal they imagined. The rest either use it as a means to an end or do it for the sake of finding things out.
  • Who would you rather watch on screen? A pudgy thirtysomething typing code in a dark room or a bunch of really attractive young people?

    Hollywood figured this out a long time ago. If we are going to stare at a screen for two hours we want eye candy.
  • by c0d3r (156687)

    Either there are too many hackers or almost none in LA (I think almost none). It is pretty scarce to find free internet or even reliable internet in this town, or even anyone who know what their talking about unless they are holding up a company. Then again, I'm from the SV.

  • I'm hacking the Gibson. Your argument is invalid.

  • 50 years? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Nukenbar (215420) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:27PM (#31275240)

    Who had hacker movies in 1960? Can anyone name a hacker movie off the top of his head before War Games?

    • by H0p313ss (811249)

      Who had hacker movies in 1960? Can anyone name a hacker movie off the top of his head before War Games?

      This was well explained in the article.... kids these days...

    • by doug (926)

      1960s movies aren't my thing. Tron was the only pre-War Games movie that I thought of. You should RTFA because we have all seen 4 of the 6 listed before War Games.

      - doug

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by EMB Numbers (934125)

      "Colossus: The Forbin Project"

      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064177/ [imdb.com]

      An artificially intelligent supercomputer is developed and activated, only to reveal that it has a sinister agenda of its own. The scientists scramble to hack into it.

    • Re:50 years? (Score:4, Informative)

      by piltdownman84 (853358) <piltdownman84@m[ ]com ['ac.' in gap]> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @07:19PM (#31279946)

      Who had hacker movies in 1960? Can anyone name a hacker movie off the top of his head before War Games?

      The Original Italian Job from 1969. In that movie they hack the traffic computer in Turin to create a traffic nightmare allowing them to escape in their Mini Coopers.

  • Sneakers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jgtg32a (1173373) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:29PM (#31275254)

    Sneakers is the best hacking movie ever.

    • Re:Sneakers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by evilviper (135110) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:50PM (#31275614) Journal

      Sneakers is the best hacking movie ever.

      "War Games"

      Serious subject.
      Culturally significant.
      Perhaps the most realistic "hacking" in Hollywood history.
      All tech involved was just a small step removed from the real thing.
      Dated today, but holds up very well.

      • One of my CS intro classes made us watch this movie, and though it was dated by decades, it was still enjoyable.
      • All tech involved was just a small step removed from the real thing.

        Except it also has the most overused and silly computer-related tropes ever in it : the logicbomb [tvtropes.org].

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chris Burke (6130)

          Except it wasn't silly, it was one of the best examples of defeating a computer through logic ever. It wasn't just some self-contradictory piece of logic that made Joshua go into an infinite loop or go offline while saying "does not compute". It was a challenge to beat itself at Tic-Tac-Toe with a lesson which Joshua learned and then intuitively applied to Thermonuclear War. It wasn't a logic-bomb, it was logic. Joshua learned that nuclear war was futile.

          Compare with all the examples from E.g. Star Trek

      • by Lisandro (799651)
        Meh, i'll take Sneakers over War Games every day. Sneakers shows that realistically hacking is more about social engineering than typing cryptic commands on a computer. And on top of that, it was a FUN, really well put togheter movie. The final scene ("Tahiti is not in Europe!") is great and gets a laugh out of me every time.
      • by Zordak (123132)

        All tech involved was just a small step removed from the real thing.

        Um, you do realize that you're talking about a movie with a sentient computer, don't you? Also, the war dialing wasn't even realistic, because the computer had no way to disconnect the phone between calls. He just picked it up off the cradle and put it in the modem, and it magically made a bunch of separate calls.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Idiomatick (976696)
      Hackers 1 had topless Lara Croft .. I mean Angelina Jolie in it. So I dunno what you are talking about.
    • by sootman (158191) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @05:57PM (#31279220) Homepage Journal

      The best hacking films are...

      • 1983 - War Games - realistic depiction of old-school hacking
      • 1992 - Sneakers - realistic depiction of social engineering
      • 1995 - Hackers - Agelina Jolie briefly topless
      • 2001 - Swordfish - long scene of Halle Berry topless

      The best hacking film of all time, therefore, is Swordfish, followed by a two-way tie between War Games and Sneakers. Hackers comes in fourth--not even a naked 19-year-old Angelina Jolie could save that piece of shit. :-)

  • UNIX (Score:4, Funny)

    by CAIMLAS (41445) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:51PM (#31275624) Homepage

    The only instance of 'movie hackers' which spring to mind is:

    "It's a UNIX system! I know this! "

    • The worst thing is "Jurassic Parc" is on his list but he counted Nedry (the fat nerd who locked out the system) but not the little girl in that infamous 'I know UNIX' scene. Pretty bogus.

      • That 3d box software is a real thing for IRIX - called fsn (filesystem navigator). At least that was real. It's even conceivable you could use it to run a shell script that would do whatever it was they needed.

  • If your a movie studio and you believe there is a worldwide consortium of hackers [wikipedia.org] that can call on each other to attack a specific target you are going to tread VERY lightly in poking fun at said group.

  • Time wise, if we assume Hollywood lags about 10 years behind the times then they are accurate suprisingly. Back in the days when ACiD, TRiBES and iCE were waging a holy war of ANSI art packs across the BBS era and when USENET was full of useful information rather then spam and people still cared about blue boxes the scene was largely '))>>{

    P.S. Anyone know where I can find the old ANSI animation "The Slug"?

  • by kaizokuace (1082079)
    HACK THE PLANET!
    • They're TRASHING our rights! They're TRASHING the flow of data! TRASHING! TRASHING! TRASHIIIIING!!!

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @09:24PM (#31280786)

    Thanks for all the rants how Hollywood seriously crashes and burns when it comes to "sensible" display of hacking, how it is constantly a firework of flahy graphics and nonsensical flicker output... But, well, how else do you want to do it?

    Your goal, when making a movie, is to show something that the viewer wants to see. Hacking is not exactly a spectator sport. What do you see? Some guy, reading various boards, hunting for new 0days, trying stuff against his own server (again, text only, why bother writing a graphical frontend... because none exists since, well, what you're doing SHOULD not work and is certainly not the "normal flow of operation"), then, when it's time to actually pry the juicy server open it's again a few tools and their text output that tells the (informed) hacker which exploit might work, he prods again, maybe gets some garbled output, then a few lines of scp and a few (textual) progress bars...

    I think if you want to show hackers sensibly, the only way is the same you see in medical series: Concentrate on something other than the "actual" work. How often do you actually get to see some doctors operate? An operation can take hours, yet you might see a minute or so of OP time in a show, if that. The focus is elsewhere, and there's a really good reason why: You, the viewer, without a medical background, could not tell a healthy liver from one that's gonna blow in a minute anyway. You would not "get" why everyone's getting hectic even though there isn't a geyser of blood squirting from the patient's belly. Likewise, the whole "shit hits the fan and everything starts flashing" crap should be canned in favor of one of the hackers telling the viewer why hell breaks lose (to give a reason just why he explains it, have one of the non-tech guys with them so there's a reason he tells the viewer how his friend just stumbled over a tripwire in the server security) and put the focus elsewhere in your story.

    Sorry, there is no "good" way to show hacking as entertaining to watch and realistic too. It just isn't interesting to watch a hacker do his magic when you have no idea what's going on. A few lines of "realistic" stuff are fine if they're there to build tension. A blinking caret can be a great cliffhanger when the audience gets explained that the next output will make or break their run.

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