/
Cyber Resilience

Lights, Camera, Hacking: Cyber Experts Critique Hollywood Hackers

Everybody knows Hollywood loves to sensationalize. It’s what’s kept avid moviegoers coming back for decades and decades, dating back to the very first blockbusters.  

Typically, a little suspension of belief goes a long way, and the spell is never broken. But for two Illumineers who happen to have extensive backgrounds in the world of cybersecurity and hacking, Hollywood doesn’t always get it right.  

When a scene depicting hacking hits the big screen, John Kindervag, Chief Evangelist at Illumio, and Paul Dant, Senior Systems Engineer at Illumio, can’t help but wince at the oftentimes inaccurate and outdated depictions of hacking. To break down Hollywood’s usually ham-fisted handling of hacking and cybersecurity, the two joined forces to break down a few choice scenes.  

Here are their biggest takeaways. Learn more in the full webinar.

1. More often than not, Hollywood hilariously mishandles hacking

Kindervag and Dant tackled a collection of well-known movies that feature hackers or hacking, including War Games, Hackers, The Matrix, and Sneakers. Plenty of the scenes highlighted gave the two cyber experts endless ammunition to roast Hollywood’s perception of hacking.  

The most egregious offender was a beautifully chaotic pick from Hackers.

“You’re trying to make things that typically aren’t very exciting in the real world look exciting in a short amount of time,” Dant noted. This leads to what Dant called the “the zenith of silliness” – which is only heightened by the film’s 1990s aesthetic.

The writers even get common hacking terms a bit mixed up. “They must have downloaded a list of hacker terms and put them into an early version of AI to come up with that script!” Kindervag joked. “There’s a zero bug, and I think they mean zero day.”

The conclusion? We shouldn’t expect Hollywood movies to be an accurate reflection of the realities of hacking and cybersecurity.

2. Hollywood can still hint at the scarier implications of hacking

While Hollywood might often get the technical details of hacking wrong, they can get the widespread effect cyberattacks right.  

For example, in Hackers, the film’s antagonist is creating a virus that will overturn ships by disrupting their ballast water in the hopes of covering up a large money theft. “That’s somewhat terrifying, and it gets lost in the rest of the movie’s silliness,” Kindervag noted.

Films featuring hacking have certainly helped people beyond cybersecurity experts understand the real threat of security gaps and breaches. “Anything can be a cyberattack – anything that’s computer-controlled,” John said.  

A commenter also highlighted the accurate portrayal of a cyberattack in the popular show Mr. Robot.

In the show, threat actors access the organization’s data center through the HVAC system which draws parallels to some of the largest breaches in the last decade – and marks the impetus of greater Zero Trust adoption, according to Kindervag.

3. Sometimes Hollywood does gets hacking right

Hacking in movies isn’t all nonsense jargon and goofy graphics. In rare cases, Hollywood has been fairly accurate, especially in films like The Matrix.

John jokingly criticized the city in The Matrix for having security vulnerabilities, especially in its critical infrastructure. The hacker in the film uses an Nmap network scanner to discover open ports, deploy malware, and shut down the city’s entire power grid in moments.

“Nmap stands for network map, and that’s exactly what it does,” Dant explained. “It’s used for network reconnaissance or network discovery. [In The Matrix scene] Trinity is using Nmap to look for specific services in a specific set of IP addresses. It comes back with an open port, and then you can see she’s deploying a real exploit.”

Unlike many films, The Matrix features a “great example of a true, real-world hacking,” according to Dant.  

One thing The Matrix gets wrong? “I don’t know how many hackers actually have form-fitting leather wardrobes,” Kindervag joked.

Watch Dant and Kindervag’s full discussion.  

Hollywood or not, the Illumio Zero Trust Segmentation Platform can help you build cyber resilience against the next inevitable cyberattack. Contact us today to learn more.

Related topics

No items found.

Related articles

3 Steps to Start Your Healthcare Organization’s Zero Trust Journey
Cyber Resilience

3 Steps to Start Your Healthcare Organization’s Zero Trust Journey

How healthcare providers can implement a Zero Trust strategy, and the foundational role Illumio Zero Trust Segmentation plays in any Zero Trust architecture.

Illumio Authorized as a CVE Numbering Authority (CNA)
Cyber Resilience

Illumio Authorized as a CVE Numbering Authority (CNA)

Learn how Illumio’s CNA designation helps us better protect our customers.

A Manufacturing CISO’s 4 Tips on Proactive Breach Containment with Illumio
Cyber Resilience

A Manufacturing CISO’s 4 Tips on Proactive Breach Containment with Illumio

Learn manufacturing CISO Jamie Rossato's tips for organizations looking to proactively secure against breaches with Illumio ZTS.

Want to Break In to the Cybersecurity Industry? 2 Experts Share Their Experience
Illumio Culture

Want to Break In to the Cybersecurity Industry? 2 Experts Share Their Experience

Learn from two seasoned cybersecurity experts on the three best ways to succeed in a security career.

How I Hacked a Space Shuttle Launch — and Got Caught
Cyber Resilience

How I Hacked a Space Shuttle Launch — and Got Caught

Learn why Paul's childhood hacking story shows just how intuitive the typical cyberattack is – and how to use that information to stop lateral movement.

Learnings From 3 Recent Cyberattacks Point to Zero Trust Segmentation
Zero Trust Segmentation

Learnings From 3 Recent Cyberattacks Point to Zero Trust Segmentation

Recent cybersecurity incidents like those impacting MITRE, the Danish energy infrastructure, and the British Library are reminders of how important network segmentation is in reducing the impact of breaches and ransomware attacks.

Assume Breach.
Minimize Impact.
Increase Resilience.

Ready to learn more about Zero Trust Segmentation?