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Security expert explains what Hollywood gets hilariously wrong about hacking

Published Nov 27th, 2018 4:48PM EST
Image: Shutterstock

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It’s no secret that popular movies and TV shows often contain plot points that, while entertaining, tend to skew reality. For instance, you can’t really outrun an explosion, as many action movies would otherwise have you believe. As another prime example, if you happen to be arrested by law enforcement authorities, you are not owed a phone call. Authorities can certainly give you one at their discretion, but it’s certainly not a right bestowed by law as Hollywood tends to portray.

That said, one of the more inaccurately depicted tropes that we tend to see — and enjoy — in movies and TV shows centers on hacking. In light of that, Wired recently sat down with security researcher and hacker Samy Kamkar who took a look at 26 famous hacking scenes and subsequently judged how authentic they happened to be. Though the depiction of hacking has gotten a tad more realistic with shows like Mr. Robot, movies and TV shows over the past three decades tend to feature hacking scenes that are so out of left field as to become downright comical.

What’s particularly interesting is that some older titles tend to portray the hacking experience correctly while some of the more recent TV shows and movies tend to get everything completely backwards. 1995’s The Net, for instance, accurately shows Sandra Bullock disassembling a virus, though the interface Bullock employs was spruced up a bit for entertainment purposes.

In contrast, Kamkar highlights a clip from the TV show Chuck which depicts someone hacking into the Federal Reserve. The hacking clip features a myriad of interfaces along with an avalanche of windows populating the screen in rapid and confusing succession.

“In this clip we see a common theme, and that’s pretty interfaces that really have nothing to do with hacking,” Kamkar points out. “There’s too much information just coming up and down and it’s too quick for you to actually obtain any useful information. You pretty much never see pop-ups when you’re doing any sort of programming or hacking like this.”

The full video — which features clips from 26 individual hacking scenes — is well put together and can be viewed below.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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