5 hacking myths Hollywood got so wrong

January 11, 20184 Minute Read

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In today’s, sometimes grim world, escapism is a must. For many, there’s no better method of forgetting about the craziness going on than turning to the silver screen—especially when it’s as easy as turning on your TV (thank you, Netflix). That said, there’s nothing worse than being jolted back to reality when the fine line between poetic license and farcical misinformation is crossed.

We’re talking about those delightful clips of heart-pounding hacking from hotel bathrooms or single commands that bring down worldwide networks—you know the type. In honor of these big screen embellishments, we’ve compiled the biggest hacking myths that drive those of us in IT absolutely crazy. Careful—don’t roll your eyes so hard you pass out.

1. GUI? We don’t need no stinking GUI!

There might be some truth to this myth, but by and large, nearly every hacking sequence in recent entertainment involves a predominantly black screen with a stream of neon-green text flowing across the screen.

Green code hack

Sure, the command line is an essential tool for certain utilities run over a remote connection, but we’re not barbarians. In an age of IDEs that allow novice programmers to essentially drag and drop fancy GUIs on their makeshift software, you better believe hackers have sleeker, more intuitive interfaces to make their nefarious endeavors that much more efficient and functional. At the very least, they’ve got to be running on init 5, right?

2. Hacking is wicked unorganized and independent

Raise a hand if the following describes just about every elite hacker you’ve seen on the big screen:

  • Lives in a grungy basement
  • Surrounded by evidence of last night’s—or perhaps last week’s—dinner
  • Complete lack of social skills
  • Seems like they could count the number of hours spent outdoors on one hand

Kevin Smith Warlock hacker Die Hard

Image courtesy of IMDB.

Kevin Smith’s character, Warlock, in Live Free or Die Hard comes to mind. While Hollywood is quick to portray hacking as an unorganized, even antisocial activity, this really isn’t the case. Ever heard of the dark web? Yeah, it’s pretty much a giant social network—anonymous or not—for these folks.

As CSO points out, professional hacking has a surprisingly organized structure. From state-sponsored groups to hacking kingpins, the biggest online threats have plenty of money, power, and strategy behind them.

3. You’ve only got 30 seconds

If what we saw in movies was actually based in reality, high-stakes hacking is the newest adrenaline sport. Command line pops up, text is entered, and the timer starts. Oh, there’s usually an audible beep that surfaces somewhere as if things weren’t already intense enough.

Doomsday clock

As it turns out, hacking isn’t nearly the 30-second cat and mouse game Hollywood makes it out to be. Thanks to automated scripts and massive botnets, it can be a pretty hands-off affair. We’ll chalk this one up to the need for more drama, but if you’re an adrenaline junky looking for a new fix, you’re better off skipping the hacker scene.

4. Only Mensa members need apply

Going along with the stereotypical loner lifestyle of the hacking elite, most portrayals in theaters depict hackers as possessing borderline genius intellect. It takes some serious brainpower to thwart your run-of-the-mill desktop antivirus, right?

Hackerman

Well, yes and no. While there certainly exists some roles within the hacking hierarchy reserved for exceptionally intelligent individuals, you don’t need a Mensa membership to execute ready-made scripts purchased from the dark web. For this reason, the hacking underworld is an exemplary place for indiscriminate employment.

5. Damn those instant passwords

Quick exercise: Think of all the movies you’ve seen over the years in which a password was cracked. Now, see if you can think of any which took more than 10 seconds to decipher.

Bueller

No? Couldn’t think of anything? This is probably Hollywood’s most overdone hacking faux pas. Either good guys need a crash course in basic password safety, or the bad guys have access to otherworldly supercomputers.

In reality, brute force attacks on system accounts are prohibitively time intensive when adequate passwords are used. Without extensive use of rainbow tables and an overwhelming lack of common sense when creating them in the first place, passwords just aren’t that trivial to bypass.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we never expected Hollywood to get it 100 percent right. These hacking myths are created to drum up drama and suspense in an otherwise less than exhilarating activity. Still, they’re excellent reminders that the bad guys are really out there trying their best to compromise your infrastructure. Whether it’s mission-critical servers or overlooked printers, securing your office and all its devices is a 24/7 job you need to take seriously—even if you’re not impressed with these over-the-top hacking myths in movies.

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