This article explains why Hollywood interpretations of hacking are misleading – even when taken as metaphors.
Common Misconceptions About Hackers and How They Operate
The media has long portrayed hackers in a somewhat glamorous way that is interesting for sure and that makes for great entertainment in many exciting films. However, exciting though these Hollywood portrayals of hackers are, they really aren’t particular accurate and are actually rather misleading. The reality of hacking is very different from what TV would have you believe, so read on to find out what the difference is…
Hacking in the Movies
In the movies, hacking tends to involve a lot of visual elements. Randomly hackers will often use devices that look like they’re from the 80s or 70s with green screens and lots of text (I guess to make them look clever). Alternatively they might use interfaces that look like they’re from the future or from Minority Report – involving swiping gestures and lots of ‘grabbing’ web pages and other things to move them around the screen.
It’s at this point when you’ll offer hear a hacker say something like ‘oh no, security is on to me!’ – at which point they’ll then even sometimes start shooting at digital robots using a reticule like something from a computer game. As you might have imagined, this is nothing like hacking in real life.
Of course intelligent viewers will recognise that these kinds of scenes are meant to represent what hacking is like in a more visual and entertaining manner – but even if you take this as a metaphor it isn’t really accurate in any way.
Perhaps the most misleading aspects of these sorts of scenes you see is that hacking is something that occurs in real-time. Film makers seem to want us to believe that hacking is like a ‘battle’ between a hacker and a computer’s security, but really it tends to be more like a regular session of programming with a little lateral thinking thrown in. Hackers will tend to write programs or scripts, that they then use to guess passwords, or to spy on user’s computers. It’s using these methods that they then gain access to files stored on users’ computers or company’s servers and that they can syphon off the information they need.
If you asked someone to hack an e-mail account then, security wouldn’t even really come into it. Rather they would write a script that would continuously guess username and password combinations and then they would point it at the desired website. They could then go away and make a cup of tea, have a nap, and then come back to find themselves either ‘in’ or out.
When hacking is done computer to computer it will often be done by accessing the same network as that computer and then installing software remotely that can then modify files on that computer or sift information. Often this comes down more to tricking users into downloading ‘malicious software’ and coding it in a particular way that doesn’t raise warning flags – again there are no reticules and no green screens anywhere in sight!
Who Are Hackers
The other misconception about hackers is regarding just who it is that hacks. According to Hollywood, we’re made to believe that hackers are geniuses with a grudge against the system who typically operate out of their parent’s bedrooms in a bid to mix things up. At some point they will encounter the hero of the story, and put their skills to good use in helping them get information or overcome some kind of security.
Of course there are probably a few hackers that fall into this Die Hard 4 mould, but for the most part that’s again an inaccurate view of how hacking works. Much more often, hackers are actually groups of people operating out of foreign countries. Often these hackers are actually hired to do particular jobs, usually with the intention of helping dodgy businesses to get information or steal cash. The biggest threat doesn’t come from someone in a basement who hates the world, it comes from teams of people working out of Japan or India. And rarely is any kind of attack personal in nature.
So there you have it, that’s the slightly less glamorous version of hacking that Hollywood doesn’t tend to promote. Understand who hackers are though and you’ll stand a much better chance of defending yourself.
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