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Mr. Robot: When Cyber Security Fiction Meets Reality

Level 9

mrrobot.jpg

First off, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Damon, and I am the Managing Editor of Geek Speak. I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to post a blog. But that said, I’d like to thank you all for your continued support of thwack, Geek Speak, and for our amazing contributors.

While I’m not exactly versed in IT, I do respect all the various aspects of IT. However, I have always seemed to gravitate more towards Security. I am amazed at the number of security breaches that occur every year. There have been many notable breaches, but I remember firsthand experiencing the PlayStation® Network hack and it being down for an extended period of time (Yeah life was rough that weekend…no Destiny!).

On that note, I’d like to discuss a show I recently started watching, “Mr. Robot.” To be honest, I was skeptical when I heard about it, mainly because shows or movies like this always seem forced or just unrealistic. For example, “Blackhat” was alright, but come on really…Thor as a hacker?!

Okay, alright let’s get back to Mr. Robot, which stars Rami Malek as the lead character, Elliot Alderson. In short, Elliot is a Cyber Security Engineer by day and is plagued with a severe social anxiety disorder. So, as you can imagine, he struggles with interacting and relating to most people. But, by night he connects with the rest of the world—as he hacks them and assumes the life of a cyber-vigilante.


(WARNING: SPOILER ALERT EP. 1)


Without throwing too many spoilers out there, I will only address episode 1. In this episode, we are introduced to Elliot in a dimly lit café on a cold evening. Elliot frequently goes to this café to be alone and well because, as he states, they have “remarkably fast Wi-Fi.” However, this particular evening he has a different reason for visiting.

As he arrives, he sits down by the owner, alerting him that he’s going to expose him and his underground business ring to the authorities. The owner then becomes unruly and tells him to leave. Elliot calmly speaks to him and explains that just because he uses Tor, it doesn’t mean his traffic is private. He further states, “You know, whoever controls the exit nodes controls the traffic.” Immediately, the owner becomes frantic and offers Elliot money, but Elliot says it’s not about the money. With a little deductive reasoning, I’m sure you can figure out what happens next. Naturally, I was intrigued…I thought ok, they are talking technical here and it’s pretty suspenseful at that—pretty good start.

Now to the second part of the episode. The company Elliot works for is hit with a DDoS attack. Ultimately, he stops the attack, but in the process he receives a message from a hacker group called “fSociety.” This group is one of many hacker groups that are collectively planning a digital revolution by deleting debt records from one of the largest corporations in the world. The problem is, they need Elliot to achieve their end goal. Annnnd…that’s where I’m going to stop. Sorry, you’ll have to tune in yourself to see what’s been happening in the latest episodes.

So, this leads me to my main question, could this fictional story really happen today? And, if you’ve been tuning in, what do you think so far? Are some of the hacks or scenarios that occur realistic/possible? Let us know or just leave your thoughts on the latest episode—Tune in Wednesdays, 10/9C on USA.

65 Comments
jkump
Level 15

I think this is a pretty decent show.  Closer than some to reality.  As long as the writers keep in realistic I think it has a chance.  Interesting to think about having a gigabit network connection and what could be accomplished on one.  Keep up the good posts.

d.garcia512
Level 9

Agreed, I hope it doesn't get too outlandish. I actually just read it was renewed for a second season, so that's a good sign. And thanks we'll do our best!

silverwolf
Level 10

This sounds like an interesting show. I haven't watched it yet, but now you've caught my interest!

Regarding the questions:

So, this leads me to my main question, could this fictional story really happen today? And, if you’ve been tuning in, what do you think so far? Are some of the hacks or scenarios that occur realistic/possible?

Could this fictional story really happen? I would say yes, at least from the sounds of the summary you have posted, it is something that could happen.

There are different types of hackers out there, some are extremely intricately organized while still maintaining to keep their identities a secret, and then you have those who don't think everything the entire way through and can be easily located through a slip up of a username or some other traceable breadcrumb. So it will be interesting to start watching this show to see what scenarios the writers put together. Really do hope they don't go too overboard either, as it sounds like it has potential to be a great show.

Any other shows that caught your attention? I'm also liking what they have done with the show Halt and Catch Fire. Let me know what you think of that one. IT related, and shows an interesting view.

jkump
Level 15

I liked the first season of Halt and Catch Fire but have not had a chance to catch any of the second season.  I thought it had a good touch of tech, intrigue, and history.

gfsutherland
Level 14

Your post got me to start watching last night.... (Episode 7). Downloading 1-6 to catch up.

Not quite hooked but close.... Thanks for the post.

Jfrazier
Level 18

Never heard of the show but then I don't have much time to watch tv these days.  I'll have to record the episodes and watch later.

d.garcia512
Level 9

I actually have not seen Halt and Catch Fire, but I'll certainly check it out. As far as IT related show go, I can't think of any of the top of my head that have really caught my attention. Silicon Valley isn't like Mr. Robot, but has it's funny moments here and there. I'll let you know if I come across any others, and I can definitely recommend a few shows from different genres if you like.

d.garcia512
Level 9

Very nice and anytime! I missed last night's episode...have to catch it tonight.

gfsutherland
Level 14

Looks like "Halt and Catch Fire" is also on my "summer watching list"...

sidowu
Level 7

Very interesting show, pretty close to reality. At first I thought the Mr. Robot character played by Christian Slater was figment of the main characters imagination but I dunno anymore.

d.garcia512
Level 9

You know, I thought the same thing and he still very well could be. Not sure if you recall that bar scene in one of the episodes, but that's when I thought something was up.

shuth
Level 14

This was my line of thinking as well until some scenes in the later episodes. Show has also had a few scenes where I've just gone: *sadface*

byrona
Level 21

I am with Jfrazier‌, I just don't have the time to watch TV these days.  Between being incredibly overloaded at work and having a demanding 5 year old daughter at home I don't get much time to myself and when I do I often do research or come here to make comments such as this one. 

goodzhere
Level 14

I think it is an OK show from the few episodes that I watched.  Of course I do pick it apart.  It is close to reality, but some of it is far-fetched.  It just has not hooked me

novasamurai
Level 12

Nice I'll have to figure out how to watch it in my area, may have to buy an episode on Amazon. I could see some of these things taking place in the real world. Much better then hacking a plane on a runway with a USB cable from a fast car though the landing gear.

rob.nebinger
Level 8

so far it is good how ever last two episodes we so so but looks to be picking back up. I also heard its picked up for a second season.

cahunt
Level 17

I'll have to pick up this show... if they in the end ping Elliot as the Hackivist that altered the Westboro Baptist Church Site, while doing a joint interview where they(WBBC) were the other side of the debate; i'll watch till the end.

bkyle
Level 15

The show started off great and then got weird.

Jfrazier
Level 18

weird or Austin Weird ?

bkyle
Level 15

There is a difference? 

cahunt
Level 17

The people in Austin want you to think so

Austin was always cool.... it got weird when the weirdo's started showing up because it was cool.

cahunt
Level 17

I had to watch this, and am hooked after the first episode! 

mrs.alterego
Level 13

Hey, I resemble that remark!

d.garcia512
Level 9

Glad to hear! I'm looking forward to tonight's episode.

bkyle
Level 15

The weird or the cool part? 

curtisi
Level 15

Episode 8 airs tonight, and I have some thoughts on Mr. Robot.  I'm going throw a

******POTENTIAL SPOILERS FROM EPISODES 2 THRU 7****

because I might accidentally give something away.

  • I'm not sure I buy the "real world is our encryption" thought of fsociety.  Yes, Mr. Robot (Slater) makes a big deal of the hacker ring busted when a single machine is compromised because all their communication could be traced.  Okay, maybe that's a thing (though it seems like proxys, VPNs, TOR, i2p and the like would probably make that really hard).  The FBI has been busting criminal syndicates in the real-world for decades.  The real world is something law enforcement understands, while Twitter is something you have to explain to Officer Friendly.  I'm not sure the real world is the protective blanket Mr. Robot sells it as, though I get that from a story-telling perspective, it gives us a convenient way to put all these characters in a room together
  • I like that the computers in Mr. Robot and the use of technology ranges from totally realistic to within the realm of believable.  I don't think, for example, that Evil Corp would have a display in their server farm showing systems booting in sequence with lines and circles in a tree.  Seems like that was a waste of a display in that cage, but it did give them something to show on the screen.  But Elliot (and others) have actually entered real Linux commands, and +b will ban you in IRC, and that I like.  Can you make a Raspberry Pi connect to a thermostat?  Probably?  Seems like parts exist to hook those to anything, but I hope it doesn't get people to freak out over Raspberry Pis as tools of evil and chaos, since they're also cool toys and dev tools
  • It's not CSI: Cyber.  I watched CSI: Cyber because it was a train-wreck, and I couldn't look away.  It made "This is a Unix system, I know this!" look like brilliant and technically accurate dialogue.  Mr. Robot appears to have people who have actually seen computers involved as consultants, versus CSI: Cyber apparently having only heard of computers and networking third- or fourth-hand.  (God, CSI: Cyber was painful...)
  • I like that many of Elliot's exploits and hacks have a human factor.  Verizon's DBIR mentions that system admins are major actors, either intentionally or accidentally, in a majority of breaches.  I think other shows would've made a Mission: Impossible scene out of getting a virus into the prison to hack the doors.  The idea of simply dropping a handful of thumb-drives in the parking lot and waiting for human curiosity to plug one in to the desired system was, I think, more believable and realistic.  The fact that the exploit had known bad code and was picked up by anti-malware software (GASP!  Anti-virus doing it's job in a TV show?!) was even better.  The guard was an idiot for plugging a random drive into a production system that controlled prison doors (USB Defender and LEM might help there...), but at least he'd either been trained or knew well enough to kill the machine before Elliot could do a lot of damage.  Well played, Mr. Robot!  Well played!
  • I really liked the plot device of putting some malware/root-kit on a supposed music album and peddling it on the street to see who you get.  Hadn't thought of that one before!  I think I'd've put the CD in the car stereo and then chucked it for not having music on it, but then I live somewhere where I don't walk much, so maybe that would really work in New York

Anyway, on to episode 8!

Jfrazier
Level 18

dang...I guess I need to start scheduling it on the DVR.

d.garcia512
Level 9

Curtis, thanks for the great feedback on the recent episodes. Definitely opened my eyes to a few things and made some solid points. However, I specifically liked this comment, "(God, CSI: Cyber was painful...)" Haha thanks again for your input. Let me know what you thought of episode 8 when you get a chance.

gfsutherland
Level 14

Watched last night.... (haven't caught up yet).... now things make more sense...

Next week promises to be interesting.

sacosgrove
Level 10

Mr. Robot = Fight Club 2015.  A bit dark, but one of the most well-done shows I've seen in awhile.  We'll see, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out Mr. Robot = Tyler Durden.

d.garcia512
Level 9

I never put that connection together, but could definitely see it. Tyler Durden would support their mission...after all as he put it, "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."

mrs.alterego
Level 13

LOL! Well, I guess I would have to say the "weird" part since I moved to Austin because I thought it was so cool how "weird" it was. It made me not so homesick for Boston.

itforensicsphil
Level 9

I have to look this show up. I didn't know about it. Thanks for sharing.

dasher
Level 11

Got my curiosity up! I am going to check it out and let you know MHO.

itforensicsphil
Level 9

So I watched 5 episodes last night. I like the show but it has it flaws.

Episode 1.3 was way messed up for one. An throughout them all I have noticed stuff that makes me think to myself that wouldn't be like that in real life. Like in the episode where they broke into the silvermountain building to install the raspberry and the building didn't have cameras on any of the floors? Also, none of this stuff would trace back to him through other cams, forensics, or fingerprints?

Anyways, I will still watch it as it is the only show like this on tv and it is still decent.

So, this leads me to my main question, could this fictional story really happen today?

I believe it is close to being possible but it isn't as easy as they show it on the show. But it is a lot better and closer then a lot of other attempts at making shows or movies about such events.

d.garcia512
Level 9

Agreed, the show does have its flaws. I thought the same thing about that particular episode...you certainly would think a facility like that would have cameras.

The Pilot Episode is free on Google Play

curtisi
Level 15

Admittedly, they got to the end of Episode 8, and they still haven't actually done anything with the (totally not) Iron Mountain hack, so it could be that the data storage company doesn't have any reason (as of 4 episodes later) to even be looking for an intrusion.  Also, was that thermostat in a bathroom?  Seemed like a weird place for a utility closet, but would explain the lack of cameras there.

d.garcia512
Level 9

Haha, touche! That's such a good point...funny. Thanks for that Curtis!

dropfreeze
Level 9

This show is awesome! Not that "Hack the Planet, Lord Nikon, Crash Override" BS we had in the 90's where thwarting an attack, looked like a space invaders game. I've notied some Easter Eggs as well, ergo 2600. Well done, Mr. Robot!

itforensicsphil
Level 9

Spoiler alert next time please lol

silverwolf
Level 10

Everytime I look into a tvshow regarding hacking or just computers, I keep thinking about Eddie Izzards bit on computers:

Eddie Izzard's Encore on Computers - YouTube

"Double-click on 'Yes'."

"Oh password protected, 20 billion possible chances...."

"I knew there would be a backdoor."

"Can't access printer? ....."

hahahahah! Can't stop laughing!

d.garcia512
Level 9

Haha, I'll definitely have to check that video out! Thanks for sending the link over.

mikegale
Level 12

It's a great show. Just watched all 9 episodes over the past two days. Definitely didn't see the little twist at the end of episode 9 coming.

muwale
Level 12

nice.....

bkyle
Level 15

Still getting more weird.

d.garcia512
Level 9

Pulled a little marathon there...nice! I'm looking forward to the finale.

cahunt
Level 17

... go Find today's Issue of USAToday.... 8/26/2015 - and there is an article about this  very subject

cahunt
Level 17

Mr. Robot makes USA Today Cover, the Print version .. not the web - cause that's a sad story plastered all over the web today.

d.garcia512
Level 9

Well, would you look at that...who knew the show would get this much press! I should've written something for USA today too.