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Don’t Let Hollywood Fool You Into Thinking Hackers are the Good Guys

There’s no question about it; hackers make things difficult for businesses of all industries and sizes. They go out of their way to steal data and turn a profit off of it, as well as misrepresent organizations and individuals. The business environment is chaotic enough without hackers mucking everything up. However, the recent hacking attacks behind the group Anonymous have evolved the persona of the typical hacker into something very different.

On January 10, 2016, television producer Sam Esmail stood on the stage at The Beverly Hilton and accepted the award for Best Dramatic Television Series for the show he serves as showrunner on, Mr. Robot. Despite the show’s non-traditional plot, the Hollywood foreign press saw fit to provide it with this prestigious award. The plot focuses on an antisocial and schizophrenic network administrator who spends his evenings as a white-hat hacker. Additionally, Christian Slater, the show’s co-star, took home the Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series award.

Other high-profile films explore the stories of hackers, which has prompted the suggestion that the entertainment industry is romanticizing what’s called “hacking culture.” One example is 2015’s Blackhat, a drama directed by Michael Mann. Chris Hemsworth takes on the role of a federal inmate convicted of hacking, who is given a furlough to help his college roommate, a Chinese cyber warfare officer, solve several high-profile hacking attacks that threaten to cause immense destruction and chaos. Hemsworth is more of an anti-hero, a villain of society who pays his dues by performing the very act that put him in the clink in the first place.

This trend–portraying hackers as the good guys or as an anti-hero–has been embraced by Hollywood for the past several decades. As you might suspect, hackers are most prominent in movies about hacking, but they also tend to show up in scenarios such as heists, law enforcement, and even superhero crime-fighting vigilantism. If it has a computer that’s required for the character to meet their goals, there’s probably a hacker–or at least hacking–to some degree. If there’s a hacker, they are probably going to wind up being a do-gooder who will save the day from–get this–ANOTHER hacker.

This is a far cry from the actual, real-world hacker. They are criminals who will intentionally break through systems to steal you or your employees’ sensitive data. This sort of opportunism is deplorable at best, and since computers are so central to today’s society, it’s no wonder that a hacker’s presence is as deep-seated in Hollywood as it is. In Hollywood’s defense, hacking makes for a pretty boring movie, but human oppression or destruction, themes that you’ll find in nearly every good hacker movie, don’t.

Over the past thirty years, there have been dozens of films featuring hackers. Some of them, like Tron and The Matrix, are science-fiction films that delve into the concept of reality. Others, like War Games and Hackers, present hacking as a heroic means to an end.

Some of the most noteworthy “hacker” movies include:

  • Tron (1982)
  • War Games (1983)
  • Sneakers (1992)
  • The Net (1995)
  • Hackers (1995)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • Swordfish (2001)
  • Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
  • BlackHat (2015)

How many of these movies have you seen? Do you think that hackers are fairly represented in film, or do you think that Hollywood glorifies them a bit too much?

SemTech IT Solutions sees hackers for what they truly are–criminals. We take the fight to them with proactive monitoring and management with the intention of keeping them out of your systems indefinitely. For more information, reach out to us at 407-830-1434.


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