Hacking and cybercrime in a lot movies is probably not representative of what happens in reality. What is your favourite/least favourite hacking trope you see in TV and movies, and what actually happens?
Paul Nevin’s favourite trope already has a legendary status in cyber circles:
Undoubtedly, the scene from NCIS with two characters hacking simultaneously on the keyboard is the most ridiculous thing I have seen.
What happens, in reality, is that weeks or months of effort are required to plan, test and execute sophisticated cyber attacks. The actors work in teams, many with extremely specialised skills, to build up the infrastructure servers, test malware and translate phishing emails before the actual attack. In many cases, it is far more like an episode of The Office than a James Bond movie.
Kevin here, I really wanted to add to this and say this scene never fails to make me laugh.
I do wonder if they’re being cheeky? I used to be notorious at my previous job for asking the IT department if they could simply “hack into the mainframe” as a response to any technical issue.
Hacking in films and TV is seen as something of a kinetic activity. Not only are hackers depicted as physically abusing their keyboards but what happens on their computer screen is a disorientating swirl. In the same NCIS clip you can see about a thousand pop-ups onscreen. Sometimes hacking is represented as kind of geometric exercise.
In the Hugh Jackman film Swordfish, I recall him solving together a kind of digital Rubik’s Cube to bypass a firewall. In reality, what is happening on screen is probably a console or terminal showing lots of lines of codes.
It happens this way because of practical reasons because it lets you see a lot of code and data in one go. Nowhere near as exciting and trying to beat the world record for keystrokes per minute, admittedly.
I suppose this stems from the director’s need to make the process of hacking seem exciting. We definitely have this problem in news media as well, which isn’t helped by the lack of real experience with coding and hacking among reporters.