If you believe Hollywood, hacking is basically magic. Press a button, say a few magic words about binary code, and watch money flow into your bank account, nuclear weapons launch, or personal information become readily available.
If hacking were this easy -- and this glamorous -- everyone would do it. The truth is that hacking, like most computer projects, is part art and part science. That’s why app developers need to be so cautious. People who are successful hackers are doggedly committed to their work. In some instances a hack is as easy as watching a Youtube Tutorial. However, the same goes for all of those interested and committed to a hack -- lock one door, and they might just find a window in. Not like the hackers of Hollywood, who can hack their way to fame and fortune with not a care in the world.
Check out our roundup of Hollywood’s most ridiculous hacking scenes.
The Social Network
The Social Network actually gets points for technical accuracy. There’s no made-up jargon, no ridiculous scenes in which a single press of a button yields endless glory. What the movie gets wrong, though, are the demands hacking places on a hacker’s time and social life. The dialogue in the movie is polished and specific, witty and to-the-point -- something every computer guru knows is rare among hackers.
Successful hacking means a lot of time alone, a willingness to spend time at the computer instead of explaining things to friends, and of course, ruffling a few feathers. The hackers of The Social Network only manage to ruffle feathers -- making them an unrealistic representation of most computer experts.
You would think a movie all about hackers would get the technical side of hacking right. But this film trades glamour for accuracy, making hacking look more like magic than a challenging scientific undertaking. The technobabble of the movie is incomprehensible, even by 1990s standards. And the screen displays? Not at all representative of what real hacks look like. Hackers does get points for hacker culture accuracy, though. So merge its social milieu with The Social Network’s technical expertise and you might have a realistic movie.
Live Free or Die Hard
Live Free or Die Hard wins the award for most magical portrayal of hacking. The hackers in the movie are able to effortlessly hack everything from stop lights to military planes -- something even the hackers of today struggle to do. These hacks demand intense expertise and even more intense work, but you’ll never see either in this movie. At one point, the magical thinking goes to an even more ridiculous extreme, when hackers hack -- wait for it -- fire. Yes, fire.
House of Cards
The bizarre hacking scenes perpetrated by a computer geek and his guinea pig sidekick play on just about every geek stereotype -- but they fail to get much right about hacking. A single key on the hacker’s keyboard mysteriously manages to control everything about every computer program he hacks. Apparently this geek isn’t just smart. He’s also a wizard living in an alternate reality where hacking is always easy.
Jurassic Park asks viewers to believe that a middle schooler can flawlessly hack the park’s entire computer system. It seems that people who are sufficiently skilled to bring dinosaurs back to life are no match for the gumption of a 12-year-old. Jurassic Park definitely would have benefited from a more secure system.
The intrepid heroes of Independence Day are willing to risk their lives to install a computer virus in the software of the movie’s alien invaders. We’re supposed to believe that they can do so in less than five minutes, and that a few meek earthlings can override the system of beings able to travel faster than the speed of light. And let’s not even consider issues of compatibility. Somehow an earth-created virus is capable of running on an alien race’s computer.
Swordfish includes a bizarre scene during which Hugh Jackman manages to hack the Department of Defense while engaged in a sex act -- all in just 60 seconds. Oh, and did we mention that, should he fail, he’ll be shot? Everyone knows that hacking is easiest in a libidinous, high-pressure situation.
Action-adventure-comedy is rife with unrealistic tech geek scenes. These include easily hacking into the Federal Reserve -- a scene complete with bright, pop-up windows.
Skyfall’s hacking scenes are elaborate, detailed… and completely inaccurate. Rife with meaningless technobabble, Skyfall is full of empty banter and geek stereotypes, but very little is actually accurate. Hacking is easily used to escape prison, blow up buildings, and indulge in other high-adventure fantasies that have yet to materialize in the real world.
Everyone loves the revenge fantasy enacted in Office Space, which involves planting a virus on a company computer. The movie doesn’t technically get anything wrong. It simply fails to provide sufficient details to capture the challenges of successfully planting a virus. We can’t really judge the accuracy of the movie, but we do think it paints a wildly unrealistic portrait of how easy it is to use hacking for sabotage.