Fact vs. Fiction: Film Industry’s Portrayal of Cybersecurity

Article by Beau Peters

The movie industry is infamous for its loose depictions of hacking and cybersecurity. Hollywood often gets a lot wrong about hacking and digital protections, but what does it get right?

The power of film in influencing the future of technology and the experts that create it is immense. Because of this, it is important to assess what the facts are versus movie fiction.  Here, we’ll explore the film industry’s portrayal of cybersecurity.

In the 1983 WarGames movie, a young hacker almost triggers World War 3
These portrayals have led to common tropes and views of the cybersecurity industry in their attempts to prevent and combat hacking attempts. Among these tropes are some of the following portrayals, each occurring with varying degrees of absurdity.

1 Hacking is exciting, fast, and often ethical
The trope of a computer-savvy individual slamming on a keyboard for a few seconds and saying “I’m in” is common enough to be a defining joke about cybersecurity in film. Hacking is shown to be a process that takes minutes with has instant results. This is often far from reality, where hacking attempts can take weeks or even months to produce results.

And the results of actual digital break-ins are often far from ethical. Movies tend to show hacking as a victimless crime, but real-life hacking tends to mean data theft that can have severe implications on people’s lives.

2. There is a visually distinct or compelling element of hacking 
Hollywood has to keep an audience engaged. Because of this, hacking and cybersecurity are often paired with some visually striking element that would simply be ridiculous in reality.

Jurassic Park has a great scene exemplifying this trope. Under attack from a velociraptor, a child logs on to a computer and proceeds to navigate through a 3D maze representing the computer system’s files. In reality, typing in a few commands would have achieved a result faster. However, this wouldn’t have been as exciting.

3. Hacking and cybersecurity are defined by excessively fast typing
You always know a hacker or a computer systems expert by their excessively fast keyboard smashing. In movies and TV, computer experts are always clicking away at a keyboard at speeds few of us could match, speeds that would unlikely result in very productive work due to mistakes and time needed to assess the situation.

However, fast typing is a staple of hacking movies. The faster you type, the faster you can get in or defend a system.

When compared to the reality of cybersecurity systems, these Hollywood portrayals often come up short. Though some movies are getting better at portraying hacking and security, they rarely capture the grittier, less exciting truth. 

Cybersecurity in Reality
In reality, hacking is a much more time consuming and boring process, with results that have real impacts on the lives of everyday people. Hollywood neglects some of these finer points in favour of spectacle, as can be expected. Cybersecurity comes with its own set of tedious practices as well as the glamorous aspects of navigating computer systems.

Here are just a few ways that hacking and cybersecurity operate in the real world that movies tend to obscure or fail to depict:

1. Hacking is about information more than profit.
While cybercriminals can sometimes come away with a profit, doing so is incredibly difficult and not very common. Ransomware is sometimes used to extort profits from corporations, a process that occurs when a cybercriminal uses malware to hold a system hostage until a payment is made. However, break-ins usually result in little more than data theft or blockages with costly implications for businesses and individuals.

For example, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are used to slow or stop the computer processes of a business. This doesn’t necessarily result in any money for the hackers, but the downtime can cost companies thousands to millions of dollars.

2. Hackers rely heavily on phishing and social engineering.
Breaking into a system often requires access to valid user IDs and account passwords. This means hackers tend to use phishing and social engineering methods to mine information. They use all kinds of bots and scams to try and trick average individuals into clicking a link or divulging personal information.

However, this means that a lot of good can be done in the cybersecurity world without even needing to code. Simply teaching teams what to look for in avoiding scams and fraud can be a great way to approach cybersecurity incident management and keep private data safe.

3. White-hat hackers are real, and they make good money.
One thing movies get right sometimes is that hackers can be the good guys. There is a whole category of ethical hackers who often work as bounty hunters to find flaws in a company’s cybersecurity systems. These so-called “white hat” hackers attempt to break in and are paid a bounty if they can reveal security deficiencies.

Sometimes, white-hat hacking comes with a significant paycheck. The bounty platform HackerOne has paid out $40 million across 2020 alone, making seven different hackers millionaires in a single year.

With the desperate need for individuals in the cybersecurity field, the truth around hacking is important to note. While Hollywood can make hacking seem glamorous and exciting, the truth is that many hacking processes come with dangerous implications. However, hacking can also be used to benefit the safety of information in ethical bounty situations.

With the emergence of cloud computing as a standard for remote workspaces, security professionals are needed now more than ever. Secure public and private cloud solutions are required for a functioning application marketplace, and cybersecurity professionals play a key role in maintaining that safety.

While cybersecurity isn’t always exciting, the results of keeping systems safe are much more rewarding than the black-hat alternatives.

Conclusion
The movie industry propagates a view of the cybersecurity field that is often far from reality. However, by acknowledging the departures from the truth, we get a better idea of the need and value of cybersecurity solutions as a whole, especially in the modern world of accelerated digital innovation.

While hacking and cybersecurity might not be anywhere near as exciting as they are in movies, working in cybersecurity—whether as a systems expert or a white-hat hacker—can mean a big paycheck and a safer world for the people you know and love. And that reality is better than any movie.

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from IT Security Expert Blog authored by SecurityExpert. Read the original post at: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/securityexpert/~3/Ni7agyL8DW8/fact-vs-fiction-film-industrys.html