July 12, 2014    /    by

Are hacker movies becoming reality?

Recent cyber stories resemble plots from James Bond films. Can you tell the difference?

James Bond image

Credit Flickr/Don Kennedy

Fact or fiction? That is the question.

New stories describing global hacker plots and growing cybercrime networks or cyber espionage chases remind me of sensational spy thrillers written by Tom Clancy or even James Bond films.

Here’s an example: Read the following two quotes and decide which description is fact and which is fiction - and material for an upcoming cyber movie.

1)      Allegations of industrial cyber-espionage and mass electronic snooping have been flying hot and heavy between Washington and Beijing recently, but an American and a Chinese army officer — two former MIT roommates teamed up to stop a ruthless, profit-driven hacking network.

2)      Russian officials accused the United States of kidnapping the 30-year-old son of a Moscow lawmaker after detaining him in the Maldives and flying him to Guam to face charges of trafficking in stolen credit card information and other cybercrimes.

Hacker and cyber adventure headlines are spreading

But before you get the answers, here are a few more examples of the changing cybercrime coverage in the mainstream press.

Time Magazine’s upcoming July 21, 2014, front-page story is entitled, World War Zero: How hackers fight to steal your secrets. Here is how it begins:

Aaron Portnoy started his hacking career when he was still in high school, at the Massachusetts Academy of Math & Science in Worcester, which not coincidentally was the institution he hacked. He did it as follows: Portnoy had a friend call one of the dorms, posing as tech support. The students were more than happy to give him their passwords. Hiding behind those borrowed accounts and routing his approach through proxies in various foreign countries, Portnoy wormed his way into the school’s network through a bug in the system that’s technically known as a vulnerability, or even more technically as a zero-day. “I had access to every email, grades, everything,” he says. “They had a number of issues with their configurations that allowed me to just kind of spread everywhere.”

I encourage you to get the magazine (or pay for the online subscription) and read on. If you do, one more thing you’ll learn is that Portnoy is now 28 and the co-founder of a two-year-old company in Austin called Exodus Intelligence. Their mission is to find bugs online that could potentially give others remote access to online computers.

And finding these bugs is not only legal, but worth a lot of money. His company sells to people all over the world, including governments. And the implications to our techno-savvy lifestyles are huge – as shown by a growing number of hacker-themed movies.

But this story is far from unique. The newser.com website on cybercrime lists these headlines from the past year, which also make great movie themes:


Software Is Hopelessly Bad and No Data Is Safe

US Charges 5 in China's Military With Cyber Spying

'Loverspy' Guy Joins Most-Wanted Cybercrime List

Or, check out this very funny (and different) TED video about how Amy Webb hacked an online dating website. (Hint: there’s a happy ending.) Any screen writer reading this?

 

Back to the answers please?

So heading back to the opening questions, here are the answers:

1)      Allegations of industrial cyber-espionage and mass electronic snooping have been flying hot and heavy between Washington and Beijing recently, but an American and a Chinese army officer — two former MIT roommates teamed up to stop a ruthless, profit-driven hacking network.

FICTION: This is an upcoming movie... see: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-michael-mann-chris-hemsworth-wang-leehom-cyber-blackhat-story.html

 

2)      Russian officials accused the United States of kidnapping the 30-year-old son of a Moscow lawmaker after detaining him in the Maldives and flying him to Guam to face charges of trafficking in stolen credit card information and other cybercrimes.

FACT: There has been extensive coverage recently of global war regarding cybercrime and cyber espionage between the USA and Russia. This trend goes beyond the Edward Snowden story... see: http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-russia-us-fraud-kidnapping-allegations-20140708-story.html

 

Wrap-up

So what’s the point?

Here’s my main take-away from the Time Magazine cover story:

“Cyberwar isn’t the future; it’s already here. It’s business as usual. In this war, the battlefield is everywhere, bugs are weapons, and people like Portnoy are arms dealers.”

Sounds like the theme of a best-selling fiction novel.

Or, an exciting, blockbuster movie.

Or, tomorrow’s news headline.

But it’s tough to tell the difference anymore.