The Portrayal of Hackers in “Mr. Robot” is Scary Good
Has anyone checked out Mr. Robot, on USA? Mr. Robot’s two seasons are as good of an indication as the entertainment industry has made of just how afraid businesses should be of hackers. The true-to-form drama’s two seasons have been largely spent portraying how easily hackers can get into business networks, and how they use aptitude of information systems and social engineering to thoroughly compromise individuals, and organizations.
Hollywood has had a tendency to portray hackers as ne’er-do-well punks that are people of ill repute and are scheming behind the scenes just waiting to come up with a big score. While this representation may be true in some cases, the majority of hackers are intelligent and savvy people that don’t necessarily want to hurt others, even if their actions likely do. Science fiction titles such as “The Matrix” and “The Thirteenth Floor”, action movies such as “Blackhat” and “Swordfish”, and even a comedy like “Office Space” set up the modern understanding of what hacking is for millions of viewers. Mr. Robot’s realistic turn in cybercrime shows us just how little is understood about it.
The ten-episode first season of Mr. Robot, created by Sam Esmail, which is broadcast by the USA television network, was a major hit for the network as critics gushed over the complex makeup of the show and some outstanding, eccentric performances. The show, which is currently in production for a third season, surprised many critics by winning the prestigious Golden Globe for best dramatic television series for its first season.
From the first scene, the show takes YOU, Elliot Alderson’s imaginary friend, though the relative subterfuge that is network security, and provides you with a front row seat to the hacker collective “fsociety” and its quest to take down the evil “eCorp”. In fact, as viewers soon understand, Elliot, who isn’t exactly the most sane guy, hears “evilcorp” every time eCorp is mentioned throughout the show.
This is not the first attempt entertainment has tried to make the conflict that is hacking into a story that people can relate to. This is because hackers aren’t a new concept. In fact, the heist story is one that has mesmerized audiences since Edwin S. Porter released his revolutionary short “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. Nowadays, the heist movie remains as captivating as any in cinema; especially in lieu of how important security has become in our culture. With cyber security’s place in the bylines of every newspaper, people have become as familiar with hackers as the people of American prohibition were familiar with the tommy-gun wielding gangster.
In fact, hackers hold a special place in entertainment over the past two decades. Movies such as “Virtuocity”, “The Matrix”, and to a lesser extent, 2015’s “Blackhat” have created the notion that hackers are able to access worlds that don’t exist to the rest of us. In the world of Mr. Robot, however, the audience is part of the story. The story, which portrays the stage in which hacking, corporate espionage, and data manipulation is part of the reality that businesses deal with day in and day out. A society-changing data breach is a powerful narrative, especially as hacking becomes a mainstream problem for businesses, governments, and individuals alike.
Esmail, who is creator, writer, and director of Mr. Robot, has gone on record to say that the show works because it is a show about hackers, not a show about hacking. “The whole great thing about hacker mentality, it’s finding a flaw” he said, “Whether that’s the flaw in the person, finding embarrassing emails or finding the flaw in the system, which is designed by a person. All this stuff that has our planes running, and our traffic lights, was designed by a human, who by their very nature can make mistakes.”
In the show, Elliot, Esmail’s representation of today’s hacker, as shown by Mr. Robot, isn’t like the hackers of yesteryear. More than just hacking into a computing construct, taking what he wants, and getting out, they now concoct situations that make people make mistakes. They create a construct where it’s easy for a person to make a misstep, and they capitalize on it once it’s made. This opportunistic outlook not places the characters of this drama in excellent position to gain access to computing networks in seemingly legitimate ways, it shows just how even the most secure computing construct has very visible flaws. A concept the show repeatedly, and effectively, emphasizes.
Organizations of all types, of all sizes, have to understand just how important their cyber security is. Mr. Robot, has been renewed for a third season, so expect Elliot back sometime in 2017. Do you like Mr. Robot? We’d love to see what you have to say about it in our comments section below.