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'Hackers' at 20 (csmonitor.com)
253 points by caiobegotti on Sept 15, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 161 comments

There's three really great hacking movies: WarGames, Hackers and Sneakers.

WarGames really nails the solo bedroom hacker of the 80s but then mixes in the DoD and general purpose AI to turn it into a coldwar thriller.

Sneakers is a clever, quirky, thoughtful adult hacking film.

Hackers though, teenage me ate up the feeling of the hacking culture that it espoused. When I read cyperpunk books, I pictured the environment and characters as places and people who could have come from this world. The sort of irreverent, authority denouncing, cybervandalism spoke to me. The Warez, Demoscen, ANSI art scenes all seemed to sort of be a kind of foundation that created a universe that this movie made manifest.

When this movie came out, I was still telneting, BBSing and gophering around "cyberspace". As soon as I found a writeable folder on an ftp server I'd make hidden folders and upload crap and tell all my friends. We'd stay up late wardialing and playing this soundtrack. We'd telnet to random IP addresses and then get excited when we'd hit a VAX system, just like in the movie.

It formed a kind of social scaffolding my nerd friends and I hung our digital world off of.

It's kind of laughable in many ways now, like many teen counter culture movement. But it still holds a special place in my heart.

The biggest thing I like about WarGames as a geek/hacker movie is that it has one of the more realistic depictions I've seen of the critical skill required for security research (or doing many other worthwhile things): a giant pile of research, trying many different things, most of which don't work, eventually leading to success. All shown in an montage cutting between a library and a computer, with this awesome music to accompany it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFAGE4rs71M

It's not exactly a sophisticated effort (using a wardialer and guessing a backdoor password), but it's far better and more realistic than the majority of movie-style "hacking" scenes.

Sneakers, by contrast, has some interesting depictions of social engineering, as well as the amusingly low-tech yet effective approach of "point a camera at someone's hands while they type a password" (which remains a realistic danger today).

Hackers is dripping in 80s cheese, but that was what made it fun. And it captures how people thought hacking worked and what kinds of things people thought it could do: type something into a computer and take over a city's streetlights.

There's a retrospective on WarGames that's even better than the CS Monitor Hackers article at http://archive.wired.com/entertainment/hollywood/magazine/16...

WarGames was another case of life imitating art imitating life, when the over-the-top NORAD command center set (the director called it "NORAD's wet dream of itself") became the blueprint for command centers everywhere going nuts with monitors.

A NORAD commander is quoted there: "A few years later, I was an executive officer with the Air Force Space Command stationed at Norad near Cheyenne Mountain. And I'm wondering, 'Gee, where can we get such cool-looking displays?' It was a good forcing function. It required us to all of a sudden say, 'If it really can look like this, why doesn't it?'"

    Hackers is dripping in 80s cheese
2015 - 20 = 1995

80s cheese was still available in the 90s.

I stand by my statement. :)

hah, ok, respect :)

> it's far better and more realistic than the majority of movie-style "hacking" scenes.

In Ex Machina the main character appears writes a field sieve in Python to break some crypto. The code doesn't actually do that but it's still decent.

A bunch of older movies featured nmap.

And newer ones too. This is a fun link if you haven't seen it: https://nmap.org/movies/

Tron is one of the great movies of all time IMHO. It was one of the first to do a fantastic job of the "world within a world" idea on film, had an incredible aesthetic and a reasonably fun film. But it's not really a hacker movie.

The Net always came across to me as a movie made by people who had never touched a computer. Without knowing what to write about (and after exhausting as many technical inaccuracies as possible) it just turns into a run of the mill thriller. It's kind of painful to watch. Hackers tosses out some jargon, but lots of the actual computer interaction stuff is completely obfuscated and contained in the fantasy of the world itself.

Can't say I've seen the rest, but I've added them to my list!

blackhat had some problems (when Helmsworth apes the "you son of a bitch!" scene from Manhunter I groaned in pain) but overall is, if only for the type of person that might browse this site, worth watching.

Antitrust wasn't bad either, but I'm not sure if it goes too far into drama.

Antitrust was great, a longtime favourite of mine. They at least had some focus on coding etc. rather than just mindless bashing on a keyboard to "hack" random systems.

Antitrust's "I think my girlfriend is trying to poison my food, so I'll cut myself, expose the cut to that food and see if I get sick" scene ruined the movie for me. I know that's basically how allergy testing works, but it was still cringe-worthy.

Antitrust is pretty good at what it aims to be: "idealistic hacker meets corporate environment". They even explicitly mention "Open Source", once.

If you haven't seen it you might enjoy Algorithm which you can watch free: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qpudAhYhpc

The Manhattan Project is pretty great too -- similar era and vibe to War Games. More of a social engineering hack than a computer hack, but still...

"Three Days of the Condor" used to make the list too, because it was alleged to be one of Mitnick's favorite movies.

Hackers was one of the first movies I bought on DVD. I still have it around here somewhere..

I was never that upset about Hackers, but I've had my fair share of laughs at it over the years. I've had some revelations since then though.

If you don't document things yourself, you don't get to write history. There just isn't that much material out there of how things were. In hind-sight I also think it was more accurate than given credit for. Partly because a lot of the things it described, like phreaking, isn't a thing anymore. So technical accuracy is no longer that important.

The people who made the movie to some extent understood hacker culture better than the hackers themselves. They realized that it wasn't the technical details that was important, but describing the sentiment among hackers. Otherwise they could have made a movie about security researchers at Microsoft.

PS. Regarding hacking traffic lights, back in the day you could supposedly flash a light at the same frequency as emergency vehicles to turn the lights green, or at least that's what the textfiles said.

The traffic light exploit still works, sort of. They didn't upgrade the sensors or the communication protocol, they just changed it so that it turns all of the lights red. Emergency vehicles can run reds, so it works for them and not you.

This is true, and an Arduino and a switchable strobe will let you figure out the frequency. The important thing is to know which direction it lets go first after the light goes away :-)

I read an advertisement for a red light camera system that offered this as a feature (traffic management for emergency vehicle (EV) ingress and egress) it had the feature that you had to have red and blue lights, so it wasn't fooled easily by civilians.

Oh, using the same system but taking advantage of the additional signals already present on emergency vehicles... that's pretty clever thinking.

The article talks about how that actually was not possible when the movie came out in '95, but it is now. Back then most of them were on mechanical timers I believe.

They actually quote the researcher that figured out the flaws, apparently in SF the lights are still unpatched.

I agree, I think the script writers knew exactly what they were doing. They did not have to achieve technical accuracy to convey the hacker ethos to a general, or even a technical, audience.

It depends. Many of those systems are still IR without crypto. Some teenager was in the news a few years ago for reversing the IR signaling protocol of a nearby railroad (!!) and operating track switches at will.

One of the things I love about this movie is how much it got right. The general attitude of the time, the feeling that we had in that era. This film shows what it feels like to spend all night reading through hexdumps trying to solve a complex riddle. I don't know anything else that captures that.

Of course it had to be "inaccurate" to show visually what that feels like without it being super boring. It glorifies a particular set of attitudes and styles that many of us were a part of in that era.

Love it.

I agree and tend to think of it in terms of how the movie 300 depicted the Persians as monsters. They were nowhere near as monstrous in real life but the Greek saw them that way. And the only way to convey the sense of how the ancient Greek viewed them to our modern eye was to make them hulking giants.

In much the same way, Hackers had to do something to depict how we felt about computers at the time. I remember thinking how silly it looked at the time but I also remember it resonating.

Though, I have to say, I was much more inspired by Sneakers a few years earlier which was much more accurate from a visual and technical standpoint.

> They were nowhere near as monstrous in real life

In fact, they weren't monstrous at all. No more than any other army.

One overlooked factoid in 300 is that despite all the "we fought for FREEDOM!" stuff, the Greek city-states were slave-keeping societies (and Sparta was friendly with infanticide), whereas the Persians invading them were Zoroastrian - a religion that forbids slavery. :)

Something interesting that might change your view of 300. The movie is a story being told by a narrator who wasn't present for much of the events. The first bit of the story was fairly realistic, or at least plausible, but then his eye gets injured and he's sent back to town to get reinforcements. After he leaves things start to get more fantastical.

Hm, interesting. I hadn't though about it that way. So basically, he's the Greek equivalent of my Grandfather who walked to school up hill both ways in 6' of snow.

Or the Greek equivalent of Uncle Sam, drumming up popular support for the military.

If you're ever looking for something that captures the Sneakers spirit then I very highly recommend the TV show Rubicon that was on AMC a few years back. Unfortunately cancelled after one season but if you look around you can find it.

I liked Sneakers a lot... loved that movie... never saw Hackers at the time of release (only first saw it all the way through about a month ago).

I don't know that it was particularly more accurate (at least the device in question), but I think it was certainly closer.

I always assumed the "device in question" was a hardware DES cracker. Assuming that, the story makes a lot of sense for the time.

True. I guess I never considered the actual device to be all that realistic. I think more about the UI they used. It was DOS and curses based which was predominant at the time. Well, except for the flight tracker scene. I guess that wasn't as true to life either.

The structure of 300 is it is the atory told by the lone survivor of the 300, to drum up support back home and to motivate the troops. The only "real" part of the film is the charge at the end, everything else is the visualization of an oral retelling.

I was at Summercon the year before Hackers was released and I remember there being some kind of presentation about it, with the point being made repeatedly that we shouldn't get hung up on the technical details, and that it had the same director as _Backbeat_, which I gathered was a good thing.

It always amused the hell out of me that they had Matthew Lillard playing Emmanuel Goldstein. They should have cast Steve Buscemi.

I don't think that was literally supposed to be EG, just a knowing nod in that direction


Good soundtrack, even if the film did make me cringe. When it came out I was knee deep in oodles of Perl on a shit-hot upgraded SPARCstation 10 machine (not camo painted I will add). Whacked the soundtrack in my external caddied CD drive and plugged my headphones in, then spent 2 hours of frigging #defines trying to get the fucking thing to compile a CD player that worked on SunOS 4 OpenView that I'd downloaded off Usenet via a 14.4k Hayes SmartModem (which I still own)

And that piece of crap cost more than my car at the time...

Edit: I just realised one piece of tech I still use daily survived from back then; a lowly TI-85 calculator.

This post made my day... can I subscribe to your newsletter?

I have very few anecdotes past that; very soon after that, I bought a Compaq pentium pro, a thinkpad and a volvo, used NT and became a boring enterprise monkey.

I bought a massive fully stacked Sun Enterprise 1000E and storage array in 2001 in a crazy nostalgia trip. £500,000 of kit and I got it off yahoo auctions for £350 and it was only 5 years old. That's depreciation for you. It was noisy, made the lights dim when you booted it up and wouldn't run anything other than old Solaris releases so it was used as a seat for a bit then sold.

I think I'm out of anecdotes now :)

I'm guessing your CD player was workman.

Oh wow, I remember workman now. At least I had university Internet, even if the whole country's net was taken down once when someone tried a video chat.

It must have been a year or two later that I wired a doorbell between DTR (I think) and CTS on a Sparc workstation, with a program that broadcast a UDP packet to a Tcl/Tk program running on multiple lab machines whenever tcdrain() unblocked.

It wasn't unfortunately. The SPARC 10 had no built in CD drive like the newer 5 and 20 models so that couldn't control the audio interface and it didn't issue the right incantations to the CD drive I had. I was cheap so it was a non-Sun drive. There were no standards back then past things like MCI which only worked on PCs running DOS and windows 3.1.

There's a whole thread on Usenet somewhere with me complaining about this. I tried to find it but couldn't now unfortunately as it would be funny :)

Excuse me while I fire up the old Quadra and run my copy of MacBugs.

The (few) scenes that took place at school were filmed in Stuyvesant High School (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuyvesant_High_School) which I attended. It always felt very appropriate - Stuy is a specialized math and science school.

At any rate, I can confirm that the "pool on the roof" myth is indeed alive and well. Upperclassmen used to try and sell "pool keys" to incoming students for $10 each. Absurd as that was, there was a thriving market for escalator keys - to turn on or off the many escalators in the 10-story building - so it wasn't that far-fetched.

I was an extra in this movie - some of the school scenes (eg. the hallways during the sprinkler scene, which was great fun to film!) plus some interior classrooms too - were filmed on a sound stage at Pinewood Studios in London [1].

[1] http://www.pinewoodgroup.com/production/hackers

It's been a very long time since I've seen the movie, but I was going to make the same point that the director does: it was never intended to be realistic, just a fantasy which captured the right feelings. It's probably not a good movie for other reasons, but I think it was successful at doing that.

I've heard similar criticism of William Gibson's work, that his 1980s-flavored cyberpunk makes no sense scientifically now. And that's true. But it still completely works as a fantasy world.

Some of Gibson's 80s writing is almost prophecy, like New Rose Hotel

>Set in the near future, huge megacorporations control and dominate entire economies. Their wealth and competitive advantage reside in the human capital of their employees and the intellectual property they produce. Corporations jealously guard their most valuable employees and go to great expense to keep them safe and happily productive. There is little point in traditional corporate espionage as new products are developed at a lightning pace; there is no time to capitalize on the intelligence acquired from a rival firm, it will be obsolete before it can be used. Companies now hire extraction agents to steal each other's top productive employees.

I just recently discovered from Wikipedia that Gibson was inspired by the urban drawings of Jean "Moebius" Giraud and other artists who worked on the magazine "Heavy Metal". It makes a lot of sense to understand his key cyberpunk novels as essentially visual and "urbanistic" experiences, i.e. not driven by a hard sf take on data visualization.

You really have to appreciate the "punk" as much as the "cyber". Especially in his early stuff, Gibson's message is punk --- "cyber" is just a setting.

Kind of feel weird posting this but a recent show, Mr. Robot feels like the next attempt at something kind of like "Hackers".

One of the early on episodes actually has a character musing aloud if some screen writer is making the next Hackers to incorrectly portray this generations technologist. As they watch Hackers on TV in a hotel. A bit tongue in check, because the show itself is doing exactly that.

It's actually quite good and surprisingly "accurate" on the technology bits and even some of the personalities.

-- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Robot_(TV_series)

I love Mr. Robot (even though it borrows rather heavily from Palahniuk, among others) and strongly recommend it to anyone who liked the movie Hackers. I particularly enjoyed the Hackers reference in that episode you mention. The character's contempt at the technical infeasibility of the data visualizations is well captured as I've probably heard that same criticism a million times by my "real hacker" friends who may have snorted derisively but still watched the film to its end multiple times.

What, no WarGames? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086567/

Granted, that one's more about the cold war than about hacking, but Swordfish is more about... um... I'm not exactly sure what that one's about...

I feel like having Swordfish in there at all skews your "weak side" of that list to the gutter. Not fair to Hackers to be so closely associated with Swordfish.

Edit: typo

Having swordfish in there at all, and not War Games, invalidates the list.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off deserves more credit than swordfish on social engineering alone!

Not to band-wagon it up, but I agree that Swordfish felt like an overly produced Mad TV sketch of a techno-action movie. Expensive cast - cringe worthy though.

Sneakers is an all time favorite of mine. If you like heist movies, I think you will find it to be a very satisfying example of the genre.

The Matrix? It is also unpleasantly fast predicting the future.

Sneakers is a better film: better written, better acting, and better expression of the motivations of real people... but it also falls down on technology.

Seeing this at 11 is honestly what made me interested in computers and pushed me towards my current career, so seeing that it is 20 years old is sort of a shock.

I can also certainly can relate to the portion of the audience that found phreaking much more interesting than hacking and the fact that the phreaking scene is all but dead is pretty sad.

If you missed the phreaking era like I did, do yourself a favour and read "Exploding the Phone": http://explodingthephone.com/ .

I once heard a story of a firefighter that used to love to watch the movie Backdraft just so he could point out all the inaccuracies. This was somewhat of my interest with Hackers in my younger years. Today, I get caught up in the 90's nostalgia. The article makes an interesting point that the movie is "one of only a handful of movies in the cybersecurity film canon". On top of that, I can't think of any cyber-ish movies that come close to matching the era and attitude of Hackers.

The earlier film, Sneakers [1] had some of the same ethos embedded, especially in the climax.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sneakers_(1992_film)

"We emphasized the use of psychedelic colors that the world of hacking was a mind-expanding experience for the kids."

Awesome quote. Computers/programming/"hacking" were definitely a mind-expanding experience for me as a teen. While "grown ups" saw a boring beige box, the machine felt alive with limitless possibilities to me.

love the film to pieces, never for the accuracy (tho it did accurately introduce many to the concepts of phreaking etc, simple stuff, tonedialing etc.whether technically displayed properly.....oh gosh it's all coming flooding back now)

There was a quote from Softley in the Art of the Title article about the opening titles http://www.artofthetitle.com/title/hackers/ where he says it was a Bridge. Being of a certain age, this totally was part of it. It was for the most part the peak of the modem/bbs days... and there was a transition between the more analog days to the real digital days, the days of the internet - where alot of the hacker culture, and things like the demo scene etc...became diluted. Anyways, never took it that seriously, I mean the characters alone are so out there, but it was inspiring from the whole computer thing to the music (legendary soundtrack, introducing a lot of ravey/UK type stuff to ppl, on the cusp of the whole electronica thing) and just the 90s nostalgia/tech nostalgia - it's great! And come on! Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller alone...the former going on to such massive success....

It's funny to think in another 20 years kids might see this movie and wonder what are those weird small rooms with phones that people go into all the time. And they have to pay money to make a call!?

I can already tell you that the idea that a phone number calls a house rather than a person is foreign to a 7-year-old.

Which is really as it should be. I also find it amusing when people are SHOCKED that a kid would have a cell phone. Sure, they don't need an extravagant $700 smartphone, but who needs a cell phone more? The adult with multiple credit cards, money, reliable transportation, and sits at a desk 8 hours a day with a telephone sitting right there on it? (and then commutes by comfortable car to a house that likely has a landline.. or at least used to when I originally formulated this argument)? Or the kid who rarely has access to a landline, no credit card, no transportation of their own, relies on others (school bus, parents, etc) for transportation to a schedule that might vary each day of the week, and who is much more likely to be "stuck" somewhere?

Perhaps they are available everywhere and I haven't noticed, but in Japan they have cellphones with 4 programmable buttons on them. You can't call anybody other than those 4 people. They are quite popular as emergency cell phones for children and the elderly (the latter because the buttons are really easy to push).

I met an one of the entrepreneurs behind the jitterbug(now known as a different company). Initially they focused it at parents wanting phones for their children, but now it's mostly for the elderly.

He said they failed at their market research - they tried to make something that appealed to parents, but neglected to see what kids actually wanted(to have things like the adults do). American kids knew it wasn't a real phone, and rejected it. Their parents then got them a flip phone instead of a "kiddie phone".

My 7 year old recently asked me, "What were iPhone's like when you were a kid?"


My six year old pointed at a pay phone asking "What's that?"

"It's a phone."

"No it's not! Where's the screen?"

I grinned and told him it has no screen, he was baffled as to how to use it.

It captures an optimistic spirit of the culture about as well as Hunter S. Thompson talking about the middle 60s:

DUKE (V/O): Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas.

(he gets up, pours himself a drink.)

DUKE (V/O): Has it been five years? Six? It seems like a lifetime -- the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. But no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.

DUKE throws open the curtains. Light streams in. Ext. 1965 Stock Footage: We are in San Francisco. Images of the time flood in.

DUKE (V/O): There was madness in any direction, at any hour... you could strike sparks anywhere there was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle -- that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. our energy would simply prevail.

We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...

DUKE's face is suffused with a sadness and serenity we have never seen before.

DUKE (V/O): So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark -- that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

The memories dissolve into the night skyline of Vegas. DUKE closes the curtain. The room is in darkness again.

Honestly the thing I remember most about Hackers was when the credit rolled and hearing Halcyon for the first time. That changed my music tastes permanently.

The most loved music soundtrack in my collection. These is also a Hackers 2 soundtrack (music inspired by). Both are pretty brilliant.

I was recently in Kiev and I happened to see the movie being broadcast on a small kitchen TV with VHF rabbit ears. So there was tons of static and it was dubbed with that deadpan style Russian that they typically do in movies without even trying to replicate the actors' emotions. I don't know exactly why, but it made me laugh out loud.

And consider just four years later "The Matrix" was released. It gives you an idea of how fast things were changing in the 90s.

This movie came out when I was 18 and I very much related to the characters in the story. My friends and I definitely stepped up our "hacker" game after seeing this film. I also bought the soundtrack on CD (that's something you did then) and it was what got me into techno/house music.

Funny side story: I grew up in LA and one of the things we got to do as teenagers was see pre-screenings of movies. This was usually before they were finished and rated, as a way for them to tweak the final product.

Hackers was one of those movies. They didn't change much except that Angelina Jolie unzips her jacket all the way to show her breasts. They cut the scene most likely to get their PG-13 rating, but 20 years later that scene is horribly sexist and a sign of the times.

> ...20 years later that scene is horribly sexist and a sign of the times.

IIRC, (and I may not RC) that scene is Jolie and Miller engaging in sexual role-play. A few moments later, we cut to what's actually going on: the pair is making out on a bed, and their friends have just walked in to deliver good news, but are currently gawping at the spectacle. Jolie notices the gawpers, gets up, calls them something off-color, and we get to hear the good news.

Is my memory of the scene dramatically off the mark, or am I missing the sexism?

These days, anything remotely sex-positive for heterosexuality is usually claimed to be sexist.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Quite. She's absolutely 100% in control and doing what she wants to do. I guess some people find that threatening and try to use a trigger word to shut it down.

I understand the appeal of making such a cathartic comment, but I'm trying to discover the root of jedberg's opinion. I expect that the reason behind his opinion will be substantially more nuanced than your comment makes it out to be. :)

I thought (but I'd have to watch the movie again) that the sexual Miller/Jolie scene was a dream Miller was having. He was alone in his room and woke up to cops (or possible the Plague) busting in and threathening him.

The sexism is that part that they cut -- the gratuitous nudity.

I feel that there is great value in a society that treats the bare female torso in the same way it treats the bare male torso. To treat each differently is sexist.

Moreover, it's pretty important for accessible examples of people engaging in healthy, sex-positive sexual activities to exist. There's a lot of repression, shaming, and misinformation out there about a thing that's -when done with a little bit of forethought and care- pretty fun.

Reasonable people may disagree, but that those are my opinions on the matter.

Or we could celebrate another 'Hackers' at 31 -- the 1F-th anniversary of Steven Levy's "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution", a fantastic book on the origins of hacking, which also helped me get my first job as a programmer. (My employer-to-be had just finished reading the book too and we talked about it during the interview.)

Thanks Steven. (And Greg.)


Hackers is pretty much The Craft for people in my trade: very silly, very 90s faux-edgy, and very fun. Originally I hated it, but then I was a dormmate in college with a skinny Russian kid who looked like he could walk straight off the set of this movie -- and he used the handle "Phreak". (He was into the MOD/tracker scene.) So eventually I came around to see its validity as an artifact of the cyberpunk zeitgeist.

And in a few ways it was accurate: it predicted (perhaps inspired?) the rise of case-modding.

I don't understand the hate. Hackers was a really great niche film. It wasn't going for the Oscar but when I saw it for the first time when I was 14 it got me excited about computers. Movie was fun and soundtrack was great. When I managed to compile and use my first exploit it felt like I was one of "them". Made a few friends online that I only knew by their "hacker names" and I even formed a team. Now that I think about it those were the fun times.

WarGames (1983)! I don't think this has been mentioned yet (?!).

The modem, hacking the phone companies, motivated by curiosity and paying no mind to whether or not one is breaking any rules, military misuse of technology, programs being used to ends not intentioned by its creator, command line, hacking alone, physical infrastucture comtrolled by software.

I mean, it had it all!

For an actually good hacker film, see 23 (1998), about the story of Karl Koch.

23 (the German original, not the similarily-named holkywood turky!) is great. Fwiw I love Hackers too, but they are so different, it's hard to compare them.

I also like "Hackers 2"/"Takedown" despite the various controversies (the book being a rip off of another book, the script being a rip off, both book and script being factually inaccurate etc).

Still now that Mitnicks own autobiography is out, while the movie might not be a kind treatment of him, or his friends. I still think it's quite a good hacker film, with some traces of accurancy (think "inspired by true events" rather than "based on").

Btw, the name "Hackers 2" was just an attempt at marketing - the two films have nothing to do with each other.

Or Sneakers, that's my favorite Hollywood hacker flick. It's a little campy in parts but surprisingly authentic and a lot of fun to watch.

When the producer of the movie Hackers appeared on AOL for a promotional chat room visit, some malicious technology lovers showed up and kept knocking them offline.


Here's a more detailed account of the background leading up to that attack.


Sneakers was better.

Sneakers is not only the best hacker movie (not that there are a lot to choose from), but its themes are eerily prescient -- secrecy, encryption, mass surveillance, control over information.

I haven't revisited it since Snowden happened, but I really ought to.

Sneakers has held up amazingly well to the passage of time. It didn't do anything impossible, just highly improbable.

If you haven't rewatched it in a while, it's worth watching again.

Eh. Sneakers' central plot point was a magic box that could crack all encryption. It was otherwise a great movie, and many of the physical "facility hacking" scenes were quite fun, but the magic box that breaks all ciphers was more than improbable. Maybe you could say it was a quantum computer :).

I always mentally substituted that for "hardware DES cracker", figuring that was what they were going for but didn't want to bore audiences with technobabble.

If you do that, the whole thing makes a lot more sense.

But they got the implications of it right. "There isn't a government in the world that wouldn't kill us all to get their hands on this." That is absolutely true. Whether or not such a device exists, or could possibly exist, is irrelevant.

And then the USA got it's hands on it and turned out to be super altruistic! I'd managed to maintain the illusion up to that point...

> Whether or not such a device exists, or could possibly exist, is irrelevant.

It is a little bit relevant in a post that is replying to another post that says nothing in Sneakers is impossible.


Putting on my tin foil hat ... one could imagine a box the size of a phonebook (or just a laptop) that could, when it encounters packets or encrypted data, send signatures and packets to the NSA data centers, and do the kind of matching/etc that they are building towards.

Heck, even having it try to decrypt the packet(s) in a distributed manner with $ALL_THE_KEYS that might have already been collected via nefarious means, and then return the key + plaintext that is most likely, certainly seems possible if the box was created by someone with the resources of the NSA.

I would be extremely surprised if someone were not already working on (or had not already created) something very much like that.

The box in Sneakers is a valuable theft target, implying it is not merely a frontend, or if the Russians got it the NSA would simply revoke its API keys, so to speak. It's also the product of a stroke of genius by a single cryptographer.

It has to be a breakthrough in factoring large numbers very quickly, like what quantum computers are promised to be. So maybe possible after all, I guess. It's also very clearly a device, not an algorithm, so probably not a Von Neumann machine.

>magic box that could crack all encryption

Not all, just protocols used in the west. From the script:

"Your codes are entirely different from ours. We never had any luck in breaking them so Lord knows, I wanted that box..."

Imagine heartbleed implemented on a RPi in a box.

Just substitute "MacGuffin" and the plot still works.

And if nothing else, it's a science-fiction thought experiment: what effect would such a box have?

Considering the current cryptographic protocols we use, a quantum computer would serve rather effectively as such a box. Then again, considering the positioning of cryptography at the time ("export-grade crypto", anyone?), so would a special-purpose ASIC designed to brute-force keys.

If you substitute "all ciphers" with "all known ciphers" and don a tin-foil hat, it works.

then again 'recommended' ciphers from last round came with a backdoor - which was in the press all over again in 2014 for whatever reason, but I remember Schneier talking about it immediately in 2007 after the preliminary results came out.

Yeah, the hacking in that was just right for a heist film (not technically impossible, but probably would fail 9 times out of 10), and the cast:

Robert Redford, Sydney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, River Phoenix, James Earl Jones, Dan Aykroyd... probably more, but that's 3 Oscar winners, and a fourth with a nomination in there alone...

> Robert Redford, Sydney Poitier, River Phoenix, James Earl Jones, Dan Aykroyd

Don't forget Ben Kingsley, another Oscar winner.

I was actually counting him, I've edited my post

Still haven't seen it though it's been regularly recommended to me for the last decade (ever since my...first or second 2600 meetup)

Do it. I've only seen Hackers once, maybe 15 years ago, but Sneakers is an all-time favorite.

I pretty much owe everything to this film, it's how I started with computers. I didn't even have one when I watched it but the moment it ended I said "That's what I want to do!". Never became a "hacker" but at least I'm a developer and do something I truly love.

As for the accuracy of the film, I don't really have much to say. I don't expect films to be "too" accurate, if they were they would be called "documentaries". It's cool to see Gibson they way it was and them turning traffic lights green etc.

"Hackers" wasn't accurate but it did bring about awareness for the need for computer security and strong passwords.

I think Hollywood should reboot it for the modern times.

Please, not with John Travolta and Hugh Jackman...

Ugh why them? The main characters in Hackers were teenagers who went out to explore cyberspace and see what was there and hack into it.

They had a "Hack the Planet" message in that movie.

It's a reference to Swordfish.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfy5dFhw3ik Because, you know, that's how hacking works...

Had nearly forgotten how much I hate that movie, and had definitely forgotten that Travolta has almost a Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg haircut.

I know. I was just referring to how Swordfish was so much worse than Hackers, even with the latter's inaccuracies.

It's time for a Jeri Ellsworth biopic anyway. With Flying biology books and car racing!!!

I think that would be premature. She's still kicking ass. At least wait until she's past middle age.

A movie that went from her childhood through her days in school to quitting school, racing, opening her store and becoming a hardware engineer up to her recent successful funding would be great. Plus we can always have a second movie for what she does later instead of yearly reboots like those Steve Jobs biopics. Pirates of Silicon Valley was completed before the release of the iPhone, right?

Mr.Robot is mostly accurate when it comes to computer security details.

Within the first few minutes they were talking about tor exit nodes. I knew very quickly I'd like the show.

Perfect timing for the Art of the Title to release this interview with the creators of the opening sequence: http://www.artofthetitle.com/title/hackers/

I submitted a link here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10227078 but in your terminal give the following command a whirl - it should output the text of Hackers.

nc z.ero.cool 1337

If you are in downtown Austin, this is actually playing at Alamo Drafthouse tonight(9/15).

And here I thought, "Steven Levy's book has been out longer than 20 years..."

I loved the OST, especially orbital's "Halcyon on and on". It's still on my 'snowboard' playlist. I still remember the intro scene vividly[1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pxb5YrDjDZ8 "New York - The City that never sleeps"...

FWIW - The 20th edition Blu Ray release has some great documentary materials talking about the cast attending computer meetups in character to get context. Also some bits with the costume designer talking about creating the the 'look' of the hackers.

Hackers was a landmark in my youth. I also really enjoyed the movie "23" about Karl Koch: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0126765/

This movie may have had bad visual depictions of computers and laughable tech references but it was what kicked me in the direction im headed now. Truly, a life changing moment for me watching this as a young teenager. Mess with the best...

I only just recently (about a month ago)... It wasn't horrible, but not having seen it when it came out it's hard to say what I would have though 20 years ago (when I was 20), and on BBSes and a few art/dist groups.

I love this film for the cheesiness of it all. But the odd thing, the whole heist angle was fairly accurate considering what most large scale 'hacks' are about: money.

I watched it on netflix the other day, and it still makes me cringe when phreak says "twenty eight point eight"

I still do not have a clue what a BLT drive might be... Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato ??? How is that possible?

He looks at his sandwich before he says it; he's showing that you don't even need accurate information to get people to do what you need.

sound potentially important, hurried.. and desperate for a favour- and people will try to help

Okay... How many times have you watched it to notice that minor detail? Just curious.

It was pretty noticeable on the first viewing IIRC. It's a common movie trope: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LineOfSightName

That's the joke. Dade was utilizing social engineering to obtain information from a security guard.

Realistic or not, it's a great example of how technology is never stronger than its weakest link, and often that link is human.

The abuse of acronyms causes wetware buffer overflows, I guess.

He also called himself Eddie Vedder. That was part of the fun!

I wonder if that's possibly an east coast vs. west coast thing. We always said point (south east).

I grew up in the south-east, but then moved out west... in both places we said fourteen-four and twenty-eight-eight.

Ah. I thought the OP was implying they said "dot".

We used both versions depending on context (twenty eight point eight and twenty eight eight). Might be an age thing though, I was post teen years when the movie came out and tended to hang out with a lot of overly precise military members/geeks.

Don't forget thirty-six-six.

Or thirty-three-six.

Grew up in North Texas, we all said point too.

Come on, he's the king of Nynex!

How old is Hackers? Not only does Nynex no longer exist as an independent entity, the company that acquired Nynex (Bell Atlantic) no longer exists as an independent entity (it exists as part of Verizon).


it's been a while since I've watched the movie: what's the context and what do you think it would be?

he's talking about a modem, and it should have been twenty eight eight.

I will pay good money for either a) a modern computer that mimics the clear laptop or b) Penn jillette to be my assistant.

bluebeep. toneloc. AOHell. attcard. Miss those days.

Did anyone ever have the "terminator" terminal program which had the hidden war dialer in it, which you accessed with the password "joshua"?

p.s. I still watch WarGames. :-)

That's mere a narcissistic (hipster's) self-delusion.

I still feel like an idiot at 40.


A hipster is mere a role-governed behavior with corresponding fashion and hairstyle.

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