Culture and tech collide to make the public aware of cyber threats.
The geeks have long been told that they will inherit the Earth, and flicking on a television recently you might be forgiven for thinking it has already happened.
Hackers have been popping up in all sorts of programmes this year, notably the latest CSI spin off Cyber (broadcast in the UK on Channel 5), and Mr. Robot (available on Amazon Video). Both series started this year, and have been commissioned for a second season.
It is all rather a move from the how Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller took on the issue of cyber security in the 1995 film Hackers, which still evokes rather strong reactions from real hackers 20 years on.
CSI: Cyber is based in the FBI’s elite cyber crime unit in Washington D.C., starring Patricia Arquette and James Van Der Beek. The team tackle murders, school shootings, and robbery with the use of cyber forensics…and a S.W.A.T team, naturally.
Mr. Robot tells the story of Elliot Alderson, a cyber security engineer gone rogue, and is considered by people working in the cyber security industry as one of the most accurate depictions of hacking and computer science we’ve ever had on our screens. Think House of Cards with hackers.
British programmes that have depicted some elements of hacking and cyber crime have fared less well than their US counterparts. While Adrian Lester’s band of tech savvy con artists in Hustle survived 8 seasons, Hunted did one season, before poor reception saw it shunted to Cinemax from BBC One, and then get the spin off treatment.
The Hackers film was all payphones and rollerblades, accompanied by some decidedly dodgy dialogue and graphics. Today’s tales of hacking are much slicker and darker – less pay phone, more Raspberry Pi. The way devices and code are displayed are also far more accurate than the rather dubious imagery of diving into a screen deployed in the film.
Indeed, Mr. Robot’s makers have been obsessive in realistically showing hacking. So much focus was put on this, that the programme even received praise from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, according to star Rami Malek in the Guardian. "When you realise how much he knows about government spying tactics… it feels like we’re doing a very accurate job," Malek said.
These programmes, as well as being binge watching ready boxsets for over the Christmas break, help highlight the threats cyber criminals pose, reaching people who may never have looked into the issues before. In the current climate of TalkTalk and VTech, increased awareness of cyber threats amongst the general public can only be a positive thing.
Norman Shaw, CEO of mobile security firm ExactTrak told CBR: "Anything that raises the awareness of crime in general has to be a good thing and TV shows such as Mr Robot that raise the profile of cyber crime is no exception. However, it’s a well known fact that human error is the biggest cause of data breaches so while it’s lovely for these TV shows to raise awareness of what some would call the sexier side of data breaches, and for the Chancellor to plan a £1.9 billion cyber investment, I have to ask, where’s the investment in training people who deal with data to better understand how to protect it?"
No doubt law makers currently pushing for greater surveillance powers will also delight in the depictions of digital tools helping tackle serious criminals, as happens every episode in CSI: Cyber.
Given what we’re told by Mr Snowden the world as portrayed by programmes such as CSI could be accurate. This is a world where after running around for 40 minutes one of the good guys types something into a database to identify the culprit and then tracks a mobile phone in order to pinpoint them to a warehouse for the inevitable shootout.
With cyber crime so mainstream we are ready for something a bit more realistic and whole lot more techie. If cyber security went mainstream in 2015, maybe that is what we can look forward to in 2016.