The top 10 hacker movies and series of our IT security consultants
by Tina Siering
"23" is a German production. The film is set in the 1980s and is based on true events. At that time, the first hacker clubs were formed. This was also the case in Hanover, when 19-year-old Karl meets David, a talented hacker who manages to penetrate government and military networks. Due to a lack of money, the two become spies for the KGB. As the film progresses, Karl drifts into drug addiction and loses himself in virtual reality. His activities are exposed when he demonstrates for a television station how he hacks into the systems of a nuclear power plant.
For IT security experts, "23" is particularly interesting, as it highlights many factors that also exist in reality. Hackers are not infrequently young, talented IT specialists, some of whom have taught themselves the skills. The incentive of quick money tempts these people to commit cybercrime or even makes them exciting for foreign intelligence services.
Zero Days (2016)
IMDB Rating: 7.8
In the number 1 spot is "Zero Days", a documentary that deals with the Stuxnet virus. This film gives the background and real developments around the Stuxnet malware. In 2010, Stuxnet was discovered for the first time. This malware had mainly infected computers in Iran and disrupted the Iranian government's nuclear program at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. Stuxnet exhibits a very specific behavioral pattern and infects motor controllers originating from the Finnish manufacturer Vacon and controlled by Simatic S7 SCADA systems from Siemens. This peculiarity quickly led to suspicions that the governments of the USA and Israel were behind Stuxnet, using this malware for planned sabotage attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities. If you work in the field of IT security, this documentary is a must-see.
Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Genre: Science Fiction/Action
IMDB Rating: 7.2
"Matrix Reloaded" is the second installment of the Matrix series, which created a buzz in theaters at the turn of the millennium. The setting of Matrix is a futuristic world where reality and digital fiction blur. Keanu Reeves as Neo is the main protagonist, who fights as the chosen one together with the rebels. In "Matrix Reloaded," the rebels hack the control systems of a power plant, using methods that are quite realistic. For example, the rebels use the port scanner Nmap to find vulnerabilities in the network. Even more interesting is that a vulnerability in SSH is exploited, which actually existed at the time and became known as SSH1 CRC32. "Matrix Reloaded" is also exciting from today's perspective because with inventions like VR and Neuralink or platforms like the Metaverse, parts of the film's storyline are within reach.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
IMDB Rating: 8.1
"Catch me if you can" stars some of Hollywood's biggest stars. Leonardo DiCaprio takes the lead role of Frank Abagnale Jr. Other roles include Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen. "Catch Me If You Can" adapts a true incident. Young Frank Abagnale Jr. tried to make a life for himself in New York in the mid-1960s, but couldn't make enough money. He used methods now known as social engineering to obtain blank checks from banks. Thus, he changed his date of birth, pretended to be a pilot for the Pan Am airline or a doctor. This pretend persona gave him the benefit of the doubt and allowed him to generate about $2.5 million via check fraud. Later, Abagnale provided his knowledge of social engineering to the FBI and became one of the first experts in the field.
How To sell Drugs online (fast) (2019)
IMDB Rating: 7.9
"How To sell Drugs online (fast)" is a series produced in Germany and started airing on Netflix in 2019. The plot centers on two young men, Moritz and Lenny, who begin to set up an online mail-order business for drugs. Under the name MyDrugs, the two sell ecstasy via the darknet.
This series also finds its role model in reality, namely in 18-year-old Maximilian Schmidt. Between 2013 and 2015, he operated a drug mail order business from his parents' home in Leipzig. How To sell Drugs online (fast)" focuses on the darknet, which is actually a trading center for drugs and other illegal activities.
Mr. Robot (2015-2019)
IMDB Rating: 8.5
The first episode of the series "Mr. Robot" aired in 2019 on the channel USA Network. This series is about the life of a young IT security specialist, Elliot Alderson, who works for an IT security company called Allsafe Cybersecurity in New York. There he is responsible for the digital protection of E Corp, a major global corporation. At the same time, Elliot suffers from an identity disorder and is therefore not very mentally stable. One day he is contacted by an anarchist hacker group that has the goal of destroying the world economy. For this group called fsociety, E Corp is one of the main targets and Elliot gets recruited.
"Mr. Robot" describes what is known in IT security as an insider threat. Criminals make direct contact with individuals they know have access to the desired systems. Then these targets are recruited, sometimes via social engineering, and the attackers abuse the trust and access rights of these insiders.
The Imitation Game (2014)
IMDB Rating: 8.0
"The Imitation Game" is about the attempts of the British during World War II to crack the Enigma code of the Germans. The film is based on the true events that took place at the Government Code and Cypher School in Bletchley Park starting in 1939. The plot centers on Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who built computing machines to crack messages encrypted with Enigma.
Turing made a name for himself as one of the early computer scientists as well as a logician, mathematician and cryptanalyst. For IT security consultants, this film is interesting because it shows the origins of encryption technology as well as the approach to crack such encodings. This topic is very important nowadays, because technological progress improves both the algorithms for encoding and the ways to decode them.
IMDB Rating: 7.3
Edward Snowden is not just a household name to IT security experts. The 2016 film biopic by Oliver Stone sheds light on the life of the former CIA and NSA employee who became known as a whistleblower. In 2013, Snowden stole secret documents from the NSA archives and published them. Among them was information about spying programs of American intelligence agencies, which revealed, among other things, that total surveillance of global Internet traffic is already a reality.
Edward Snowden's story shows different sides of digitalization, as well as the threat posed by such systems. On the one hand, the revelations show the power that a central organization like the NSA can gain with the help of digital systems. On the other hand, it also becomes clear that a single person, i.e. the human factor, can bring down even the most secret system.
Hackers - In the Net of the FBI (1995)
IMDB Rating: 6.3
The crime thriller "Hackers - In the Net of the FBI" portrays the fictional life of two hackers Dade Murphy aka Crash Override and Acid Burn. At the age of eleven, Murphy develops a computer virus and brings Wall Street's computer center to a standstill. He is not allowed to operate a computer again until he is 18 and then meets Acid Burn, played by Angelina Jolie, on the Internet. In the course of the film, the hackers tangle with a petroleum company, the Secret Service, and another hacker who is pursuing his own financial interests.
The procedures and techniques in "Hackers - In the FBI's Web" are quite unrealistic. Nevertheless, the movie has a cult following in IT security consultant circles, since the entire plot revolves around hacking. What is realistic, on the other hand, are the targets of viruses and hackers that are shown. The cybercriminals with personal, financial interests can be found in reality just like groups of young hackers who penetrate the networks of large corporations in their free time.
The Social Network (2010)
IMDB Rating: 7.7
"The Social Network" films the origin story of Facebook, the most famous social network of our time. The film focuses biographically on Mark Zuckerberg, the inventor and founder of Facebook. The plot deviates from the actual story of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Nevertheless, "The Social Network" was a great success at the box office.
The Social Network" is less about IT security issues and more about people's behavior on the Internet in general. Social media have changed the lives of many people. This includes the fact that users are often unaware of the consequences of openly presenting their own data on the Internet and disclosing connections with friends and family.