Viruses and hacking, as seen on TV and in the movies

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
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@gcluley

SpooksWorking in the computer security industry, we’re pretty used to seeing malware and hacking misrepresented on our TV and movie screens.

The truth is that normally malware is pretty humdrum. There’s nothing much to see (after all, if a piece of malware announces its presence, it sort of makes it obvious to the computer’s owner that they have an infection), and any damage done is normally hard to present on the screen.

Spooks and the DDoS submarine
BBC TV drama “Spooks”, which follows the complicated lives of MI5 agents, has flirted with malware and hacking on multiple occasions – almost always unrealistically.

For instance, the episode where the secret service uncovers a plot by Russia to destroy the British economy by launching a DDoS attack against all the country’s computers. How are the Ruskies going to achieve it? By using a submarine, of course.

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Not just any old submarine, but one which can intercept deep sea internet communications cables in the North Atlantic and launch an attack directly to British shores.

Fortunately, MI5 has a “zero day virus” and 30 seconds in which to launch a counter-attack against the sub.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oTZFDrmE30&w=500&h=311&start=130&rel=0]

Swordfish
And who can forget “Swordfish”? Baddy John Travolta wants hacker Hugh Jackman to hack into a Department of Defense computer system – and only gives him 60 seconds to do the job.

Travolta’s female friend Helga helps Hugh with a problem he’s having with his coaxial cable in a scene that’s possibly NSFW:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUY8HysBzsE&w=500&h=311&rel=0]

Not your normal interview technique.

NCIS
Navy cop show NCIS came under an attack from hackers that was so severe, they had two people using the same keyboard to try to deflect it!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8qgehH3kEQ&w=500&h=311&rel=0]

Fortunately the oldest way to protect yourself from internet threats prevails. Unplug yourself.

CSI: New York
The good folks at CSI are on the trail of the Cabbie Killer. Fortunately, they have a technical whiz in their team:

“I’ll create a GUI interface using Visual Basic, see if I can track an IP address”.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkDD03yeLnU&w=500&h=311&rel=0]

Visual Basic? Simply fantastic. You go girl! You’re l33t!

Jurassic Park
It’s 1993, and dinosaurs have been brought back to life. Things aren’t going well… but never fear because..

“It’s a Unix system.. I know this!”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFUlAQZB9Ng&w=500&h=311&rel=0]

Maybe you do, but wouldn’t it be quicker to open a command prompt than go through the clunky 3D interface?

The Matrix
Turns out that the Matrix is running some flavour of Unix. Could it have been installed by the same guys who installed the systems at Jurassic Park?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51lGCTgqE_w&w=500&h=311&rel=0]

But it must be tricky for Trinity to type quickly wearing leather gloves, surely?

Bones
And now our friends at F-Secure have blogged about an episode of US TV series “Bones”, which takes things to a whole new level of lunacy.

Computers burst into flames because of a “malware fractal” that was imprinted on a shooting victim’s bones shut the computer’s fans off when the bones were scanned into the computer, thus uploading the virus.

Check out the video here.

Do you have any more examples of amusing uses of malware and hacking in TV shows and movies. Leave us a comment and let us know. We’ll add the best to this list.


Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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