December, almost the end of another year, and what a year it has been. It started with Brexit, and as the months went by our lives were impacted even more that you and I would ever imagine by a pandemic. Lockdowns all over the place. No more meeting with frieds and relatives. Video conferencing and working from home became the new standard almost overnight. In the Netherlands bars and restaurants are still closed, so what to do with your time in the evenings and nights?
I, for one, love to read, and many of you who follow me on social media (especially LinkedIn and Twitter) know my taste in books and literature is quite broad. But this is not a blog about books, because sometimes you just want to relax and have the story unfold before your very eyes without having to use your own imagination. Therefor I want to provide a top-whatever of hacker or hacking related movies I recommend to you. This top-whatever is not a sequence going from best to less, but should be read the same way as the OWASP top-10, just an overview of hacking movies I happen to like (as a matter of fact, I will even include some movies I did not really like, but since taste differ from person to person I have included these as well).
Sneakers – A Hacker named Bishop leads a team of experts that test the security of companies. They discover a black box that can crack any encryption, posing a huge threat if it lands in the wrong hands.
Three days of the Condor – CIA analyst Joe Turner, scours new publications for material that might be of use to US intelligence. It is his life, but while Joe is out to lunch, the entire office staff is killed. Joe wants to find out who or what is responsible. More recently a more modern version of this story was broadcast in a tv-serie called Condor.
Tron – I guess this is one of the earliest hacking films. A computer hacker learns an executive at his company has been stealing his work and is abducted into the world of virtual reality and forced to participate in gladiatorial games.
War Games – High school student hacks into a military supercomputer called War Operation Plan Response (WOPR) in this classic and activates the US nuclear arsenal, at a time when most people didn’t know what hacking was.
Hackers – A young boy is back on the scene seven years after being banned from computers for writing a virus that caused the biggest stock exchange crash in history. He and his friends discover a plot to unleash a dangerous computer worm and must prove that a sinister superhacker is framing them while being pursued by the Secret Service and the evil computer genius behind the attack.
Hackers - Wizards of the Electronic Age – Yup, a direct link to the actual documentary about the hacker community. It includes footage of interviews with some of the programmers that created the PC revolution, including Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. Filmed at a hacker conference held in Sausalito, California.
23 - Nichts ist so wie es scheint – After the orphaned Karl Koch and his friend David start breaking into government and military computers, an acquaintance senses that there is money in computer cracking - and travels to east Berlin to try to contact the KGB. Based on a true story; you should also read the book “The Cuckoo’s Egg” by Clifford Stoll.
The Net – A computer programmer who lives a reclusive life is looking forward to time off when she becomes aware of a conspiracy. Her vacation turns into a nightmare when someone tries to kill her and her identity is stolen. She must prove who she is while trying to figure out why someone wants her dead.
Takedown – The somewhat controversial movie version of the manhunt for Kevin Mitnick is based on the book of the same title by John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura (although the full version of the title is rather presumptuous: “Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America’s Most Wanted Computer Outlaw – By The Man Who Did It.”). In the US the title of this movie is “Track Down”.
The Matrix – When a computer hacker Neo is led to a forbidding underworld, he discovers the shocking truth: the life he knows is the elaborate deception of an evil cyber-intelligence.
Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale Jr. is one of the world’s most respected authorities on forgery, embezzlement, and secure documents. He started as one of the most notorious social engineers and counterfitter tracked down by FBI agent Carl Henratty.
Blackhat – Convicted hacker Nicholas Hathaway (I do wonder why the hackers in more modern movies are almost always convicted? And no, I will not comment further on this) joins a team of American and Chinese (really?) technical experts to track down a Balkan cyberterrorist operating in Southeast Asia.
Swordfish – A covert counter-terrorist unit led by Gabriel Shear plots to steal a large fortune. He enlists Ginger to persuade Stanley Jobson, who spent (only) two years in prison for hacking an FBI program, to help.
The stuff above was just a preview of the full blog post. I have included some other worthwhile movies and documentaties as well in the days following the original blog. I also included some links to trailers and as you may have noticed some titles actually play the complete film. Have fun with these, and also check out the book titles included in the comments.
Firewall – A security specialist named Jack Stanfield is forced into robbing the bank that he is protecting, as a bid to pay off his family’s ransom.
Mr. Robot – Although not really a movie, but a TV show, I just had to include this here, because it comes very close to home. The protagonist Elliot, is a brilliant but highly unstable young cyber-security engineer and vigilante hacker, who becomes a key figure in a complex game of global dominance when he and his shadowy allies try to take down the corrupt corporation he works for.
The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo – This Swedish film had an English remake in 2011 featuring my personal favorite James Bond actor Daniel Craig. Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker, helps Journalist Mikael Blomkvist in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years.
Ghost in the Shell – Although I also like the (original) animation with the same name. Major Mira Killian is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.
The Girl in the Spiders Web – Another movie featuring young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist. This time they find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.
Zero Days – No overview can even be complete, but this documentary must be included. It is focused on Stuxnet, a piece of self-replicating computer malware that the U.S. and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility, and which ultimately spread beyond its intended target. As a matter of fact you should also read Sandworm by Andy Greenberg, and if you master the Dutch language “Het is Oorlog, Maar Niemand die het Ziet” by Huib Modderkolk.
Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web – A documentary about Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, accused of money laundering, racketeering, and copyright infringement.
Snowden – Edward Snowden, while working as for The NSA, collects and eventually leaks to the press, proof in the form of thousands of classified documents of their illegal surveillance techniquess. And sure enough, you should also read his autobiography Permanent Record.
We are Legion – Guess I want you to start reading, because even though this is a very interesting documentary on the hacker collective Anonymous, there is also the book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy, The many faces of Anonymous by Gabriella Coleman you should really read.
Reboot – A young female hacker wakes up from a traumatic event that she can not completely remember with an iPhone glued to her hand. On the phone, a countdown is ticking down to zero and fellow hackers must help her solve the puzzle.
The Social Network – Nothing new here; now well known Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg creates the social networking site that would become known as Facebook, he is sued by the twins who claimed he stole their idea, and by the co-founder who was later squeezed out of the business.
Hackers Wanted – I was unsure if I should include this one in the list. This American documentary was originally named “Can You Hack It?”. It follows Adrian Lamo, an infamous hacker, and explores the origins of hacking and nature of hackers.
Code 2600 – Another documentary exploring the Information Technology Age, told by the events and people who helped build it and the events that shaped it.
Underground: The Julian Assange Story – An Australian film that looks at the early career of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, from the start as a teenage computer hacker in Melbourne. I presume there will be another movie or documentry on his still evolving life in the very near future.
Hackers are People Too – Perhaps some writers, journalists, and the general public should take their bag of popcorn, favorite drink, and watch this film. As the description on IMDB says: “Hackers do laundry. Hackers like movies. Hackers are people and could be your neighbors, your brother, your friends. Presenting a portrait of the hacking community, created by the community themselves, this film breaks down negative stereotypes by letting hackers show you that they are really no different from anyone else. Delving into areas such as the way hackers think, what is hacking, hackers in the media, and women in the security/hacking field, this film will have you questioning your ideas about what a ‘hacker’ really is.”
Freedom Downtime – This 2600 documentary covers the plight of Kevin Mitnick, from the standpoint that Miramax misrepresented him in the film “Takedown.”
Hackers in Wonderland – Another documentary, this time located in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It includes interviews with prominent hackers who reveal what drives them.
Hippies from Hell – Any overview of movies and documentaries on hackers and hacking should include this film by Ine Poppe. It provides some insight in this community that was closely related to the introduction of the internet in the Netherlands.
Sure enough the overview is not complete. It can and will never be. For instance, next year will the new Matrix 4 movie will be released, and even while The Matrix - Revolutions disappointed, although The Matrix - Reloaded was quite ok, I am still looking forward to that one. Perhaps I will write another blog on this subject, who knows. But that will have to wait for some other time.