What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Hacking

We’ve all seen them – the movies where a nefarious group of hackers breaks into a government or financial institution and madness ensues. Sometimes the good guys are the ones doing the hacking. The movies provide the thrill, but they also play into common tropes about “hacking” and cyber heists without matching the reality modern business’ face.

Sometimes to beat a hacker you have to think like a hacker which means thinking like hackers in the movies won’t get you very far. Every now and then movies and shows get it right, like the show Mr. Robot which actually had professional hackers on staff for accuracy. Even the best examples need to take liberties for entertainment purposes.

We want to dispel the Hollywood myths about hacking to give you a more realistic view of these threats.

Myth: hacking is done in the spur of the moment

One of the most common representations of hacking in Hollywood is someone sitting down at their computer and frantically trying to beat the clock to hack into a system. They’re punching text into their keyboard hoping to find the right combination before it’s too late.

In reality, hackers go through a lot of trial and error to get into these systems. These can often take long periods of time and many hackers get caught because their failed attempts get caught by the system they’re attempting to break into. It’s entirely possible a frantic hacker has pulled off a big heist or two but, generally, trial and error will take time.

Myth: government and corporate IT teams are stupid

We get a kick out of this one. There’s always that one schlub on an IT team in movies who gets targeted as the “in” for the hackers to break into a massive corporation or even the government. He’s sitting at his desk, fingers covered in sauce from a cheeseburger when suddenly he sees something wrong and foolishly tries to fix it himself (maybe he even falls for an obvious phishing scam himself).

In reality, these big-time organizations have big-time IT teams made up of the best of the best. That doesn’t mean mistakes don’t happen – but these teams work closely to keep hackers away. In fact, many of these IT teams have professional hackers on staff who are paid to try and find loopholes in their own systems before hackers do.

Myth: hacking takes down big companies

Earlier we mentioned the show Mr. Robot where a hacking group aims to take down the world’s biggest company to free people from debt. Over the course of the show, we see the real damage to society and the people who have to suffer because of the hack. Many movies show the opposite – with people celebrating in the streets after an “evil” corporation is brought to its knees by hackers.

In reality, these big companies have the means to survive even the nastiest of hacks. Generally, they have a rainy day fund for cases like this, and will bounce back over time. Unfortunately, many people that work there may lose their jobs, and clients of those companies may suffer greater consequences in the recovery.

Ultimately, your best defense for hacking is to live in reality and understand the intentions and talents of real-life hackers. The movies get it wrong and that’s probably for the best because in cases where they get too realistic experts panic. At Stolen Asset Recovery Network, we face real hackers and help companies recover when these heists take place. Find a member of our network if you think you’ve been the target of a hacking scheme or need help getting back on track.

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STARNet, which is short for Stolen Asset Recovery Network, is a global alliance of independent law firms created to provide financial institutions and governments with multi-disciplinary services across countries and jurisdictions for locating, freezing, and ultimately recovering stolen assets related to cyber heists, fraud or corruption.

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