Why Does the Community Like Mr. Robot?

Mr Robot is a good representation of real hacking

Surf channels most times of the day and you’ll see someone in scrubs, possibly in an operating room.

Most TV stations have at least one show where there’s a doctor doing doctor-like things, and we find that intriguing and interesting. These are shows dealing with severe matters of life and death, showing people (just like us!) doing very important things: operating on heart ventricles and finding bleeding and doing other things we can’t pronounce the medical terms for.

Do you know who probably dislikes these shows the most? Actual doctors. They groan at accuracy issues and the fact that everyone looks well rested and collected. The rest of the public has this issue, too: everyone sees in every show about his field an exaggeration and distortion of what actually occurs in that field.

Every cop show that’s out there? Watch with real cops, and you’ll see the police officers thinking to themselves at certain points: no, that’s not how you do the process. Firefighters don’t have lives quite like that. Lawyers aren’t always that well dressed.

And hackers are the same, if not worse.

Hackers have been subject to the worst stereotypes in TV. Doctors can complain about the details, but they’re not always the bad guys or resident “nerd type.”

TV shows treat hackers like a magical mythical beast who allows the storyline to go along – the McGuffin.

A simple “I can do this” at the computer and it’s working now. Or does the detective need a clue? Send the awkward guy in glasses to the computer for two seconds, rinse and repeat. Is a character socially awkward or devious or criminally intent? These are the stereotypes we’re usually forced to deal with.

It’s not all bad. To some degree, hackers in general have been OK with the status quo; the reality is that we don’t really care so much about how we’re portrayed. TV is fiction, but what we want is to be at least represented as being intelligent and doing our craft well. And most of these shows have failed in that department. Some of the better examples include the infamous NCIS scene with two people working on one keyboard scene, or the numbers scene (now a meme) using Visual Basic, or really most of CSI: Cyber.

Mr. Robot is a refreshing and wonderful instance in history where we actually get to see an attacker – Elliott – and his crew, doing technically sound and accurate hacking.

It’s like if you saw an ER show and the doctors talked about the procedures that needed to occur (in the way that they actually would) and needed to prescribe the things that would show up in real life. Mr. Robot resonates not only because it’s a good TV show, well made with a thought-out storyline. Mr. Robot shows a hacker as a more than one dimensional character – he’s the doctor operating on TV when the real doctors approve of how the scalpel is being used.

I and the Pwnie team are big fans of the show, and what we’d like to do is to help further the discourse – a lot of people talk about how well thought out the attacks are, and have walked through the technical details of how they were done. We want to acknowledge the elephant in the room: these are unauthorized attacks on systems.

Hackers work for good, but the show also needs to serve as a lesson to the good guys for how to protect ourselves. So because we’re Pwnie Express and defensive in nature, using the red team to protect the blue team, in the leadup to Season 2 we will be doing an ongoing series of posts as to what would have stopped some of these attacks, and what would’ve worked to be more effective defenses against the attacks seen in Mr. Robot.

Stay tuned
Jayson E. Street

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