Computers are magic and hackers are wizards. We get it. We’ve seethed and snorted our way through outlandish depictions of the stereotypical hacker genius archetype… But these five are the dumbest hackers in Hollywood.
Real hacking doesn’t look or sound exciting on screen. The image of hacking into endless echoing hallways of big iron is sexier than a camera cutaway to a server farm. There are no glowing 36-point fonts, no extreme GUIs, the up arrow doesn’t control every command on every window. Dueling hackers, malevolent hacker caves, a godlike ability to corrupt any computer, anywhere… It plays much better than the real thing.
In the real world, you don’t have to be a genius, or evil, or an evil genius to be a hacker. Most of us are “white hats”, finding exploitable bugs in websites to make the Internet a safer and stronger place. Give it a try, if you like: sites like Hack This Site exist so you can learn or hone your hacking skills for fun and profit.
Naturally, Hollywood doesn’t care about any of that. Here are the five dumbest hackers we’ve ever seen on screen:
1. These Two Idiots: NCIS
“I’m getting hacked!” “No way!” Yikes. Here’s a scene featuring miracle wpm rates from two people on the same keyboard. It’s astounding.
A few months back, there was a sort of confessional reddit thread from a user who claims to have written for crime procedurals. He/she admits to a one-upmanship between screen writers to see who can get the most ridiculous and inaccurate with their on-screen hacker characters.
2. Everyone: Hackers (1995)
Consider Hackers a camp classic. It’ll make watching it more fun (a young, short-haired Angelina Jolie helps), though every word that comes out of the mouth of The Plague (played to caricature by the inimitable Fisher Stevens) is cringe-worthy.
- Dade: “RISC is good.”
- Plague: “The FBI computer holds files on twenty million Americans. I just hacked into it.”
- Teacher: “Name?” Cereal Killer: “Uh… Emmanuel Goldstein, sir.”
- Kate: “Kill the Gibson.”
- Cereal Killer: “We have just gotten a wake-up call from the Nintendo Generation.”
- Plague: “You wanted to know who I am, Zero Cool? Well, let me explain the New World Order. Governments and corporations need people like you and me. We are Samurai… the Keyboard Cowboys… and all those other people who have no idea what’s going on are the cattle… Moo.”
Hack the planet!
3. Detective Lindsay Monroe: CSI:NY
This scene completely assumes American audiences have technophobia and/or that they are computer illiterate.
“I’ll create a GUI interface using Visual Basic, see if I can track an IP address…” Because a traceroute would have been too… boring?
4. Gabriel: Swordfish (2001)
Which is harder, manually brute-forcing 128-bit encryption (when they’re already in the file system?!) or maintaining your… posture with a gun to your head? Correct. It’s the latter.
Not that the Department of Defense would be dealing with 128-bit RSA in the first place, but then again, neither does Swordfish:
Gabriel: Here’s the deal. I need a worm, Stanley. A hydra, actually.
Ginger: A multi-headed worm to break an encryption and then sniff out latent digital footprints throughout an encrypted network.
Stanley: What kind of cipher?
Gabriel: Vernam encryption.
Stanley: A Vernam’s impossible. Its key code is destroyed upon implementation. Not to mention being a true 128-bit encryption.
Ginger: Actually, we’re talking 512-bit.
We’ll assume they’re referring to a one-time pad when they mention Vernam. It’s unbreakable at 128-bit, but they decide they want to make it 2384 times harder to crack. Obviously, someone who knows encryption helped the writers with the numbers; obviously, they weren’t listening.
5. Jeff Goldblum: Independence Day (1996)
He uploads a virus to the alien mothership, which destroys it… Never mind. This one is just like real life.
Bonus: can you watch this video of the world’s worst dumbest hacker without laughing?