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How accurate are technical parts of the show Mr. Robot? How accurate it is in portraying the lives of hackers? I'm interested in tehnical jargon and the way Elliot get's his information.

I didn't like how Tyrell (in ep. 2) installed his spyware on a lover's phone in only one minute, also the way that street peddler hacked Angela's boyfriend laptop and got all her data and credit cards numbers by CD. Is that possible?.

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    When it comes to hacking kind of stuff. You need to know the principle of Suspension of disbelief. Me too software developer its too boring dude as compared to movies. – Panther Jul 13 '15 at 9:21
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    All sorts of hijinks are possible using music CDs; look up the Sony rootkit scandal as an example. – Liesmith Jul 13 '15 at 11:56
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    Thus far it seems mostly to focus on a) social hacks and b) rootkits, so to that extent, it's fairly accurate. – DA. Jul 13 '15 at 16:24
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As per TV/Film standard much of the technical details are based in reality but only loosely. Many of the overall terms are appropriate but their use is exaggerated in terms of power and time-to-use. Certainly the first scene on episode 1 where he 'shops in' the pornographer would be perfectly easy to execute as would be the 'phone hack' when he calls up the dog owner guy for his personal details. But much of the purely technical details were accelerated or too convenient for dramatic reasons; the speed of close-down of the DDOS, the change of directory permissions would have been found and queried very quickly, the falsification of evidence that puts the guy in jail etc. - all a bit 'BS'.

To my knowledge there's only ever been one TV/film that genuinely accurately showed coding in a realistic setting and that was 'The Social Network' - they used real archived code and never pulled any stupid tricks.

  • In fact, the very first scene has a miss-use of the acronym AFK (Away From Keyboard). Saying 'I went AFK for this one' would imply that you were not involved at all, not that you were away from your screen. – SGR Dec 30 '16 at 9:14
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They intentionally left out some details in order to keep things technically possible.

To add to the other comments:

A hacker's comfort zone is in front of the computer so to me it seems highly unrealistic that Elliot will just go to Steel mountain, pass through several levels of security, talk with strangers and risk to get caught. He was not afraid to be seen by cameras and to leave his fingerprints all over the place. This is absurd for the kind of proficient hacker he is portrayed to be.

I don't believe hackers will just meet in person like that. It seems likely only if they've known each other for a very long time.

The security of Steel mountain and Allsafe is extremely low. Elliot was able to get to level 1 without real identification or security check. Then he was left alone at level 1 to do whatever he likes. Anybody can enter the Allsafe office, given just a valid card. That person can bring anything with them on their way in and out. It's not reasonable that a computer in Allsafe will start executing a CD automatically after it is inserted. And then the company was hacked too easily only with access to an arbitrary computer in the office.

A lot of things seemed to happen too fast (like writing exploits for hours instead of days).

This is all I can think of. Overall this is one of the most realistic computer-related movies I've ever watched.

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    I have talked with security consultants doing an analysis of our business, and that kind of operation of real. One of their tests (which thankfully we had not paid for) was having someone physical enter the installation and see how far he could talk himself into. Of course, I would bet he has not the same personality traits that they guy who likes to spend 14+ hours a day in front of a computer screen. – SJuan76 Aug 21 '16 at 16:58
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Obviously the show is a work of fiction, so a lot of liberties are taken with plot elements for the sake of good storytelling. But the reason the show is so compelling is precisely because many of the things these hackers do is technically plausible, even if their plan is too ambitious to actually succeed in real life, too complex to be carried out by only 4 or 5 people, and with too many layers to be accounted for in the time frame that the show presents.

That being said, I find the show brilliantly done because the writers did not treat the audience like idiots who don't know anything about these whiz-bang computer thingamajigs that can only be operated by socially inept nerd-wizards with their voodoo magic skillz and foreign-language techno-babble.

Here are some examples where the show got things right:

  • In the pilot episode, Elliott discovers a rootkit on a compromised server during a DDoS attack on E-Corp's network, which was disguised as a startup daemon. Anyone who's ever run Windows Updates knows you have to reboot the computer afterwards. The DDoS attack was just a ruse to get E-Corp to reboot their servers so the rootkit could load. Rootkits are a real thing, and installing a startup process is a thing that real viruses do.
  • Using an exploit to compromise a corporate network and steal a customer database is a common real-life occurrence. Just ask Yahoo! about their 2013 data breach where every single account -- passwords included -- was stolen.
  • The commands you see Elliott typing in on various computers are real Linux commands that are used correctly in the show. In multiple scenes throughout the series, Elliott is seen using Kali Linux, which is an actual Linux distro used for penetration testing.
  • When Elliott steals someone's data, he burns it onto a music CD using a program called DeepSound, which uses audio steganography to encode data into audio files. DeepSound is a real program you can download for exactly this purpose, and real-world spies have been using steganography for centuries to send hidden messages to each other.
  • When touring Steel Mountain's storage facility in Season 1, Episode 5, Elliott connects a Raspberry Pi loaded with malware to their HVAC system, hiding it in an access panel in the bathroom. In the real world, HVAC systems are highly computerized, and highly vulnerable because nobody ever thinks of the air conditioner as a security-sensitive system. The real-world Stuxnet virus infected Iran's nuclear facilities in 2010. The attack vector was the PLC chips they used in their centrifuges, loaded with malware from an infected laptop.
  • In Season 1, Episode 6, Elliott installed a backdoor on a police station network by leaving a malware-infected flash drive on the ground in the parking lot. A cop picked up the drive and plugged it into his computer, infecting the network. This too has been done in real life. Elliott was then able to gain access to the prison's network though malware he installed in a police cruiser's car computer, which had a dedicated 3G cellular connection to the prison systems.

There are literally dozens of examples like this throughout the series. A LOT of what they do on the show is super far-fetched, but the technology and tactics they use are all plausible enough for TV without insulting the intelligence of people who actually know stuff about computers, although people who know stuff about mental illness can get righteously indignant about the portrayal of Elliott's psychotic break, and prison officials can still laugh about hacking the cell doors open.

Also...

Even if you could real-life hack the HVAC system of the real-world Iron Mountain, and assuming you could crank up the heat without setting off an alarm in a company whose entire business model is providing a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault for companies' backup tapes, there's no way you'd be able to get it hot enough for long enough to physically damage the tapes stored there. You'd need to sustain at least 150 degrees for possibly several days to make that happen.

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I find myself ambivalent as to technical realism in Mr Robot. One example of each:

  • (good) I'm a software developer by trade, and I watched the pieces of code being presented. They did their due diligence, it always looked like actual code with meaning behind it.

  • (bad) When Elliot first meets FSociety, he asks if "this is where they meet AFK" (meaning in the flesh). AFK is used for being away from a computer, not for meeting in the flesh. IRL (in real life) would have been an appropriate acronym here. Even if AFK was correct, the benefit of saying an acronym when typing is not relevant when speaking in person, and someone who probably has been on the internet since the early days would not really say them out loud.

There are other examples of bad and good, but they seem to me to indicate a clear difference:

The people who made the sets, and did the visuals in regards to the code shown on screens etc did their due diligence. I can't point out real flaws here.
The annoyances I had all seem to indicate that the script writers did not do their due diligence in regards to technical lingo and realism.

  • I'm curious how accurate some of the code is. It seems like there would probably be laws against accurately showing someone how to execute a hack on TV. From my reading of the code, it looks like they fudge it by hiding any of the code that actually does anything behind an obviously named function (For example, a made up function like 'hackfbi();). Does this sound accurate to you? – SGR Sep 19 '16 at 7:47
  • I didn't check the code down to the level of its function, but rather how much it looks like code. Secondly, there is no code that by itself can hack the FBI or do anything of real value merely by knowing the code. It's the skill in application and being able to place the virus/spyware in a sensitive area that is the biggest challenge. – Flater Sep 20 '16 at 7:41
  • The use of AFK instead of IRL might be based on Peter Sunde (The Pirate Bay co-founder) quote: "We don't like that expression. We say AFK - Away From Keyboard. We think that the internet is for real.". The movie with this quote is even called TPB AFK. – vbo Nov 16 '16 at 16:03
  • @vbo: Although pedantic, they go there mostly to cooperate on their projects, and therefore aren't away from their keyboards. It's still a jarring use of an acronym that sounds vaguely applicable from the context it is usually used in, but isn't applicable when you know it's meaning. – Flater Nov 18 '16 at 10:22

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