Skyfall’s high tech storyline was just the latest Hollywood attempt to explore the crazy world of computer hacking. Though they often fail, filmmakers keep trying to make the ultimate “hack the planet” movie. From Tron and WarGames to Hackers, The Matrix, XXX, Sneakers and Die Hard 4.0, hacker movies have become their own subgenre with their own set of rules. Here they are.
1. One of the hackers must take over every channel on TV and deliver a speech that’s like a bad ripoff of a Max Headroom routine. They should scoff at the government, and use the word “sheeple.” Either that, or the hacker should have an underground viral video show that involves crazy stunts and hip hop music.
2. At some point Keanu Reeves must show up. Hopefully with a ton of data implanted in his head and a cyber-dolphin.
3. Every aspect of the plot will be better if you just append the words “virtual” or “cyber” to them. There will be “virtual terrorism” and “cyber war”. References to “e-bombs” a plus. Can you use a firewall to block the virtual terror downloads? Yes!
4. Hacking scenes will involve psychedelic user interfaces that look like something out of an early 1990s music video. Remember, hackers never use command lines. That is boring. Also, something should be controlled by a laser. Every form of physical security will have colorful, 3D interfaces too. There will be touch screens covered in sparkly numbers, retina scans, facial recognition, or holograms.
5. Everybody will have cool underground aliases. Hey, it’s Trinity! Hi, my name is Warlock. Have you met Dark Dante? He’s been hacking the planet with Zero Cool. Somebody must be called a “digital jedi” or “computer ninja” or “cyber guru” or “code wizard.”
6. Somebody must be an anarchist who wants to shut down the system. If there is no anarchist, there must be a nihilist who delivers a speech about how humanity doesn’t deserve all its shiny toys. If there is no nihilist, there must be somebody who “won’t stop the signal” because they believe information should be free. If there is no free speech zealot, there must be a madman who has figured out how to disintegrate humans and reconstitute them as programs inside a computer. If there is no madman, there must be a really short guy with glasses or a really gothy girl with purple streaks in her hair.
7. There must be black PVC clothing. That is absolutely mandatory. Also recommended: somebody should know kung fu.
8. There should be a disk, data stick, hard drive, or brain implant that contains data that could destroy the world or bring down the global financial system. This item should fall into the wrong hands.
9. Hacking threats almost never involve computers. Nobody ever freaks out over a security hole that will allow people to steal the address book from your phone, or that will leave millions of credit card numbers vulnerable to Estonian carders. Hacking is only dangerous because COMPUTERS CONTROL EVERYTHING, including gas lines, water mains, hospital facilities, missile launch systems, air traffic, and a lot of other things that scare ordinary people way more than collision detection in a commonly-used cryptographic hash function. Therefore, the evil hackers must be planning to use their typing skillz to attack the infrastructure — usually power stations or weapons facilities — and there must be a catchy name for their nefarious plan, like “Firesale” or “Anarchy 99" or “Too Many Secrets.”
10. There should be tense scenes where our hero is being directed by the hackers via an earbud or heads-up display. Tense commands should issued by somebody looking at a map where our hero is represented by a blinking red dot. Also, as I mentioned earlier, there should be lasers. Just put them in there.
11. If there is an AI or sentient robot, we should learn a valuable lesson about our humanity. Maybe we shouldn’t make war on each other. Actually, it’s love, not hate, that makes us who we are. Families are the one thing that machines don’t have. Robots will never understand. That’s why we must kill them all.