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Hacker movies debunked: Algorithm

Can we hack something using a Pringles can or just a simple USB key? The directors of the 2014 movie Algorithm seem to think that we can. Lukas, a white-hat hacker at NordVPN, analyzed the accuracy of their cinematic vision.

Hacker movies debunked: Algorithm

What is Algorithm about?

Algorithm is a relatively unknown hacker thriller with some interesting plot twists. A hacker breaks into a computer program and is inadvertently thrust into a revolution. Looks like a perfect movie candidate to review a few hacking scenes from this film.

How accurate is it?

Here’s what Luke, a hacker and security expert at NordVPN, had to say about some of his “favorite” hacking scenes:

USB issues

The first hacking scene takes place at the beginning of the movie. The main character breaks into a phone company’s server building to replace code running on the servers to get unlimited services. He inserts a USB flash drive into one of the servers and removes it a moment later. This part is hard to believe because server operating systems usually don’t just automatically run everything they find on random USB flash drives. We also see a laptop in the middle of the server racks. This is probably what the actual server administrators use to access and maintain the servers.

The last thing about this scene is that it is nearly impossible to patch systems like that to get unlimited service access. You need to do lots of reverse-engineering and testing to ensure that the system will remain as stable as before. This would be possible if you had access to the source code, but that would take more work.

A worm in the Pringles can

The second hacking scene is about hacking a home network to collect information about someone’s personal life details. It begins when the hacker places a can of Pringles with a mini-computer inside near the target’s house. They called it a worm. The action opens with a short explanation of how to infiltrate a household network. According to the hacker, the main way is to cut the power to the house to disable the router firewall. This would depend on the model, but usually, firewalls do things like routing on top of firewalling. The network would probably be dead until the router becomes fully operational. So this is not a way to get into the home network.

A few moments later, the hacker connects to the “worm device” and executes a command that grants root access to the home computer. This could be possible, but it would require local network access and a known zero-day exploit present in the computer operating system to make it work.

After connecting to the computer using remote desktop functionality, the hacker sends an email with a malicious attachment to another person. Of course, that person’s computer also gets infected. Who would have thought that person you trust could send emails with this kind of “gift”? This is a good example of a phishing email attack.

Next, we see the hacker browsing through victims’ computer files. We see this in the computer terminal window in one of the victims’ screens. This is very inaccurate. Usually, you can’t tell if somebody is manipulating your files, let alone see it visually.

What’s the verdict?

Although this movie advertises itself as a “hacker movie”, the hacking scenes contain multiple mistakes and misconceptions each. It might still be fun to watch, but it won’t teach you much about hacking or cybersecurity.