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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

War Games

Hollywood is notoriously bad at handling technology — specifically computing — in films. The problem, they claim, is that the reality just isn’t very sexy. So instead they have Hugh Jackman manually cracking encryption algorithms while being distracted in the most pleasurable way by Halle Berry. That just winds up everyone remotely familiar with the reality, alienating rather than appealing to a large part of the film’s target market. (In case you didn’t know, the hacking is just as unrealistic as a hacker dating Halle Berry).

Last night I watched one of the first films about hacking, War Games, for the first time in years. Now it is some years since I handled a five and a quarter inch disk (there’s a joke in there somewhere), or a dial-up modem which required you to actually connect the telephone handset. But to me the scenes in this ageing film seemed far closer to reality than most of what has come since. OK they avoided showing people how to actually phreak a phone system, and I’d love a real electronics expert to give me their opinion on Matthew Broderick’s hacking of the door pin code with a dictaphone, but by and large, it wasn’t too daft.

The important thing the film showed was how little technology often has to do with hacking, and how much it is often a process of social engineering. Geeky as I am, I would rather film makers focused on this aspect of hacking and glossed over the technical aspects rather than feeling they have to add whizz-bang effects to what I understand to be largely a time-consuming, tedious, and mostly automated process.

Tom Cheesewright