Access Denied and Hard Hacker Fiction
Something you often hear computer security experts scoff about is “Access Denied” blinking on a screen when a movie character is trying to break in to a system. I assume everyone who reads this uses computers regularly and log in to numerous services. We never see those full screen Access Denied messages, do we?
Authentication is the most well-known piece of computer security. As a matter of fact, I showed in a research study how procurement of software in the public sector often over indexes on authentication in security requirements. The same goes for fiction – always the login screen, always access denied.
Real Hackers Attack the Layer Below
Hackers rarely try to blindly log in to an account. Sure, you can always try common passwords and see if you’re lucky, but luck doesn’t go over well in fiction. Hackers go for the layer below, which is either a bug that lets them fully circumvent authentication or leaked data that lets them reverse engineer a user’s authentication details before they even try to log in.
So why all the Access Denied screens in movies? I think it’s because they are visual and they are explicit. Fiction needs to tell a story effectively and if plausibility of hacking isn’t core, there’s no need to craft something more believable.
Hard Hacker Fiction
In my view, we need more believable hacker fiction, we need hard hacker fiction. That doesn’t exclude speculative elements but it does exclude glossing over how hacking is actually done, what a software bug is, and how computers work.
Authors like Alistair MacLean and Tom Clancy popularized the techno-thriller with immense technical details on their subject matter such as military technology. Likewise, hard science fiction strives for scientific accuracy and logic. I’ll never forget my joy over the accurate silence in space in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I’d like to mention author Daniel Suarez who writes what he calls high-tech thrillers. I’ve read his two-part novel series Daemon and FreedomTM which blends virtual and reality in apocalyptic, violent hacker fiction. Good stuff. Just beware that there is a misogynist character in those books – a well-built, convincing character but some are triggered by the presence of such personalities.
Published June 2021.