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How Real Were the Hacks in Mr. Robot?

TV Show “Mr. Robot” has to thank Remi Malek for his outstanding performance playing a computer programmer Eliot and scenario writers for realistic hacks. The director of the show manages to put the audience in Eliot’s shoes makes the viewers identify with him.

For those who didn’t watch the show, Eliot Alderson is a prominent member of cyber-vigilante group “fsociety.” His lifework is dedicated to bringing down the E Corp by hacking computer networks and databases.

One of the most common questions asked by the show’s fans is “Are the Mr. Robot hacks real?” The viewers often have the opportunity to witness conversations between hackers and watch them pull of technological sleights of hand on Linux terminals. How much of this is actually real? Let’s find the answer together, shall we?

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Technological Storyline of Mr. Robot

The audience is mesmerized by the storyline of Mr. Robot, especially by the hacks which appear to be science fiction to ordinary viewers who have no technical background whatsoever. But, Kor Adana, a writer and technology producer for the series tells a completely different story.

Kor Adana has profound experience with all things cybersecurity. While developing the storyline of Mr. Robot, he collaborated closely with established and experienced hackers.

Viewers who were bold enough to check the QR codes, URLs, and IP addresses used on the show ended up on real destinations. All the tools, operating systems, and jargon used in the show are rooted in reality. Whenever writers come up with a new storyline, Kor Adana’s team sits down to decide which of the real technologies and hacking methods can be put in the story to make it real.

The FBI Hack

At a certain point in the show, hackers had to attack the FBI. While it does appear as fiction, the writers had the help of two ex-FBI cyber consultants. The FBI has a very secure network infrastructure that is really hard to penetrate.

But then the writers, helped by the cyber consultants figured out that hackers don’t have to attack the network directly. Instead, they can leverage the fact that every FBI agent has a standard-issue Android phone.

Hacking phones is not easy, and the same applies to Android ones. But if the users don’t update their system and the apps they are using, and don’t use mobile VPN, Android phone attacks are possible.

In fact, what Eliot did on the show is so real that it can be replicated in a real-life situation. In the show, Eliot managed to leverage a femtocell delivery system to plant malware on a mobile phone. This enabled him to control every FBI agent via their mobile phone and take over E Corp’s network, including the applications and data on it.

In this and the following episodes, the writers have pointed out how hackers can use vulnerabilities and bugs in mobile phone systems. Users who are interested in this topic should read Android’s Security Bulletin where bugs and vulnerabilities in the system are constantly revealed.

Given the fact that average mobile phone user pays very little attention to their smartphone security, all of these bugs can be turned against them. On the other hand, a solution such as mobile VPN can be used to overcome those cybersecurity risks.

Mobile VPN helps mobile users browse online content anonymously, and prevents cyber criminals from monitoring their online traffic and stealing sensitive data.

The Public WiFi Hack

The show starts with Elliot performing an attack known as “man-in-the-middle” attack. He intercepts the WiFi network traffic in a coffee shop. Since public WiFi networks aren’t encrypted and anyone can join them, this is a very easy thing to do.

Wireshark, a tool that analyzes web traffic, in the hands of a hacker is all that is needed. This is yet another great example that shows the audience how important it is to use mobile VPN when on public WiFi networks. It encrypts the traffic and prevents anyone from stealing data.

In fact, mobile VPN is the best way to avoid falling victim to a man-in-the-middle attack.

Climate Control System Hack

In one episode Elliot has to hack the climate control system to damage the magnetic tapes and data stored in one of the E Corp’s remote data centers. To do this, Elliot uses a Raspberry PI to increase the temperature. The process of hacking the climate control system is rooted in facts and can be replicated in a real-life scenario.

Many would say that Mr. Robot is a fun and entertaining show. But from the standpoint of cybersecurity, the show is very valuable in terms of teaching people how to keep their data and devices secure. Especially so because it shows viewers a realistic depiction of real threats, flaws, and exploits.


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