1:25 am - Wednesday February 21, 2018

High-tech TV: How realistic is the hacking in prime-time shows?

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A group of five impeccably dressed high school girls are almost murdered dozens of times by the same, mysterious stalker and the police in their idyllic small town are either corrupt or too incompetent to care. How do the girls fight back? Hacking, of course. At least, that’s one way they do it on Pretty Little Liars. “Hacking” is the deus ex machina in plenty of scenarios on Pretty Little Liars and other mainstream programs, allowing people to easily track, harass, defend and stalk each other 30 to 60 minutes at a time.

But how real is it? To determine the feasibility of the hacks presented on shows likePretty Little Liars, Sherlock, Scandal, Arrow, CSI: Cyber and Agents of SHIELD, I spoke to Patrick Nielsen, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.


“One of the interesting things about security is that a lot of what you see on television isn’t actually that far from the truth; the actual hacking isn’t nearly as colorful, but the outcome is usually closer to realistic possibility than absurd fiction,” Nielsen says.

Nielsen suggests that many seemingly absurd uses of technology on TV aren’t incorrect,per se, but they are often ahead of their time.

“We’re putting computers in more things every day, from critical infrastructure to fitness bands, and they all run software — vulnerable software — and we aren’t putting nearly as much effort into making that software secure,” he says. “So we can laugh about how ridiculous the hacking UIs or ‘two-hands’ hacking scenes from NCIS are, but the threats are real.”

On that ominous note, let’s once again distract ourselves from the problems of real life with TV.




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