What are we to make of Hollywood’s latest obsession with all things cyber? Between the recently released movie, Blackhat, and the forthcoming CSI CYBER TV series, the powers that be have clearly decided this subject is exciting enough to attract an audience. Security has hit the mainstream.
There are pros and cons to this phenomenon. A synopsis from Blackhat’s website reads: American and Chinese agencies work together to capture a cyber-criminal who seems unmotivated by politics or finance, as he seeks to cripple the international banking network. With the help of furloughed convict, the authorities pursue the mysterious figure through Chicago, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Jakarta.
Don’t get me wrong, I know truth can be stranger than fiction and some very shocking stories have unfolded in the cyber world, but I think most security professionals will agree this film doesn’t reflect their average day on the job. That being said, I’m not too worried about a few cringes and eye rolls from the security community. My real concern here is that sensationalized storylines will leave many feeling that the security world is reserved for technological geniuses. In reality, this is a battle we all have to fight.
Just like any other subject, security can be broken down to a level where “non-experts” can understand and engage with it, and it must be broken down to this level if we expect the general public to pick up their pitchforks and join the fight against cybercriminals. Talking over people’s heads might make you feel smart, but it’s not doing the security community any favors. The beauty of TV series Cosmos was that we didn’t need to be astrophysicist to follow and appreciate it. The security world needs its own Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
On the other hand, while the stories may not be playing out exactly as we’d like them to, it’s amazing to see security front and center. There has never been a more exciting time to be a part of the security industry. And not all security-themed entertainment is created equal – it looks as though the CSI spinoff will be very different from Blackhat. According to the show’s description on the CBS website, its plotlines are inspired by the work of real-life CyberPsychologist Mary Aiken. If this show can hold viewers’ attention while “keeping it real,” they’ll be doing a favor for every person connected to a network, and every security professional trying to stem the tide of constant attacks.
As with any potential security and safety issue, awareness is your greatest weapon. Whether you are discussing sophisticated white collar crimes and schemes, or simple snatch-and-grabs from unlocked cars, informing the public to change their behavior is the first step toward progress.
Everyone with a connected device should assume they’ll be attacked. The key is making it as difficult as possible for would-be thieves to steal your important information. Like a common thief who goes car-to-car in a parking lot looking for one that is unlocked, your average cybercriminal will also take the path of least resistance in identifying potential targets in the cyber world. Making the general public aware of such simple steps as creating stronger passwords or avoiding phishing emails can go a long way towards stopping a great number of attacks before they get started.
Hollywood has chosen to take on a complicated field this time around. There are sure to be some missteps and half-truths thrown in along the way under the umbrella of artistic license, but if the end result is a more mindful online population, I’ll chalk this up as a win for the security community.