Real-Life Movie Hacks That Actually Exist

Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving pointing guns at each other in a scene from the film 'The Matrix', 1999.

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Hacking has been in movies for years. My first introduction to hacking was In the 1983 movie WarGames with Mathew Broderick, who played a high-school-age hacker that finds himself way over his head when he hacks a system that turns out to be in control of the US missile defense system.

While most of the hacker movies have far-fetched plots, many of the hacks that go on are rooted in reality and some of the acts aren’t just works of fiction. Some movie hacks are actually totally legitimate.

Car Remote Control Hijacking Hack

Until recently, having someone remotely take complete control over your car was techno-thriller fiction and was only seen in movies such as Minority Report, Demolition Man, etc.

The whole concept seemed far-fetched until car hacking became a real thing thanks to the hacking of FIAT/Chrysler’s Uconnect system which hackers were able to compromise and take control of certain models of vehicles.

Car hacking researchers were able to control steering, braking, safety features, the in-car entertainment system, climate control, etc. You name it, and they were able to manipulate it, to some degree, after they had hacked into the car’s systems via the Internet connection used by Uconnect.

This hack is one of the scariest real-world examples of what is possible with today’s connected cars.

Wireless Hacking

Hacking wireless networks has become a staple in movies today. Seen in movies such as Blackhat, wireless network hacking is all the rage in Hollywood.

Is it as easy to hack a wireless network as movies seem to portray? The answer: it depends.

If a wireless network is using outdated wireless encryption such as WEP or the original WPA, then the answer is yes. It’s fairly trivial to crack WEP in a very short time period using very little skill. WPA is a bit more challenging. WPA2 is much more robust and difficult to crack. 

Password Cracking

Password cracking has been a favorite plot device in modern movies. As mentioned earlier, there was password cracking and guessing going on in movies such as WarGames, The Matrix Trilogy, and many others. Modern-day movies still feature this element although they now might do it with a bit more technical flair to satisfy more techno-savvy audiences.

Social Engineering Attacks

In the movies, the social engineering attack probably pre-dates even the ancient password hack. Think of some of the all-time-great social engineering movies such as Ocean's 11 (The original 1960 version with Frank Sinatra and company).

Social engineering is no longer just people pretending to be inspectors in order to gain access to places they aren’t supposed to be. There is now a formal social engineering framework and even automated exploits that take advantage of the human element.

Industrial Control System Hacks

Another popular hack that is rooted in reality is the industrial equipment hack. Remember the original Jurassic Park where Newman from Seinfeld hacked a bunch of the Park’s system to cause a distraction so that he could make an ill-fated getaway?

Industrial control system hacks often rely on finding vulnerabilities in the Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) that control heavy machinery or major utilities (power, water, etc). Stuxnet famously provided a real-world example of what was previously thought to be movie fiction.