4 Security Lessons We Can Learn From 'Mr. Robot'

Photo: Larry Washburn / Getty

If you’re not watching USA Network’s new hacker drama, Mr. Robot, you should be. The new drama, starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater is an anti-hero tale filled with conspiracy, paranoia, drugs, sex, violence, and lots and lots of hacking.

The story of Elliot Alderson, a cyber security analyst by day, black hat hacker by night, is mostly told from his perspective which, at times is schizophrenic.

You’re never sure what’s real or what’s make believe. It is a wild ride and is definitely a gritty look at an underground world that is rarely put on television for mass consumption.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, there are lots of security lessons that you can learn from this show.  Here are four of them:

1. Don’t Overshare on Social Media

In the show, when Elliot attempts to hack someone, he often turns to social media to learn more about his subjects. He uses the information he finds to help him crack passwords, set up social engineering attacks. Check out our article on the Dangers of Oversharing to find out why oversharing can help hackers.

2. Make Really Strong Passwords

Elliot was able to hack many of his victim's accounts because they used terribly weak passwords. This may seem like an obvious lesson that doesn’t need to be shared but it still does as passwords are often still the weakest link.

Many folks may opt for simple passwords because they have so many different accounts. We often create a password that is very easy to remember. Your password needs to be long, complex, and random. You should avoid dictionary words at all costs because brute force hacking tools will utilize a highly-refined password dictionary that will crack these passwords quickly.

Check out our article on how to create a strong password, and read our article on password cracking to see the tools and techniques that hackers use to try and crack your password.

You should never use the same password on multiple sites. Instead, try coming up with a very strong password and then possibly add a nickname for the website you’re visiting and tack it onto your strong password at the beginning or end of the password. Get creative and try to come up with your own random convention. The more random the better.

3. Become a Human Scam Detector

Hackers like Elliot often use Social Engineering attacks to compromise the human element. Human exploits can circumvent a lot of the technical security measures put in place to protect data. Most people’s instinct is to help others and this is what Social Engineers like to capitalize on.

You need to educate yourself on the topic of Social Engineering, and also research what kind of scams are the most popular and successful ones out in the wild. Check out these tips on How to Scam-proof Your Brain for more helpful tips on avoiding scammers and social engineers.

4. Never Connect a Drive or Put a Disk in Your Computer That You Didn’t Purchase

One of the hackers on Mr. Robot pretends to be a starving hip-hop artist and gives away what appear to be free CDs of his music to passersby on the street. The CDs don’t actually contain any music but are instead laced with malware that compromises the computers of anyone who inserts the CD into their computer.

The black hat hacker then takes control of their webcam recording them without their knowledge. He also steals their files which he then uses for blackmail purposes.

Another hacker on the show uses a 'road apple' social engineering attack and scatters malware-infected thumb drives throughout a parking lot, hoping that some curious employee will insert the drive into their computer so that she can hack into their computer and the network.

These hacks illustrate why you should never insert a disk or drive from an untrusted source no matter how curious you are to find out what's on the disk.