03rd Mar2017

Hacking Hollywood: Three Classic Movies That Put Cyber Security in the Spotlight

by James Smith

Earlier this month the world celebrated Safer Internet Day, a worthy initiative that aims to improve all aspects of web security across the online world. In the UK alone, hundreds of organisations did their bit to promote the safe and responsible use of digital technology. We’re fully behind the cause, of course, and it also brought the topic of discussion around to the history of web security and how exactly we got to be at the point we’re at today.

Now that nearly every household has access to either a laptop, smartphone or tablet (or even more likely, a combination of those), it’s easy to forget that our perception of online security is the most sophisticated it has ever been. Thanks to the efforts of many modern online security providers, tech users now tend to get a nice, user-friendly explanation of their program that translates complex industry jargon into plain English (or their own native language).

Well, things weren’t always so simple. Before dedicated cyber security programs became the norm, our concept of computer hacking, viruses and malicious threats largely came from movies and TV shows. And while the entertainment value of these films was far greater than the practical tips they offered, it’s fair to say that certain movies actually helped to shape the global perception of digital security as we knew it, at least to an extent. So – we thought – what better way to honour the history of web security than to pull together a list of our top three classic movie plots that revolve around the fascinating world of hacking. Enjoy!



One of the earliest hacker incarnations to hit the silver screen was undoubtedly 1983’s WarGames, directed by John Badham and starring a young Matthew Broderick as David Lightman. In fact, Lightman is more or less a carbon copy of Ferris Bueller – but with major computer nerd tendencies thrown in for good measure. Forget the topical themes based on the Cold War or World War III. For a whole generation of school kids this movie introduced the idea that they could actually hack into their school’s filing system and change their grades electronically.

Looking back, Lightman’s Seattle high school (and the US Government for that matter) could’ve probably done with a much more sophisticated web security application system to protect their confidential information and online services against a security threat posed by a teenage boy – and more serious threats as well. In 2017, more people are familiar with DDoS attacks than ever before, thanks to recent attacks, but even a primitive version of a web application firewall would have certainly helped the school in question stop protagonist Lightman from from exploiting the vulnerabilities in their filing applications code. But of course, back then these issues were much simpler. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

The Matrix


Moving into the next decade, it’s hard to look past 1999′s The Matrix as the one Hollywood blockbuster that brought computer hacking to the millennial generation. The film made $463.5 million worldwide. The combination of hacker-centric storyline and groundbreaking visual effects (for the time) made this a movie experience that was impossible to ignore. It’s also more than likely that the average person’s perception of modern computer coding is not too dissimilar from the experience of watching the crew on the Nebuchadnezzar hack in and out of The Matrix. You know, frantic typing at a keyboard mixed with the unintelligible flashing of colourful figures and symbols – sound familiar? As for the glitches in the Matrix itself – deja vu, if you recall – then perhaps one of the vast swathse of programs now available to spot software bugs would’ve helped the machine overlords out a little bit. You’d have thought they’d got this one sussed by the year 2500. Apparently not…

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


More recently, the world went crazy for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo which is well worth acquainting yourself with. The film garnered many accolades, including an Academy Award for Editing and another six nominations. Okay, so even though it was adapted from a novel, we still feel that the film enjoyed such widespread success that it still counts. David Fincher’s film really helps to push the idea of major hacking networks and the impact they can have in the online world – very similar to Anonymous when you think about it. The central character’s computer hacking skills also enable her to earn a living and conceal her real identity, which are important details that may be overlooked given the potency of the story and the multitude of themes at play.

So there we have it, three top class movies that have gradually brought the ideas of hacking and web security to the masses over the past three decades. Each film features a progressively more sophisticated view on cyber security, which really does beg the question: what could be next?


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