Mr Robot? Comes Home

The hit TV show “Mr. Robot” is an engrossing look into the world of advanced computer hacking.  It’s something that everyone can sink their teeth into, although “real” hackers might take issue with some of the plotlines.  I have been emailed several times by people to ask if certain things are possible that are depicted in the show.  And by and large, yes, most things are possible.  They aren’t as commonplace as they are depicted however they do ring true.

It’s interesting to look back on the history of hacking.  It was there right at the advent of computers; people trying to disassemble them, take them apart to see the pieces for what they were, and put them back together in a way that benefited them.



Another Macintosh user who participated in the Harper’s Magazine conference is John Perry Barlow, songwriter, cattle rancher, and author of a forthcoming article in The Whole Earth Review entitled, “Desperados of the DataSphere.” In the conference he recounts his experiences with phone phreaks and crackers who sparred with him in ASCII and finally posted his credit records they had downloaded from TRW that has data on you, me, and probably everyone reading this column (except perhaps those staff people in Havana who constantly write ONLINE authors for reprints of articles).

Barlow was able to penetrate the online personae of these young wizards and writes a convincing account of how some crackers and electronic publishers’ rights are being violated by Secret Service agents who have conducted late night raids, seized computer equipment, and caused severe financial hardship for a computer game company named Steve Jackson Games in Austin, Texas. From his perspective these abuses are not being taken seriously by groups such as the ACLU. Mitch Kapor of ON Technology agrees and together they have formed the Electronic Frontier Foundation that will be a small organization dedicated to funding education projects as well as litigation to support those parties who have suffered at the hands of overly ambitious law enforcement personnel and district attorneys. They realize how unpopular this sort of support will be (Computer World already printed an article criticizing Kapor for showing sympathy for the accused) given the negative publicity that surrounds most people accused of computer crimes. Barlow and Kapor believe that such support is necessary to protect electronic speech and the electronic press in the same way that traditional forms have been covered by the Bill of Rights. Defending hackers will not be their sole activity.

In a press conference on July 10, 1990, they outlined some of their missions and goals:

* Engage in and support educational activities that increase popular understanding of the opportunities and challenge posed by developments in computing and telecommunications.

* Develop among policy-makers a better understanding of the issues underlying free and open telecommunications, and support the creation of legal and structural approaches that will ease the assimilation of these new technologies by society.

* Raise public awareness about civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancement in the area of new computer-based communications media. Support litigation in the public interest to preserve, protect, and extend First Amendment rights within the realm of computing and telecommunications technology.

* Encourage and support the development of new tools that will endow non-technical users with full and easy access to computer-based telecommunications.

As I write this column, the foundation is but a few hours old. For more information contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation, One Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142; 617/577-1385; Internet – As an important footnote, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc. has offered to match Kapor’s financial support of the foundation. As you may recall, Wozniak and Jobs had a history of hacking before they made their name with Apple.

Cisler, Steve. “An essay on the openness of networks, electronic free speech, and the security of computers.” Online Nov. 1990

This article talks about how computer crimes and hacking were intertwined.  It’s still regarded as the “wild west” and lawmakers and congress are still trying to catch up.  However rest assured that the government always has a few of the best hackers in the world on hand.  White hat hackers.


If you want to protect yourself from the black hat variety, then you might do well to ensure that your comptuer is protected.  A decent antivirus and antimalware program should help a lot.  We recommend Norton as well as Enigma software’s Spyhunter 4.  Ensuring that all your passwords are different and complex is another good start.  We highly recommend the service Lastpass.

There’s a lot to do in order to keep your computer’s data secure, but thankfully if you stay on top of things it’s usually not that hard.  Just don’t be lazy and you’ll stay ahead of the pack.