As we have mentioned previously, Hollywood just doesn't seem to have a very firm grasp on how technology works. So when it comes to depicting computer hacking onscreen, it's no surprise that the implausible scenarios Hollywood's tech-challenged screenwriters manage to pull out of their asses don't even come close to resembling the real thing.
Except it turns out that, every once in a while, they inadvertently get it right on the money. Because real-world hackers have done stuff like ...
5Jackpot an ATM
As Seen In:
The Hollywood Hack:
Let's look at the classic scene for a moment: Young John Connor -- the kid whose voice sometimes makes you wish they had sent a few extra T-1000s back from the future -- jacks his Atari (yes, Atari) laptop thingy into an ATM. With the push of a few buttons and some fast-scrolling numbers on what appears to be an old-school scientific calculator screen, he turns bits into Benjamins in a matter of seconds.
"If you see any cops, I want you to mullet as fast as you can."
It's one of those scenes you just know James Cameron made up on the fly, because ATMs can't be that easy to hack in the real world -- otherwise, people would be doing it all the time. No, if real-life criminals want to steal money from an ATM, they need to go all low-tech and do something like steal the entire machine and get busy with a blowtorch, or blast it open with explosives:
The Real-World Hack:
Only it turns out that jackpotting an ATM is even easier than lil' John Connor made it look, even in a future that finds itself severely lacking in Atari laptops.
One pair of criminals in Pittsburgh reprogrammed an ATM to think it was dispensing $1 bills instead of $20s, netting themselves $1,540 in two days. And they didn't even need to plug in a laptop to do it -- they simply used the built-in keypad to reprogram the machine. Anyone watching them on the security camera would have thought they were just some of those people who hold up the ATM line when all we need to do is grab 20 bucks for lunch, goddammit.
The crime was similar to one that had previously taken place in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where crooks were able to reprogram an ATM thanks to the instruction manual -- complete with default administrative passwords -- that the ATM manufacturer had posted online.
But the demonstration of ATM hacking that really takes the cake was given by security consultant (i.e., "hacker with a job") Barnaby Jack at the annual hacker convention Black Hat back in 2010, where he showed the crowd how he could compromise an ATM either via plugging in a USB flash drive or by injecting his digital salmonella remotely over the Internet to make the machine spew out bills like there's no tomorrow. Barnaby Jack (we just love saying that name -- were his parents Hollywood screenwriters?) not only relieved the machine of its burden of holding all that cash, but also programmed it to display the word "Jackpot" across the screen and play a catchy tune. And he did it with style.