4 Things Movies Always Get Wrong About Computer Hackers

#2. Sometimes There's a Lot of Sitting and Waiting

When most people think of hacking, they probably picture someone sitting in a dark room frantically typing, every keystroke chipping away at the firewall, just steps ahead of the authorities and their sinister plot to give out C's in English.

"Eat me, Ms. Watson! Symbolism is BULLSHIT! WHY DON'T YOU JUST SAY WHAT YOU MEAN!?"

The details may vary, but they'll certainly picture something tense and fast-paced, where every second counts. At no point during this hack do they imagine the hacker wandering off somewhere for several months.

Viruses, Trojan horses, and worms are a group of semi-related programs that, once created, spread around completely on their own, which can take a lot of time, but allows them to damage or compromise a lot of computers. This is how some of the most impressive hacks of all time have been pulled off. Like the Stuxnet worm which knocked out Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment capabilities. Or the Trojan horse which blew up a natural gas pipeline in Siberia.

So not only does this type of hacking involve making the virus, with all the tedious weeks of programming, and math, and probably -- no shit -- whiteboards and meetings, that goes into that. Once that's done come the months and months of waiting. It's about as exciting as planting a tree, except with the fun possibility that the FBI will come kick in your door when the tree ... hatches?

It's hatches, right? Hackers don't go outside very often.

#1. The Most Effective Hack of All

The biggest security hole every piece of software or hardware has to try to deal with can be summed up thusly: Humans are stupid. (In case you need confirmation of this, Cracked has written approximately 8 billion words on this topic.) And it's this stupidity that hackers take advantage of for the simplest and most effective hacks of all.

First, there's all the problems with our passwords -- the central element of so many of our security systems. Our terrible, shitty, easy-to-guess passwords.

"What do you mean derp28 is only Fair strength!? Ok, then how's derp29? WHAT!?"

But maybe you're smarter than that. Maybe you picked derp30. Well, there's also the professional stupidity to worry about, like the idiots you've given your passwords to for safekeeping.

When you sign up on a social networking site, you're not conducting an in-depth interview with their head of network security are you? No, you're there to stalk ex-lovers. So you're maybe not paying much attention to whether that site has any clue of how to store passwords securely, which it may not -- as 6.5 million LinkedIn users found out earlier this year when their passwords were spooged out all over the Internet.

And then there are the companies that will just give your passwords to anyone who asks nicely. Using techniques that fall under "social engineering" -- a fancy name for "taking advantage of people who answer phones for a living" -- hackers will trick customer support departments into giving out personal information. Here's an example of some dude getting his whole life destroyed because a hacker called Apple and Amazon and asked them nicely first.

"Mr. Jenkins, why do you sound like three giggling teenagers? You have Fart-Mouth Syndrome? I'm so sorry! Yes, I'll reset your password right now. I'm sorry again."

This is one of the oldest types of hacking, and because humans aren't going to get much smarter, and are unlikely to start paying people who answer phones any better, it's likely to remain amongst the most effective and widely used hacking techniques. And that's the lamest truth of all about hacking: The most effective hack of all time is exactly as exciting as making a fucking prank phone call.


Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and your best friend. Join him on Facebook or Twitter where he will provide you with personalized suggestions for new passwords.

For more from Bucholz, check out 5 Romantic Ways To Get Revenge on That Special Someone and The 35 Most Insane Halloween Costumes from Around the World.

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