We’ve followed mild-mannered Elliot Anderson (Rami Malek) since he’s worked for cybersecurity firm Allsafe, since he discovered the presence of hacktivist group F-Society, and since he made startling discoveries about his family’s past that drove him deeper into the clandestine world of hacking.
The world Elliot and the other members of F-Society inhabit is a world that exists on the other side of our laptops, tablets, and smart devices. With a single keystroke, hackers can use their knowledge and power over intricate security systems, operating systems, and software for good or for nefarious ends. As the psychological thriller, Mr. Robot heads into its fourth and final season, we look back at some of the biggest threats to cybersecurity outlined in the series. Here are ten technological threats in Mr. Robot that are actually real.
10 GETTING YOUR MOBILE DEVICE HACKED
Since anyone who has a smartphone is essentially carrying around a mini computer, it’s no surprise that people like Elliot and the rest of the F-Society team can easily hack into them with a few keystrokes. The security of mobile devices, even at the FBI’s temporary office setup in E Corp, was breached because they were weak and easily manipulated.
F-Society was able to intercept calls that were confidential and then put them on public blast after exploiting a vulnerability in Android software in combination with utilizing a femtocell. If it can happen to the FBI, it can certainly happen to any one of us.
9 GETTING HACKED FROM A STARBUCKS
When we see most people on their laptops at a cafe, we assume they’re writing their next novel or catching up on emails. When we see Elliot for the first time, he’s de-anonymizing web traffic through open source software called TOR, all with the Ron's Coffee Shop's Wi-Fi.
Luckily, Elliot “fights for the users”, and is using his skills to hack into the cafe owner’s stash of kiddie porn pics on the Dark Web. As he so devilishly explains to him, “The one in control of your exit nodes is the one in control of your traffic...which is me”. Except not every hacker is an Elliot, and your deepest secrets might not be so secret or safe from them.
8 GETTING HACKED THROUGH A HVAC SYSTEM
Is it getting hot in here? If you noticed the air-conditioning system seem to go on the fritz all of a sudden, it may not be a problem with the unit, but the result of some sophisticated hacking. F-Society is able to use the HVAC system of an “impenetrable” datacenter by causing it to overheat inside and ruin all of its backup systems.
Something similar really happened to Target in 2013! How could this possibly happen to a place called “Steel Mountain Data Center”? By using a Raspberry Pi device, F-Society connected its Ethernet and cell network to the HVAC system in the building and controlled it remotely.
7 GETTING PULLED INTO A DDoS ATTACK
In the very first episode of Mr. Robot, Elliot gets called in to stop a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack which he thinks is aimed at Allsafe, the cybersecurity firm he works for, but is really aimed at E Corp, one of its prestigious clients. Individuals associated with F-Society are trying to access a webpage at once using a botnet (think hundreds of thousands of clones) causing it to overload and shut down. The whole sequence plays straight out of WarGames.
The worrying part is that you may be part of a DDoS attack and not even know it. A computer can get infected and become a slave for a master machine, which then gives the command to launch the DDoS attack, and your system performs it unknowingly.
6 GETTING YOUR WEBCAM HACKED
Living in the modern age where every device you own can be connected and accessed is great for you, but even better for a hacker. If anything, our era of interconnectedness makes it easier for our devices to get hacked from multiple outlets. Everything from your phone camera to your laptop’s webcam can be hacked and used against you for ulterior purposes.
F-Society members Cisco and Darlene use USB drives conveniently planted as bait to hack into target’s webcams. The malevolent software that they’re encrypted with, once plugged into a target’s computer (remember, never plug in a USB drive you don’t own!) can begin collecting images, or worse, taking footage of you in the privacy of your own home or workplace.
5 A MEGACORP GETTING SHUT DOWN
In the topsy-turvy world of Mr. Robot, E Corp owns most of the world’s debt, from the student loan variety to the medical. It has over 70% of the world’s consumer credit history, and it stores its data in one place, making it a prime target for F-Society, the hacker cohort intent on liberating the world from debt.
While wiping out global debt isn’t realistically feasible, there is a danger for megacorps that store their data on a few servers. Though corporations have topnotch cyber security, if even a handful of hackers are successful at infiltrating some part of them, it can have severe results. Once news gets out, it can have an effect on public opinion, which will greatly affect stocks.
4 GETTING A BAD VIRUS
A lot of the crimes in Mr. Robot are devastating in not only scope, but also because of his simple and innocuous they are. When Angela, Elliot’s childhood friend, gives her clueless boyfriend a CD from the Dark Army and puts it into his computer, it’s immediately infected with a virus after he clicks on the first window that pops up.
This simple action immediately infects his machine with a virus that allows the Dark Army hackers access to all his files, as well as his webcam, which could lead to blackmail as well as cases of identity theft. If something like this happens to you in real life, it’s best to shut down your system as fast as you can.
3 GETTING HACKED VIA USB
It goes without saying that trying to blackmail or intimidate a hacker like Elliot isn’t smart, but putting a found USB drive into your laptop is worse. When Elliot wants to blackmail a drug dealer he put in prison, he is able to infiltrate the police department to alter the prison records by the simple act of tossing some USB drives around the parking lot.
Once a police officer is dumb enough to insert the USB into a computer, it will grant Elliot access to all the department’s data. If you’re lucky (like the police were), your malware program will detect it, and inform you that the USB is dangerous and should be removed immediately before it gains access to your files.
2 GETTING HACKED VIA BLUETOOTH
Lots of devices have Bluetooth capabilities these days, and as long as they do, they can be hacked. When Elliot tries (and fails) to get a police officer to unwittingly plug a USB drive into their computer so he can access the police department’s prison records, he switches gears and focuses on hacking the onboard computer in an officer’s car via their bluetooth.
Elliot spoofs the car’s bluetooth connection to his keyboard, allowing him to take over the onboard computer system and upload some serious malware to the prison database. This is a real threat - there are devices that can scan bluetooth points and take information even without needing to be paired to the device.
1 BEING ON THE RECEIVING END OF RANSOMWARE
The “hacktivists” of F-Society use Cryptowall to collect ransom like muggers use guns in a holdup. Like a digital mugging, Darlene used the software in Season 2 to infect networks like E Corp to pay out big bucks in ransom. It works best after you’ve already done other hacks that leave a megacorp with no choice but to give in to your demands.
In Season 1 all of E Corp’s backup files were destroyed in the hack of Steel Mountain’s HVAC system, leaving them hopeless in the face of F-Society’s ransomware scheme. Though F-Society didn’t keep the ransom money, plenty of more sinister hackers just might.