There are plenty of things to love about Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot, whether it’s Rami Malek’s brilliant performance as Elliot Alderson, the vigilante hacker with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), the engaging and suspenseful writing, the beautiful work being done behind the camera, or its fairly realistic depiction of what hacking really looks like. Mr. Robot is a show that spends a lot of time developing its world and making it feel real. While some of the hacking that takes place in the show appears to happen much quicker than it would in the real world, there are plenty of instances where the haking in the show is based one-hundred percent in reality.
10. USB Drives/CDs As Bait
Unethical (black hat) hackers have devised many brilliant and often disarmingly simple ways to attack your data — not all of them involve hacking onto your home network. Hackers often use “discarded” USB drives or CDs as bait for a potential victim to pick up and plug into their laptop or PC. These physical devices can contain malicious software primed to take over your system, often times without you ever knowing it’s happened. Much like Cisco, and Darlene in later episodes, hackers can use these devices—and the malicious software installed on them—to collect images, access your webcam, and even take down a prison’s security measures.
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9. Social Justice Goals
One of the key themes of Elliot’s storyline is that he’s trying to fight an endlessly corrupt system by taking down a key pillar of that corruption: E Corp. He shares this with real-world hackers who are often found fighting for social justice through a little bit of anarchistic virtual rebellion. While there are many hacks in recent memory, like the infamous Equifax data breach where the private data from 145.5 million accounts were stolen, are less than altruistic, there are still many hacker organizations that claim to be fighting the oppression of a corrupt system by any means necessary. Whether it be by creating a new digital currency to topple the banking system of just hacking away in an abandoned arcade to topple the entire financial system.
8. Everything Can Be Hacked
Another point that Mr. Robot does a really good job of hammering home is that everything is vulnerable. Whether it’s your thermostat, your phone, a smart-fridge, or a building holding all of the physical copies of the personal information of those indebted to you, everything is vulnerable. While the connected world we live in today comes with many advantages, it can also be a double-edged sword. The ubiquitous nature of technology today, from our phones, laptops, and even our watches, leaves many avenues and possible vulnerabilities for talented hackers like Elliot to exploit.
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7. DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) Attacks
DDoS attacks (or Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks) are mentioned rather frequently throughout the course of the first three seasons of Mr. Robot. The fact that DDoS attacks are so popular and frequent in the modern day is likely something Sam Esmail, creator of Mr. Robot, and the team of hackers behind him had in mind as they began writing their scripts and bringing their vision to reality. DDoS attacks are malicious attacks designed to overwhelm a target with an unusually large amount of traffic, stifling the target operations. Think of a DDoS attack as a traffic jam in a target’s system stopping that target from getting back to work.
6. File Extension Episode Title
If you’ve been watching Mr. Robot for any extended period of time, then you are all but certain to have noticed the episode titles and the extensions used at the end of them. Fans of the series may also note that as of the final episode of season three, not a single extension has been used more than once. That is, except for the exception of .p7z, which was used in the two-part episode entitled “eps2.9_pythhon-pt1.p7z” and “eps2.9_python-pt2.p7z.” While formats like .p7z may not be too familiar to most viewers, the series has also used more common extensions like .mpeg, .mp4, and .wmv in the past as well.
Fun fact: All the extensions from season one are video formats and once season two begins, there is a shift to encrypted formats.
5. Love Of Picking Locks
Fairly early on in the series, Elliot makes it pretty clear that his affinity for hacking does not stop at virtual systems. Elliot, much like other hackers of his caliber, is obsessed with cracking the perfect system or just any system that follows logical rules. In that sense, an actual lock is a lot like a firewall that needs to be broken, leading to the actual target. In that spirit, DEF CON (the worlds largest and longest running underground hacking convention) holds its lockpicking contest every single year alongside the convention. There really must be something beautiful about cracking into something tangible. It's the tangible click of a job well-done that you just can’t get while working online.
4. People As Weak Links In The System (Social Engineering)
One of the things that many hackers praise Mr. Robot for shedding a light on is the fact that not all hacking takes place online. Often, the most vulnerable element of any system is the human element. Security systems can be hard, even impossible to hack, but people will always be flawed. Hack the right person’s Facebook, send a few texts about a security officer's sick husband, or just flat-out blackmail someone into missing a day of work or leaving your therapist alone. Regardless of the system that Elliot and the hackers of fSociety are trying to disrupt, you can reliably bet that the weakest link in any system is human.
Something that goes a long way to really pulling the viewer into the world of Mr. Robot and its main character Elliot is the clever use of terminology unfamiliar to the average viewer. When a viewer is keyed into what a "daemon" is or what a "rootkit" does, it helps to build up Elliot as someone who knows what he’s talking about. It’s equally important to make sure that the fans of the show that actually know what Elliot’s talking about don’t have an excuse to debug every episode.
Masks are another things about hacker culture that made a big impact on the direction of Mr. Robot. Maybe it has to do with the obsession over privacy in a digital age that led to the fSociey masks. Maybe they drew some inspiration from real-life hacktivist group Anonymous. More than likely it’s a combination of these factors as well as some others. Hackers like Elliot often hide behind multiple masks, both real and digital, so it makes sense that the hackers of fSociety would need to hide behind them as well.
One of the main issues with some of the mainstream depictions of hacking is that the hacks are done in just a few minutes accompanied by some intense and dramatic tones, of course. Mr. Robot, however, understands that a hack takes time. And a lot of it. So, for the most part, whenever Elliot is any sort of jam, hacking isn’t always the immediate answer. It takes time to search for vulnerabilities. It takes time to probe those vulnerabilities. It’s not immediate. Elliot may have multiple programs already set up to help him hack a new target, but the bigger hacks we see him pull off often take weeks, months, if not years, like the five/nine hack.