By Commander X
I had been meaning to write a review of the blockbuster movie “BlackHat” by Legendary Pictures for sometime. It was actually a tweet by Gregg Housh some months ago that finally prompted me to get this done. One morning in February, Gregg tweeted that on the official web page for the DVD release of “BlackHat”, I had apparently been quoted! Finding it difficult to believe that Legendary Pictures even knew I existed, much less had quoted me on their website and not knowing exactly what to expect – I clicked the link in Gregg’s tweet.
“Our entire world is being controlled and operated by tiny invisible 1’s and 0’s that flash through the air and flash through the wires around us. So, if that’s what controls our world, ask yourself… who controls the 1’s and 0’s?” ~~ Commander X – Anonymous
Now I am quite used to seeing my words in print, but I must admit to being stunned. I of course immediately recalled exactly where these words of mine came from, they were spoken during an interview with Catherine Solyom who at that time (2012) was working for the Montreal Gazette. But what shook me was just how appropriate this quote was given the plot and philosophy of the “BlackHat” movie.
Now, this is my first movie review. I suppose I broke some un-official rule of pro-reviewers by reading a few other reviews of “BlackHat” before writing my own. To my credit, just before sitting down to write this piece I re-watched my own (legally obtained, *cough*) copy of “BlackHat” so everything would be fresh.
“BlackHat” did get a fair amount of bad reviews, especially from those in the tech field. It also seems a large number of hackers didn’t like it much either. I have to say my opinion is the exact opposite of these. I found “BlackHat” to be a solid action/thriller with stellar acting, great cinematography, and a very realistic (and scary) plot line. I even cried when the FBI agent and US Marshal were killed. Some of you who know me well might find that a bit surprising. What was particularly interesting to me was how BlackHat hacking was technically portrayed in this movie. To my surprise the writers of “BlackHat” never once strayed from what is real, almost common-place. There was no “magic code” or other technological fictions to make the story more exciting. From malware laced PDFs to SCADA hacks, and a solid dose of social engineering – the hacking in “BlackHat” is something any hacker worth his salt would find in his own tool kit. This aspect was refreshingly realistic given the audacious title of this movie. I have to also add that I scored a major crush on Tang Wei whilst watching “BlackHat”. If she ever reads this review, I hope she’ll forgive me. I just wonder if she actually dates any hackers or geeks in real life!
I can sum up my aesthetic review of “BlackHat” in simple terms, it met all my expectations despite the high level of pre-release hype – and I loved every second of it. But that said, lets look a little deeper into this epic movie, which comes at an interesting time in history. As my quote which prompted this review indicates and the story-line of “BlackHat” reiterates, we live in a world that is – if not completely controlled by hackers then certainly one in which they wield almost god-like power. One of the scenes in “BlackHat” that struck me quite viscerally was when the DOJ attorney had to approach Hathaway and ask for his help. Here you have the government of the USA going hat in hand to a BlackHat they have locked away for an insane amount of time and beg for his assistance against an actual bad guy.
I put myself in Hathaway’s place, and to be completely honest I don’t know if I would assent. Perhaps rather than barter for my own legal situation, I would trade my skills for Barrett Brown or Jeremy Hammond’s freedom. I just don’t know. I would certainly hesitate. It’s extremely difficult to be enthusiastic about helping a government that has declared war on you and your culture, on your friends – on all hackers. Once long ago I considered myself a patriot. It’s truly a sad place that we have come to in the USA.
So here’s a suggestion; a lesson that the government of the USA might learn from this prophetic work of fiction. Maybe it’s time to consider the value to real national security in reforming the draconian CFAA and other hacking laws, release the political prisoners like Brown and Hammond – and stop alienating the very people you may one day need so desperately to save your sorry asses. Because when the real thing happens and the USA faces the demons in the wires, and have no doubt it will happen – and you have to come to us for our help…we may not be as generous as the fictional BlackHat Hathaway was.
Copyright © 2015 by Christopher Doyon. All Rights Reserved.