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Cyber on Celluloid 2.0 by Anne F. La Lena

Cybersecurity issues are seeping s-l-o-w-l-y into America’s consciousness. Unless of course,   you’re one of the millions of unhappy Target and Neiman Marcus shoppers [how often do you say those two stores in the same breath], or one of the confused 300,000 current and former Maryland University students and faculty or one of the frustrated Department of Energy 100,000 plus employees victimized by computer crooks in the last year. In that case, cybersecurity, or rather its lack, has hit you straight between the eyes and quite probably in the wallet.

Cyber has also hit you on the big screen.

Once upon a time, hacking conjured up images of Kathy Bates wielding a formidable axe and bearing down upon poor James Caan in Misery, and of a crazed Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Not anymore. Hacking and other cyber issues are prominent themes and play starring roles in movies. In fact, Hollywood rumor has it that a movie called “Cyber” to be released in 2015 centers on a United States and China cyber feud and get this, it will re-unite Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on screen. Jolie is no stranger to cyber on celluloid. She was in Hackers, released almost 20 years ago.

Another cyber-themed movie is in the works, based on investigative and former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs’ life, who does a shockingly great public service by writing on real-time cybersecurity threats via his Krebs on Security blog issues and who broke the story on the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches.

According to a March 19th article in the Hollywood Reporter by Borys Kit, Sony has picked up the rights to a Feb. 16th Nicole Perlroth New York Times (NYT) article, “Reporting From the Web’s Underbelly,” which focused on Krebs and .

Something to keep in mind about the stable cybersecurity employment field, is that per the NYT article, for his work, Krebs had his identity stolen six times, and had fecal matter and heroin sent to his house by cyber criminals, many in organized crime, annoyed at their exploits revealed. Once, a SWAT team was called to his home and he was arrested in an incident of “swatting” committed by hackers.

Notwithstanding the meetings and the efforts supporting the good-intentioned National Cyber Security Awareness Month that takes place every October, Hollywood may be doing the most to raise the cyber consciousness of the masses at home and abroad.

Through the years, Tinsel Town has produced several notable cyber films, if not for cyber accuracy at least for action and entertainment reasons. Here are some recent and classic cyber flicks, in no particular order, which come recommended by cybersecurity and movie buffs.

In addition to entertainment for just about all, these films offer parents and educators worthwhile and fairly palatable teaching moments on an array of meaningful issues: cybersecurity consciousness raising, good-versus-evil, intellectual challenges, teamwork, ethics, and more. Don’t discount how some of these films offer easy ways to talk to your kids about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education and to segue into possible consideration and future exploration of careers in cyber-based professions.

And for the rest of us who shy away from evermore complex passwords, encryption, and other cyber precautions, these films may yet spur us to do to what is in our best interests to take the necessary steps sooner not later to fortify our own cyber defenses. As the Department of Homeland Security says, cybersecurity is a shared responsibility.

In the meantime, microwave the popcorn, get the milk duds, and in no particular order, Netflix some cyber flicks with your loved ones. And, write and tell us some of your favorite ones.

SkyFall (2012) | MGM Pictures

Daniel Craig’s James Bond finds himself in the midst of a cyber espionage plot that threatens the very existence of MI6. An exchange between the blonde Bond and the young, cyber-savvy Q, the head of MI6’s research and development branch, is revealing. “Youth is no guarantee of innovation,” Bond tells Q, who replies, “I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.”    We in homeland security know that’s no idle boast and that’s exactly what keeps us up at night: cyber-based destruction that surpasses the destruction by an agent licensed to kill.

The Italian Job (2003) | Paramount Pictures

Okay, this might be for viewing when the kids are asleep, although it certainly shows the importance teamwork. After pulling an amazing gold heist from a heavily guarded palazzo in Venice, Italy, Charlie and his gang, which includes computer genius Lyle, wheelman handsome Rob, and explosives expert Left-Ear, can’t believe it when they’re double-crossed.   Charlie and gang follow the murderous backstabber to California, where they plan to re-steal the gold by tapping into Los Angeles’ traffic control system, manipulating signals and creating one of the biggest traffic jams in history. Cyber-physical nexus at work here.

The Score (2001) | Paramount Pictures

This film, starring Edward Norton and Robert DeNiro, wasn’t huge at the box office, but it’s been called a great cyber-heist flick by a cyber-thriller aficionado. With the help of a talented and stereotypical socially awkward hacker, Norton and DeNiro attempt to break into the Canadian Customs House’s information security system. Heists rarely go as planned—especially when a corrupt systems administrator discovers the plan.

The Matrix (1999) | Warner Bros

Living two lives, by day he is an average computer programmer and by night the hacker Neo, played by Keanu Reeves. Neo has always questioned reality, but the truth is far beyond his imagination. Neo finds himself targeted by the police when he is contacted by Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, a legendary hacker branded a terrorist by the government. Morpheus awakens Neo to the real world, a ravaged wasteland where a race of machines has captured most of humanity and lives off of their body heat and electrochemical energy. The machines imprison human minds within an artificial reality known as the Matrix. As a rebel against the machines, Neo must return to the Matrix and confront the agents: super-powerful computer programs devoted to snuffing out Neo and the entire human rebellion. Who can resist? This begins a film trilogy, well-worth the investment of time.

GoldenEye (1995) | MGM Pictures

One good Bond film deserves another, and the first James Bond film to feature cyber (to the best of my knowledge) also featured telecommunications. After all, there is no cyber without telecom.  When a deadly satellite weapon system falls into the wrong hands, only Pierce Brosnan’s Agent 007 can save the world from certain disaster. Armed with his license to kill, Bond races to Russia in search of the stolen access codes for “Goldeneye,” an awesome space weapon that can fire a devastating electromagnetic pulse toward Earth. Wow, energy, telecom, and cyber all in one film, what more could a technophile want? Talk about cyber-physical connections!

Hackers (1995) | United Artists

An 11-year old boy is arrested by the U.S. Secret Service for writing a computer virus that caused a 7-point drop in the New York Stock Exchange and that caused 1,507 systems to crash in one day (is that all?) He’s banned from using a computer until his 18th birthday. Years later, he and new cyber hacker friends, who include elite hacker Angelina Jolie (known as Acid Burn), discover a plot to unleash a dangerous computer virus. They must use computer skills to find the evidence while being pursued by the Secret Service and the evil computer genius behind the virus. The film offers a huge teaching opportunity: white-hat hacking, friendship, collaboration with government, a great STEM platform, along with a few lessons on what not to do re breaking the law at any age.

The Net (1995) | Columbia Pictures

1995 was a very good year for cyber flicks. Hey, three in one year was a lot for those days…and now. This film showcases girl-next-door Sandra Bullock, making her the pin-up, so to speak, for computer/tech geeks worldwide. Bullock stars as a software expert who becomes the victim of identity theft and is shoved into a life and death struggle in this tale of corporate espionage. Not only is this a great movie to highlight the dangers of identity theft, but it’s great stuff to use to help promote STEM education, especially to young girls.

And don’t forget:

Jurassic Park (1993) | Universal Pictures

More than 20 years later, its reptiles can still make kids and adults jump. A little scary for little kids, but for pre-and early teens the film introduces cyber action smoothly. Wayne Knight portrays the loathsome hacker who steals the DNA secrets of the Jurassic project… and gets paid for his deceit in blood. Although there’s only 5 minutes of cyber action, Netflix the movie for the hacker scenes and the 110 minutes of dino-mayhem.