USA’s wildly popular “Mr. Robot” took center stage at the CES 2016 CyberSecurity Forum in Las Vegas. Hosted by Nilay Patel of The Verge, the Robot panel featured a number of writers, consultants and security experts, including USA Network’s Kor Adana.
Adana – a scribe for the hit series – told conference attendees that he and Robot creator Sam Esmail were both frustrated with the way the majority of conventional films and shows insisted on portraying hacking over the years.
“We decided early on Mr. Robot would be grounded in reality, [unlike] other shows,” he explained. “Most don’t think there is inherent drama in actual hacking, which is why they make do with a hacker ‘flying’ through directories and other unrealistic special effects. We take a different approach by showing the way it really happens. Sure, we take some license with timing, but there is clearly drama in the reality of compromising the system.”
According to Adana, Robot appeals to a wide range of viewers, including the more tech savvy crowd that champions the notion of individual customization via jailbreaking and other similar activities.
“This show is something refreshing, something they have been waiting for,” he said. “Robot has synched up well with real life events, such as the Ashley Madison hack.”
Indeed, a number of Robot hacks have actually occurred in reality, ranging from compromised PLC devices to malware-packed USB sticks dropped in parking lots to tempt unsuspecting victims. As Adana points out, Robot has helped raised awareness of cyber-security risks for a more mainstream audience.
“The show gets people on a certain wavelength when they realize oh, my webcam really can be used to spy on me,” Adana continued. “And maybe I shouldn’t just blindly accept a CD from a street peddler. The show illustrates the very real risks for the average person. An increased level of paranoia is clearly a good thing in this landscape. It comes along with the territory, because we know how to exploit these vulnerabilities.”
Robot, emphasizes Adana, is dedicated to faithfully showing the trial and error of hacking, as most attempts to compromise systems clearly don’t work on the first try.
“[We] work really hard to keep up with what is going on in the news in terms of security vulnerabilities. Sam is very open to [these ideas] and wants to incorporate them into the show,” he said. “We’ll have discussions about this new exploit that just came out and zero day threats. Whatever the zeitgeist is in this community, we want to incorporate into show and work it into the narrative. We’re using vulnerabilities to both educate and entertain.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Adana says Robot carefully adheres to the age-old hacker maxim of taking the path of least resistance.
“Realistic hacks don’t need to be flashy. Real hackers stick to what works,” he explained. “Yes, we want to incorporate new ideas, but we still need to be realistic. [Remember], the human angle can always be exploited.”
Robot, concludes Adana, offers a sophisticated blend of realistic tech and high-stakes drama.
“The show has amazing music and cinematography; it is both unique and stylistic. Robot energetically taps into something that is going on in the world. Tech compliments the drama; it helps the action even if someone doesn’t understand every detail. Sam [Esmail] really knocked this one out of the park,” he added.