Hacking is one of those subjects that everybody knows about yet few people truly understand. Is hacking inherently malicious? Is there a difference between a hacker and a cracker? What about white hat vs. black hat vs. gray hat hackers? And where do terms like “life hacking” fit into everything?
First, let’s cut the colloquialisms. Hacking your life has no relation to actual hacking. Device tampering — such as webcam hacks and RFID hacks — is closer to the real deal. But most of the time, hacking refers to bypassing network security, and that’s what we’re going to explore in this article.
What is hacking? Why is it a subject that’s simultaneously glamorous yet nebulous? How much of the hacking community do we actually understand? Do hackers deserve the reputation they have? These documentaries will answer all of your questions and more.
The Secret History of Hacking (2001)
For as long as information technology has existed, certain people have tried to abuse it. That’s how we get stories of people like Albert Gonzalez and Kevin Mitnick. Others are less nefarious, as we see in the example of Steve Wozniak.
The Secret History of Hacking is a documentary released by the Discovery Channel. It delves into the lives of some of the most famous (or infamous) hackers that have crossed the public eye. Why is hacking culture so resilient? Where did hacking begin and how did we get to where we are today?
It’s informative without being too dry, and there’s enough intrigue in the delivery to make the 50-minute run-time seem shorter than it is. If you want to learn about the real history behind modern hacking, this is where you should start.
Hackers Wanted (2009)
“Most hackers are benign. They’re just curious.” It’s a strange statement to make when you consider how loaded the term “hacker” is in our day and age. Hackers are evil and sinister, aren’t they? How could they be benign? Aren’t they all trying to steal credit card numbers and digitally break into banks? Not exactly.
This documentary, which is entrancingly narrated by Kevin Spacey, actually failed to secure a conventional release due to dissent within the production team over the final quality. A version of the film eventually hit the public BitTorrent network in 2009, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hackers Wanted follows Adrian Lamo, a mid-30s former hacker turned security analyst, who became an FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) fugitive overnight. What happened over the following days was recorded and turned into this documentary, which serves as a portrayal of the hacking community at large.
How Hackers Changed the World (2013)
Perhaps the best-known name associated with hacking is Anonymous, a sociopolitical group that has no centralized structure, hierarchy, or mission. Anyone, or any particular group, can be Anonymous. These groups operate independently to accomplish a variety of different goals.
The sinew that holds Anonymous together is the use of technology to effect social change, otherwise known as hacktivism. Most of it is well-intentioned, but the controversy is whether or not the ends always justify the means.
How Hackers Changed the World is a BBC documentary that looks at Anonymous and explores how they came to be, what makes them tick, and in what direction they might be heading in the years to come.
The Hacker Wars (2015)
The Hacker Wars is another documentary about Anonymous, though this one is more up-to-date and a bit more exciting. Recent years have seen a growing battle for Internet privacy, security, and freedom for users all over the world. What role does Anonymous play in all of that?
More specifically, The Hacker Wars follows three different people who are entwined with the hacking world: Andrew Aurenheimer, Jeremy Hammond, and Barrett Brown. It’s the story of how hacktivists move to make change and what happens when they collide with the FBI.
DEFCON: The Documentary (2013)
DEFCON is arguably the largest hacker conference in the world. It’s where hackers go to network and hang out, whether said hacker is a beginner trying to learn the ways of hacking or a veteran who’s there to spread knowledge and awareness about the subject.
Seriously, it’s a huge event. People from all walks of life — security professionals, lawyers, journalists, researchers, lobbyists, and more — gather here to talk about the latest in computer security, information privacy, etc. They even hold contests that allow attendees to practice their skills and earn recognition.
DEFCON: The Documentary is an inside look at one of these conferences. It portrays these people for who they actually are. They’re not superheroes, they’re not super-villains, and they’re not super-geniuses. They’re just people.
More Hacker Documentaries!
We all have preconceived notions of what it means to be a hacker, most likely influenced by Hollywood and the media. But when we peel back the layers of hyperbole and misrepresentation, what do we really get?
These documentaries help paint a more accurate picture of the hacking realm. So you really should watch them when you get a chance. The world could use some clarity on this topic, and these documentaries are a good first step towards that goal.
What is your concept of a hacker? How do you feel about the hacking culture? Is it black-and-white or a more complex gray? Do you know of any other hacker documentaries that we missed? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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