5 Must-See Documentaries About Hacking and Hackers

Joel Lee 10-06-2015

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 What Is The Difference Between A Good Hacker & A Bad Hacker? [Opinion] Every now and then, we hear something in the news about hackers taking down sites, exploit a multitude of programs, or threatening to wiggle their way into high-security areas where they shouldn't belong. But, if... Read More ? And where do terms like “life hacking” 15 Awesome Life Hacks You Can Find On Instagram Who doesn't fancy a shortcut? Life hacks are ingenious tricks that can make your life easier, whether it's as simple as fitting two bowls in a microwave oven or making a DIY stand for your... Read More fit into everything?


First, let’s cut the colloquialisms. Hacking your life has no relation to actual hacking. Device tampering — such as webcam hacks Hack Attack: How To Keep Your Webcam Secure From Online Peeping Toms What would you do if someone had control of your webcam without your knowledge? Fortunately, there are ways to keep yourself clean from these online peeping Toms. Read More and RFID hacks How RFID Can Be Hacked and What You Can Do to Stay Safe Hackers using RFID scanners can theoretically steal money via your phone's tap-to-pay app. Here's how to prevent RFID hacking. Read More — is closer to the real deal. But most of the time, hacking refers to bypassing network security How To Test Your Home Network Security With Free Hacking Tools No system can be entirely "hack proof" but browser security tests and network safeguards can make your set-up more robust. Use these free tools to identify "weak spots" in your home network. Read More , 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 10 of the World's Most Famous and Best Hackers (and Their Fascinating Stories) White-hat hackers versus black-hat hackers. Here are the best and most famous hackers in history and what they're doing today. Read More . 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 BitTorrent & Magnets: How Do They Work? [Technology Explained] As we recently reported, The Pirate Bay has switched from using .torrent file downloads to magnet links with no opt-out policy. The tracker has offered magnet downloads for a good while now, but this is... Read More 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 5 Of The World’s Most Famous And Most Influential White Hat Hackers In this article, I’m going to jump back to the original definition and explore the world of “good hackers,” otherwise known as “white hat hackers.”Let’s take a look at five of the most influential computer... Read More , 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 Hollywood Hacks: The Best and Worst Hacking in Movies Hollywood and hacking do not get along. While real-life hacking is hard, movie hacking often involves just pounding away on a keyboard like your fingers are going out of style. Read More 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!

Image Credits: Matrix Man Silhouette Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Documentary, Hacking.

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  1. Jacob
    December 23, 2016 at 1:34 am

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  2. Anonymous
    June 11, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    The only documentary that I would add to this list is "We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists" which gives an excellent and insightful overview into the world of Anonymous and hacktivism and really makes you think about the meaning of "free speech" in the digital age.

    • Joel Lee
      July 10, 2015 at 12:07 am

      Thank you! Seems like documentaries about Anonymous are pretty popular to make, relatively speaking.

  3. Anonymous
    June 11, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Great list. Thank you!. When it comes to MUST SEE category, I think Revolution OS should be on this list. It's not a hacking documentary either. But I feel like it need to be in this list.

    • Joel Lee
      July 10, 2015 at 12:06 am

      Great suggestion! Couldn't include it because it's not hacking, but thanks for bringing it up anyway. :)

  4. Anonymous
    June 10, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    The internet's own boy: the story of Aron Swartz is a very good documentary. I know it's not about hacking but I think it can give a great insight into what hacking can achieve.
    It's also a great documentary as it shows one of the greatest minds in the internet era.

    • Joel Lee
      July 10, 2015 at 12:06 am

      Thanks for that recommendation. The story of Aaron Schwartz is interesting and definitely worth knowing about. :)