Saturday, June 30, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

The latest installment in the Die Hard series has our hero John McClane chasing after a crew of hacker-terrorists that are systematically shutting down the critical infrastructure of the United States. The movie describes this as a "fire sale," as in "everything must go."

While I do not pretend to be part of the in-crowd when it comes to national security terminology, I don't recall ever hearing this term used to describe any scenario relating to critical infrastructure attacks. I suspect the screen writers just made it up.

At any rate, the action begins in an FBI operations center that makes the fictional NORAD command center from WarGames look like, well, the real NORAD command center. Even with its modern architecture and sleek interface design, the most amazing part of this set is the fact the 20-foot projection screens have relevant network security information from every U.S. government network, as well as the national energy grid--truly unbelievable.

With all of the creativity that Hollywood has to offer, I'm sure its still difficult for someone to visualized a network intrusion in a way that most people would find interesting, but showing computer screens dim, go black and then suddenly come back to life just doesn't do it for me. But this is exactly how the action gets kicked off and, without much investigation, the FBI knows immediately that it was the work of hackers. Holy crap, I thought someone forgot to pay the power bill!

So what was compromised exactly? The power supply to the monitors? It obviously wasn't the computers because when the screen can back on, there was nothing to indicate that they were compromised or had even lost power. I don't mean to suggest that a comprised system would have some sort of visual indicator, but with all that the operations center had to offer, you'd think the screen writers or director could have come up with something a little more realistic or clever, such as showing that all of the FBI's computers are sending out spam for herbal Viagra. Just a thought.

I could bore you with paragraphs on SCADA system security, or ask why someone would spend money to build a networked system that shuts off lights that don't need to be turned off, but I'll simply focus on one of my biggest beefs with this movie which is the use of what I call "magical hacking tools."

While everything in a Hollywood production is larger than life, there seems to be an obsession with showing omnipotent hacking tools with elaborate graphical interfaces which, in addition to allowing easy access to every function of extremely a complex system, can also mimic any system's GUI.

In reality, even commercial security tools do not have this level of functionality or interface design, but I don't want to denigrate the advances that our blackhat friends have made over the last couple of years with their software. Take a look at this Web GUI used to control botnets. Most corporate systems don't look this good.