BLACKHAT – what it was supposed to be

... wondering who's hacked it to put in random nonsense

I wonder: Who hacked BLACKHAT and cut in random scenes of half hearted sex and half witted violence? There are brilliant scenes in it, beautifully filmed, with as much as coherent (and correct) tech talk. But then Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth – too hunky to be a hacker anyhow, sorry, Thor) points at a URL and calls it an IP address. _facepalm_ The plan behind BLACKHAT (there’s better stuff about cybercrime out there) started with a real and interesting story (the “Stuxnet”, see below) and deteriorated into mainstream “action”, maybe because of the paranoia of US director Michael Mann (the man behind MIAMI VICE, which I liked, actually) that his film might need more oomph than what your normal computer nerd story would deliver, once he discovered that there IS such a thing as the internet out there. I quote the production notes: “What he discovered from his exhaustive research was shocking. “The revelation was that you think you’re fine living in this secure bubble of your private life and there are various kinds of controls on access and egress,” Mann says. “That’s not true at all. We live in an invisible exoskeleton of data and interconnectedness. Everything we do, everything we touch, is part of that web. It’s as if we are living in a house and all the doors and windows are open and it’s a very dangerous neighborhood, but we don’t know it.” – end of quote –

Uhu. So the internet changed our lives. What else is new? And: “open windows and doors” permanent state of alert? Really? I mean, REALLY? For the NSA et al we’re surely all transparent (and it’s that very NSA who gets hacked expertly in the film – one of the best scenes in it). Come on. We know by now that every e-mail is like a postcard, unless you encrypt it really well. And we learn in the film that you shouldn’t open a PDF or connect a USB-stick … there be gremlins. Ok, at least that much might be news to somebody.

There HAS been an interesting hack at the base of BLACKHAT’s development. I quote from the production notes again (and distance myself from the overuse of superlatives): “Several years ago, a discovery by a handful of computer security analysts upended all preconceptions, and a code, the likes of which had never been seen, emerged. When analysts traced it back to its origins, what they learned would change our world; they found a code that was not only carefully constructed and complex, it was weaponized. Indeed, it had already stealthily brought down a uranium enrichment plant in Iran. …. The malware, which was dubbed “Stuxnet”, had wormed its way through an intricate computerized infrastructure, taking control of automation processes and spinning the plant’s centrifuges into their own destruction. It had thoroughly evaded any detection by humans inside or outside the compound, and by the time it was discovered, some feared that the code had gone wild….Mann explains just what this event meant to him: “I became interested in the world because of the advent of Stuxnet, malware that was designed by a team of Americans and a team of Israelis. It took over the Iranian centrifuges in a nuclear facility at Natanz, and it was the world’s first stealth drone. I say ‘stealth’ because it attacked, but the effect of its hit wouldn’t be known for 18 months after it hit.” – end of second quote –

“Stealth drone” as a synonym for malware _ headdesk_  As I feared, this film isn’t about code (which it expertly mentions and shows – at times), it’s about money and guns; Maybe because the makers thought the public wouldn’t understand that “hidden world” they themselves discovered, found so fascinating and actually ARE revealing in some very nicely made visuals? Second to last quote from the production notes (because THIS is not explained in the film): ‘Who is a blackhat hacker? What’s the motivation? What’s the exalted experience?’ It usually starts with the perception of a 16-year-old saying, ‘They’re telling me I can’t get into that? You want to bet?’ So there’s usually a challenge. And who is Hathaway? …“A large number of blackhat hackers who had been prosecuted did time and then wound up working in cyberdefense,” he continues. “From their point of view, there aren’t necessarily boundaries. That is very similar thinking to a gamer, with one key difference. The difference is that, for a hacker, it’s a reverse escapism. The positive feedback loop-type satisfaction—almost an opiated experience—is the same; the difference is that, for the gamer, the outcome is in the virtual world. For the hacker, it occurs in the physical, material, real world. His or her manipulation of code has a real and kinetic reaction. And that’s some of the high.” – end of quote –

Well, there would have been material galore to work with, but sadly, no … what has been fabricated (by a commission?) looks like a documentary studded with random “action” sequences following an cooking recipe: minute 30 – sex! … minute 40  somebody needs to get shot … minute 70: a car needs to explode (good way to get rid of characters one might have to explore more in depth, if they survived) … Did I mention the thing is 120 (boring) minutes long? Most of the time I sat there wondering what the heck those people were running for or travelling after or shooting at. Proxy servers? You do that from your laptop, with blinds drawn, lots of coffee and little disturbance. Even the initial hack is utter nonsense (who would destroy a nuclear plant in order to find out stealthily whether his or her idea works?). Synopsis (very last quote, promised): “Hong Kong—The Chai Wan Nuclear Power Plant has been hacked….Chicago—The Mercantile Trade Exchange (MTE) is hacked, sending soy futures skyrocketing within 24 hours.….seasoned FBI special agent, Carol Barrett, promotes to her superiors partnering with China’s cyberdefense team, since both countries were attacked. But Captain Chen is not remotely whom Barrett expected. The MIT-educated Chinese officer speaks perfect English and insists his American counterparts immediately release a notorious blackhat hacker from a U.S. federal penitentiary: Nicholas Hathaway.” – end of last quote – That very “notorious blackhat” is played by Chris Hemsworth … well, as I said above, the man looks nothing like a nerd, and he has obviously spent more time at the gym than at a computer keyboard. Watch him in RUSH, if you want to see him shirtless – and enjoy a brilliant film at the same time.

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About Elisabeth Schabus (476 Articles)
I see, I like, I write ... mostly about cinema and actors, but also about politics or economy. In English, auf Deutsch, på svenska. This ORF trained news journalist (TV, radio), who has also worked in corporate publishing for international brands and written/edited tons of magazines, has become a blogger out of passion.

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