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July 4, 2019

Hacker's Game: 10 Things Hollywood Got Wrong About Computer Hacking

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We’ve all seen it in the movies: a hacker hunches over his computer in a darkened room. He’s wearing a dark sweater with the hood pulled up, there’s often a can of Red Bull nearby. And suddenly, the heroes of the film realize they’re being hacked and they deploy their own computer expert to desperately try to stop the attack.

While the idea of computer hacking has been sensationalized and sometimes seems to only exist in the movies, it is a real-life threat that people should be wary of. The better you understand what hacking is and how it can affect you, the better you can protect yourself. A good place to start is by recognizing what’s a Hollywood myth about computer hacking, and what isn’t.

So, what are the myths?

  • Large organizations are the only ones who get hacked
  • Hackers are lone wolves instead of organized groups
  • Hackers have to rush to finish hacking
  • You can’t be seen/hacked while browsing incognito
  • Hackers can’t attack your smartphone
  • You must download malware to be hacked
  • All hacking is illegal and malicious
  • Hackers are computer geniuses
  • The deep web is only for illegal activities
  • One type of malware can attack all systems

Hackers Only Attack Large Organizations

The Myth: Most movies show hackers attacking large organizations. It might be tech companies, or spy networks like the CIA or MI6. While this might make for more interesting plot lines, it’s not entirely true to real life.

The Reality: While hackers do target big businesses, as evidenced by their not-infrequent mentions in the news circuit, all businesses can be hacked. In fact, smaller organizations are often easier to breach simply because they don’t have as many resources to devote to security. That doesn’t make them unsafe, but breaches can happen to big organizations, small organizations, and even individuals.

Hackers are Lone Wolves Instead of Organized Groups

The Myth: As we described above, many movies depict hackers sitting alone at their computers, often in a basement or secret tech hideaway. They most often seem to be working alone to bring down a technological or governmental regime that wronged them in the past (or sometimes just for a little bit of chaos). It makes it easier for the hero of the film to only take down a single villain instead of an entire network of them, but that’s not always how computer hacking works.

The Reality: While some hackers work alone, many are part of large networks. The amount of work that goes into orchestrating a large breach is quite often more than any one person can manage. It takes teamwork and stellar organization to be successful, making the lone wolf hacker trope more fiction than reality.

Hackers Have to Rush to Finish Hacking

The Myth: Let’s set the stage: the clock has started. Our movie hero has realized the hacker is worming into their systems and now they have to stop it. The hacker’s time is limited. If they don’t finish their hacking in the next 30 seconds, the hero will win and their nefarious plan will be foiled. Cue the dramatic music and movie watchers are riveted to their screens. Although this certainly makes a movie more fun to watch, it’s not strictly accurate.

The Reality: Hacking isn’t a heist. The hacker doesn’t have to set a timer to pull off a breach in the nick of time. Instead, most hackers take slow and methodical approaches to their work. This allows them to prevent mistakes, and get the exact data they want. It also helps them remain undetected until their work is done.

You Can’t Be Seen or Hacked While Browsing Incognito

The Myth: When a movie hero wants to protect themselves from a hack, they may activate “encryption” on their devices that prevents hackers from seeing what they’re doing. In the real world, this can be compared to browsing the web with incognito or private mode. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be hacked.

The Reality: Incognito or private browsing can keep tech companies from garnering information about you. To protect that data further, you can even use private search engines like HotBot.com. However, browsing privately doesn’t necessarily mean you’re protected from hackers. Use just as much caution as you would with regular browsing.

Computer Hacking Can’t Attack Your Smartphone

The Myth: Like we just discussed, many movies show their characters using encrypted devices to protect themselves from hacks and data breaches. They make it seem like phones are unhackable or at least less likely to be hacked. Just as with every item in this list, that portrayal isn’t wholly accurate.

The Reality: While computers are somewhat easier for a hacker to breach than a smartphone, any device that is connected to the internet has the potential to be hacked, including smartphones. These hacks can come through proximity to smartphones, unsafe apps, and other less-than-savoury downloads. To help protect your smartphone, don’t download anything you don’t trust, and use a VPN while browsing, especially if you have to use public wifi.

You Must Download Malware

The Myth: Another movie myth is that a person using a computer has to click on the wrong button, or the hacker has to sneak a device into the building whose system they’re trying to attack, and that’s how technological doomsday begins.

The Reality: Although the movies show this trope very confidently, there’s no need to accidentally click on and download a malware file before hackers can begin wreaking havoc (but clicking unsafe links can also speed up the process). Even visiting the wrong website can be enough to compromise your security. You can avoid this by making sure the sites you visit have SSL security (meaning the URLs start with HTTPS instead of HTTP), unsubscribing from old email lists, and signing up for as few online accounts as possible.

All Hacking is Illegal and Malicious

The Myth: The myth that all hacking is done by hooded baddies is starting to be dispelled in many movies but the trope still persists. While some hacking is illegal, and some hacking is malicious, not all is.

The Reality: One of the best ways to fight against hackers is to use hackers in return. These people, often called white hat hackers, are paid professionals who work for big organizations or government agencies to keep you and everyone safe. White hat hackers use their skills to identify weak points in security systems to make them stronger.

Hackers are Computer Geniuses

The Myth: The idea of computer hacking often conjures to mind the awkward genius, who is brilliant with a computer but maybe less so with social interactions. They may have gone to a school like MIT but along the way used their powers of genius for bad instead of good.

The Reality: While some hackers may very well be geniuses, many are just average people who took up computer skills as a hobby. Many people can learn the trade within a few months to a year. Some do choose to use this knowledge to hack other networks.

The Deep Web is Only for Illegal Activities

The Myth: Chances are, you’ve heard of the deep web. To quote Star Wars, many users portray it as a “hive of scum and villainy.” The movies like to use the phrase and the mystery surrounding the deep web to make it seem like only a place for illegal activities but that isn’t true.

The Reality: While it’s true that many hackers may lurk in its corners, the term deep web only describes a portion of the internet that can’t be accessed through the default configuration of your web browser. While hackers can carry out illegal activities there, they can also happen in the more accessible portion of the internet.

One Type of Malware Can Attack All Systems

The Myth: The hacker writes a few lines of code. He presses a button. All the computers, phones, and satellites around the globe go down. Using only a single malware file, the hacker managed to bring about global catastrophe. This is yet another movie trope that’s just that: a trope, rather than the truth.

The Reality: In the real world, malware and other viruses have to be written with a specific purpose and often a specific system in mind. To put it simply, a virus designed to attack a computer by creating spam pop-ups, will only attack a computer by creating spam pop-ups. We’ll never say never, but most viruses and malware have very strict limits on what and how they can attack and how far and fast they can spread. A single button press can’t just take down every device in the world. At least not yet, and possibly not ever.


It’s no myth that computer hacking is a real threat to online safety and privacy. Help to protect yourself by using HotBot VPN.

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