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How Realistic are the Surveillance Scenes in ‘Mr. Robot’? A Hacking Expert Zeroes In

How Realistic are the Surveillance Scenes in ‘Mr. Robot’? A Hacking Expert Zeroes In: USA Network

USA Network

This week, we got the origin story of the Evil Corp hack and its connection to the Monopoly-man mask of fsociety. It’s from the (fake) 1984 movie The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie, where much bludgeoning of the well-to-do occurs. Why? Who knows, but Darlene laments that America isn’t truly classless, and she and Elliot get solace from the cheesy horror scenes. This is when Elliot hatches his plot to go inside Allsafe as a mole, much like Edward Snowden did with his job at the NSA, and to then infiltrate E Corp and take them down. (In Hackerland, there is a lot of score-keeping and revenge to be had.) In a brilliant meta-move, the first scenes of the movie, studded with gore and gratuitous nudity, is online here. You know you’re going to have to watch it right now.

We see that Eliott wants to make sure E Corp can’t rebuild, a total scorched-earth attack like what happened to Sony Pictures. He knows the hardest part of any large hack is ultimately getting away with it, and it’s not beyond companies or the FBI to put large bounties, in the millions of dollars, on wanted criminals.

Flash forward to the present day and Darlene is followed, poorly, as she is leaving the subway. Usually when a tail is that obvious, it is because someone is sending a message: We are watching and we don’t care if you know. That can be to intimidate, to force an error or just get you to stop doing whatever got their attention in the first place. After some stress-relieving sex with a Dark Army contact in the bathroom, Darlene is talked out of fleeing the city in panic, a move that would have signaled her guilt to whoever is watching.

Perhaps her trackers should have read the 1990 tell-all book By Way of Deception. The author, Israeli Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky, talks about watchless watching, a surveillance method used in high-density cities. Instead of following your target, you place static watchers along the suspected route. As the target moves along, the watchers can check in with each other and determine where the target is heading. If they lose the target they try again, this time with more watchers where they lost the target. Sooner or later, if you follow any pattern, they will find your destination. No cellphone tracking necessary.   The plot thickens when we see E Corp CEO Phillip Price on a phone call with the fabulous leader of the Dark Army. I’m sure we’ll learn more later if the relationship started before or after the E Hack, but they are up to no good trying to influence some the U.S. administration to hold some sort of UN vote related to eCoin. Evil E must be planning with the Dark Army to get eCoin adopted and the attack is the justification. As they say in D.C., “Never let a crisis go to waste.” They must be really friendly to be having frequent and apparently encryption-free direct calls.

The risk here is that Elliot and fsociety are now pawns in this chess game. Price and the Dark Army need each other, but neither needs fsociety now and they lack leverage. If it gets too hot, the Dark Army can deflect attention by narcing out fsociety to the feds or the media—or just eliminate them. I wonder how soon they will realize their dangerous predicament and take counter measures?

The Dark Army is so far in the FBI that they have access to secret intelligence and are monitoring enough of it to pick out just the bits they want—like the fact that they have found the suspected fsociety clubhouse. That means an active insider mole or some crazy network penetration. Classified networks are separated from internet-connected networks for a reason, and every time you hear about a government network getting compromised it is always the unclassified one. I’m going to take a risk and guess it’s an insider instead of a network hack just to be contrary, though. We know the Dark Army doesn’t play around and reportedly offs people who are compromised, and it wouldn’t be beyond an organization like that to try and blackmail or bribe their way to access. Plus it leads to more plot twists and suspense.

By the end of the episode Elliot, too, is hacking the FBI so it’s going to get a bit crowded in there. Maybe he’ll find the mole?

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