Mr. Robot returns, as unsettlingly relevant as ever
Everyone’s favorite narratively unstable, obliquely framed, psychological hacker drama, Mr. Robot, returned to TV this week with its second season premiere. Buckle in, because if you weren’t already paranoid enough about cyber security, you’ll never trust another device or email again.
As before, any articles written here on Mr. Robot won’t really contain too much summary of each episode’s events; it’s more the depiction of the tech and the hacking elements that are of concern. True to its first season form, the show remains a uniquely accurate, not to mention exceptionally timely portrayal of all things hacking, data, and security—possessing an adherence to reality and an attention to detail that has earned it praise from those in the field who tune in.
This week, as Law & Order used to so famously do, the show incorporated into its plot several items that could have been ripped straight from the headlines. Lost data. Ransomware. The Internet of Things. Elliot and FSociety’s plans for a glorious financial revolution and changing the world, which…
…was carried out last season, erasing 70% of the global debt, isn’t having quite the positive effect the hacktivist collective imagined. Chaos reigns as the world economies struggle to restore balance, and despite ECorp’s substantial losses, despite their entire database being breached and erased, the financial titan still manages to screw over its customers as it attempts to recover from its own negligence. The company even suffers a particularly nasty bit of ransomware, which should unfortunately be no stranger to numerous organizations out there, who have likewise had their networks held hostage by Cryptolocker or some other strain, or even had their data deleted. Still, I can’t ever recall ransomware being shown on TV in such a realistic fashion, when it is at all.
Other scenes put me in mind of some additional news items. In their search for a new base of operations, Darlene and her FSociety cadre hack into the luxurious smart home of an ECorp executive. All her devices go haywire and she is forced to flee to her second home when the company says that no fix will be imminent. This scene is basically a smart home resident’s worst nightmare come true. When everything from your thermostat to your fridge is connected to the Internet, after all, the possibility of a hacker infiltrating, assuming control, and accessing your data exists. As The Verge reflects, these kinds of “home pwnership” incidents actually do happen, like when Kashmir Hill gained access to a home’s floodlights, hot tub and water pump just by Googling, or when University of Michigan researchers used flaws in a Samsung platforms to set off a home’s smoke alarms and even unlock doors.
On the show, the company’s lackadaisical response to the executive’s complaints reminds me tangentially of the many retailers who still haven’t made the switch to chip card technology: despite 70% of consumers having chip cards, only 37% of retailers can currently process them. PIN fraud’s drastic increase over the last decade just makes this procrastination irresponsible, especially when they claim that PIN is preferable because it’s proven and safe. Around 70% of consumers also want these businesses to stop twiddling their thumbs and make the switch to more secure forms of electronic payments to better protect their data.
Anyway, though it has just begun, season 2 of Mr. Robot looks to continue being a favorite among its techy viewers. One wonders what recent events might be used as narrative fodder in the weeks to come.