While stories about breaches and cyberattacks have only become commonplace in the news relatively recently, Hollywood has had an interest in cybersecurity for some time now. To coincide with the Oscars, we’re taking a look at several popular films that dealt with cyberattacks on companies or government institutions, industrial espionage, and cyberwar, in order to take away some lessons for businesses.
Endpoint security and the problem with critical infrastructure.
In Skyfall (2012), one of the latest James Bond films, the British Intelligence Service, MI6, is under attack, and is trying to stop vital information from being leaked to the public. In turn, Bond is fighting to survive, and struggling to stay relevant in a world where the figure of the field agent is becoming less important thanks to technological advances, and where popular services such as social networks can put an agent’s privacy at risk. Silva, a cybercriminal, and the film’s bad guy, manages to interfere with satellite signals, attack the London Underground, tamper with elections in several African countries, and destabilize the stock market… All from a computer.
Although the film contains such important concepts as the protection of critical infrastructures, and is the first Bond film to use a cyberattack as a lethal weapon, there is one serious error that needs to be highlighted. The employees of MI6 get their hands on a computer belonging to Silva, the criminal hacker, and connect it to the intelligence service’s network to extract information from it. Accessing the network via an infected endpoint endangers the organization’s entire infrastructure, and is an important example of how simple mistakes in a business environment can put our privacy at risk. Despite this slip up, Q, the technology expert at MI6, says, one might say quite rightly: “I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop, sitting in my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.”
The documentary Zero Days (2016) investigates the by now well-known sophisticated computer worm Stuxnet, which is suspected to have been developed by the United States and Israel in order to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program in 2010. Stuxnet also managed to make its way onto a private network via an infected endpoint – in this case a pen drive – which injected malicious code onto the programmable logic controllers (PLC) used to automate the nuclear power station’s processes.
The worm took over more than 1,000 machines in the industrial environment, and forced them to self-destruct. This attack became the first known digital weapon in international cyberwar, the first virus capable of paralyzing functioning hardware. The malware leveraged multiple zero day vulnerabilities in order to infect Windows computers, specifically targeting nuclear centrifuges used to produce the uranium needed for weapons and nuclear reactors. Despite being created specifically to affect nuclear facilities in 2010, it seems that Stuxnet has mutated and spread to different organizations outside the industrial sector.
Human error in cyberwar
In the film Blackhat (2015), after attacks on nuclear power stations in Hong Kong and on the Chicago Stock Exchange, the US and Chinese governments are forced to cooperate in order to protect themselves. In light of these new threats, the FBI turns to a convicted cybercriminal, Hathaway, to help discover who is behind the IT attacks: a black hat hacker seeking to get rich by bringing down the stock market.
In this case, several of the attacks are carried out by the black hat using a RAT (Remote Access Trojan), a piece of malware that can take over a system via a remote connection. Those collaborating with the FBI also fall back on two important weapons to attack corporate networks: an email with an attached PDF containing a keylogger. This tool is used to access a piece of software exclusive to the National Security Agency (NSA), which is not willing to collaborate with the FBI. As with the other two films discussed here, they also use an infected pen drive as an attack vector, in this case to gain access to a bank’s network and drain the accounts of the cybercriminal who is wreaking so much havoc.
These three examples from the film industry can provide us with some valuable tips for a business environment:
- Pen drives must never be inserted in our systems if you don’t know where they come from, or without first running a malware analysis. To carry out a scan like this, advanced platforms such as Panda Adaptive Defense provide a detailed vision of all endpoints. It’s also vital to scan files that come in as attachments.
- Attachments from unknown senders or people who aren’t in our address books must never be opened.
- We need to make sure that our employees know how to deal with social engineering attacks and such common mistakes as connecting unknown devices to the corporate network.