Mr Robot Season 2 – Books on Hacking
To celebrate the release of Season 2 of everyone’s favourite hacking show, Mr. Robot, here is a quick run down of some of my favourite books on the topic on computer hacking, social engineering and the history of crime on the internet and a few extra goodies too.
You can watch season’s one and two of Mr. Robot on Amazon Prime for free if you can binge watch them within the limits of the 30 day free trial. Easy.
Wired has a nice ‘preview’ of what to expect, and the easter eggs to look out for in Season 2…
Sharp viewers already spotted one Easter egg in the trailer—a real phone number instead of a Hollywood number written on the side of an evidence box. The number went to a recorded message for E Corp’s helpline. “Following recent events we are experiencing heavy caller volume,” the voice said, before another one—a computerized voice familiar from fsociety’s previous videos—breaks in to say in a threatening tone, “In order for the light to shine so brightly the darkness must be present.” The quote comes from Francis Bacon.
Soliciting not just viewer’s eyeballs, but their action as well, marks a big change for Season 2. “I’ve been trying to plant Easter eggs dating back to Season 1,” Adana says. “So much of my job is proving to people who are above me that these little details matter. The phone number is something that we fought [for] with the legal department.” Adana largely lost that battle; aside from the marketing gimmick in the trailer, the staff wasn’t able to use real phone numbers in Season 2. But he did succeed in getting permission to use real IP addresses. “I know what kind of audience we have,” he says. “Even if it’s on the screen for a millisecond, they’re going to screenshot it and try to ping the servers.”
Sound and Picture.com has a great, in-depth interview with Picture Editor Philip Harrison and Sound Editor Kevin Buchholz about working on the show with director Sam Esmail.
The interview largely focuses on the creative process and challenges of the show’s unique vision, rather than the tools and techniques of the trade. Well worth a read.
To me, one of the most impressive things about Mr. Robot is the different pacing of the story and the internal pacing of scenes, which was a real challenge when I first started working on it, because I’m used to cutting on every line and keeping things really snappy. Sam insisted that we keep Mr. Robot cinematic, and he asked us to do without those kinds of bells and whistles. He wants us to trust that our characters and our storylines are interesting enough on their own.
We slowed down the pace, and eventually I was able to adjust to this mindset. And what happened for me is that, when I approach the material now, I’m hanging on every word and everything has a potential meaning. I think that’s part of why the sound style can work, because underneath everything there’s such a fullness and a trusting of the story, so you don’t need sound effects popping in and keeping you active. The story itself is just so engrossing.
Inside Mr Robot
Here’s a quick little video montage, featuring some of the off-balance framing from season 1 of Mr. Robot.
In this interview from the Soundworks Collection, you can hear from series composer Mac Quayle and his electronic score for the show.
UPDATE – Editing Mr. Robot
Steve Hullfish has a cracking interview with editor Philip Harrison for his American Cinema Editors Eddie nominated work on Mr. Robot.
It’s really interesting to get into a lot of detail on just one episode of a TV show, that also has it’s own distinctive style. Well worth a read if you’re a fan of the show, or just an editor who wants to learn more!
SH: You said that you broke the dailies down into granular segments. How are you doing that? With selects reels or sub clips or what are you doing?
PH: I like to use Avid ScriptSync when I’m working with a director because it’s really fast for showing options. But when I’m cutting on my own I don’t use ScriptSync at all because I need to just go through the footage to understand what I have and kind of internalize it all.
I’ll watch the dailies and then I will create what I call “breakdown” sequences for each scene. In the breakdown sequences, I will line up smaller sections of all the takes from each camera position. So, One sequence of all of Elliot’s dialogue, one for Mr. Robot’s, and one for the wide shots, etc.
The breakdown is the individual lines of dialogue or reactions all lined up together but it can also be longer hunks of the scene according to what seems the most helpful.
I find I need to compare performances directly against each other to make a choice. By putting lines of dialogue, reactions or moments of action together, side by side, the right take seems to pop out. I compare it to photographers when they look at photos on a contact sheet and they have their loupe and they go from photo to photo and by just popping from one to the next to the next you can suddenly see: “Oh that’s the one I want to use.” That’s kind of my process.
Things get vague for me if I don’t break down into fairly small pieces. But it’s also just a way to make sure that I have seen everything and that I really have internalized the material.
There are plenty of helpful details like this one on working with dailies, music and fitting into a show’s pre-built format. Read it here.
5 Best Books on Hacking, Social Engineering and Internet Crime
Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter
Kim Zetter is an award winning senior staff writer for Wired, covering cybercrime, privacy and security. She’s a darn good writer too. In her book Countdown to Zero Day she delivers a meticulous and gripping read about the hunt to dismantle and trace the Stuxnet virus – which specifically targeted Iran’s nuclear program. She’s crafted a great investigation into the complex and mysterious origins of the virus, and the people who brought it’s real-purpose to light. Well worth a read.
This well produced animation almost works as a great trailer for the book.
The Cuckoo’s Egg by Cliff Stoll
In what is something of a classic read from the origins of the internet, Cliff Stoll’s The Cuckoo’s Egg is a surprisingly engaging read from someone who is supposed to be an Astronomer. It’s also a pleasant trip down memory lane for anyone who is old enough to remember the good ol’ days of the internet in which you could probably list everyone using it in a roll-a-dex.
A great, funny, personal and intriguing read.
If you’ve got an hour to spare you could watch this (hilariously dated) 1990 documentary The KGB, the Computer, and Me which is basically the TV-movie/documentary version of the book. Believe me the book is much, much better!
Ghost in The Wires by Kevin Mitnick and William L Simon
There are a fair few books on one of the original hacker poster-boys, Kevin Mitnick and this book – Ghost in The Wires, My Adventures as The World’s Most Wanted Hacker, is actually his own account of his ‘escapades’, which include going to jail for quite some time. Here’s some blurb from the Amazon listing
Driven by a powerful urge to accomplish the impossible, Mitnick bypassed security systems and blazed into major organizations including Motorola, Sun Microsystems, and Pacific Bell. But as the FBI’s net began to tighten, Kevin went on the run, engaging in an increasingly sophisticated cat and mouse game that led through false identities, a host of cities, plenty of close shaves, and an ultimate showdown with the Feds, who would stop at nothing to bring him down.
In a more contemporary telling than The Cuckoo’s Egg, but still covering events pre-Window’s 95, Mitnick’s story is an interesting and some-what cautionary tale of the early days of hacking on the internet. It’s a really great read, if a little long in places, which details many of his scams and techniques as well as how he was eventually caught and the cost along the way.
Future Crimes by Marc Goodman
By far and away the most frightening of all the books in this list Marc Goodman’s Future Crimes, is an encyclopedia of the current and future state of internet crime. With so many parts of our daily lives being shared online and our ever increasing desire and capacity to have every part of our lives connected to the internet in some way we are all becoming eminently more hackable.
To the next generation many of these crimes, from cyber bullying to cyber-ransom, theft, fraud and much more – might be every day concerns. We are only just beginning to experience the first edge of the tidal wave of hackable crimes that are coming our way. An essential read that could have done with a little editorial trimming here and there, but well worth it none the less.
The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick and William L Simon
Of all the books in this list The Art of Deception is definitely the most practical and one of the best books on social engineering that I’ve read. (Not that I’ve read many, mind you). Wikipedia defines social engineering as:
The psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. A type of confidence trick for the purpose of information gathering, fraud, or system access, it differs from a traditional “con” in that it is often one of many steps in a more complex fraud scheme.
In Mitnick’s case this includes getting passwords over the phone, illegally entering private property and a whole host of other tricks and cons. A very interesting read and one to help you be more aware of when you’re being ‘engineered!’