By now you’re probably tired of hearing about Mr. Robot’s painstaking, unparalleled commitment to hacking realism – indeed, the show does go into great lengths in showing that and how plausible a certain scenario may turn out in real life. Like the seemingly impossible prison break orchestrated by Elliot in which many research papers and articles have been made on how a prison’s PLC (programmable logic controller) is susceptible to hacking. It’s one of the many things that make the show so awesome and also palatable to both the hacker community and the intelligent television audience of the new millennium that’s always ready to pick apart whatever contrivances and breaks from reality they see.
But what’s even better about the realism in Mr. Robot is that most of the stuff on the show actually happened (or exists) in real life! Much like how procedural dramas base most of their episodes (particularly some of the more outrageously disturbing ones) on macabre cases that really did happen, Mr. Robot is full to the brim with those references as well.
In this piece, we’d like to single out some of the best examples of the show using real life incidents. Starting of course, with the most obvious one:
Evil Corp and Enron
If the tilted letter “E” isn’t a dead giveaway already (nope, Dell’s “E” is sandwiched in-between so it’s obviously not them), then you’re probably unaware of how the global conglomerate, Enron, folded unceremoniously. Enron was a massive multi-national corporation that was a major player on both the industrial and financial sectors, much like E Corp. Both had their own damaging “leaks” with Enron fizzling into obscurity while E Corp is still alive. But probably the most glaring detail of all? They both had executives that committed suicide, with Mr. Robot’s opting for a more controversial way to go (mirroring R. Budd Dwyer) than the typical “suicide by gunshot while inside automobile” route.
Steel Mountain Facility Hack and Target
The attack on Steel Mountain (not to be confused with Iron Mountain) was one of the few hacks that had some doubting its credibility, arguing that you can feel the sweltering room temperature long before it reaches a level damaging enough to the backup drives. But the idea of hijacking an HVAC system? There’s no Raspberry Pi or Wikipedia editing involved, but there’s definitely a precedent. Sometime during 2013, hackers gained entry into the retail store chain Target’s HVAC system and used such access to upload a malware that steals card data through their many cash registers.
Speaking of which, Steel Mountain is very clearly a reference to Iron Mountain – an enterprise specializing in data backup and recovery which has a “blue” colored logo. Whether or not they have a tour guide named “Bill” has yet to be confirmed.
Fsociety and Anonymous
Similar to the Evil Corp-Enron reference, this one is a no-brainer as well – as Fsociety clearly takes after the real life hacktivist group Anonymous. The similarities are endless from their motivations to the masks they use that are influenced by notable (and appropriate) fictional characters with FSociety opting for the Monopoly guy to signify wealth and greed.
Tor Exit Nodes Hacking
For quite a while, Tor was touted as some kind of super secure privacy tool that could keep your internet activities fully anonymous due to its layers and layers of encryption that resemble an “onion” (hence “The Onion Router” or simply Tor). But Elliot revealed during the pilot, to the surprise of a cybercafé owner and child pornographer on the side, that this simply wasn’t the case – albeit with difficulties. Elliot claimed that he monitored Tor’s exit nodes to intercept his data – much like how a Swedish cybersecurity consultant pulled off a similar feat as early as 2007, pilfering usernames and passwords from many email accounts, some of which belonged to a few foreign embassies.
Cisco’s Malware-infected CDs and the Sony BMG Copy Protection Rootkit
In an attempt to curb piracy, Sony BMG enacted an extreme form of digital rights management (DRM) on their CDs back in 2005. It installed software that was intended to prevent CD copying but also reported certain activities that originated from the host computer surreptitiously to Sony while also concealing its existence. Cisco’s story arc combined clever social engineering (gambling on the chance that there are still people who listen to hip hop) to get his rootkit/malware-infected CD into his target’s computer so he can obtain damaging information for use as blackmail.