It’s easy to get hooked on USA Network’s “Mr. Robot,” the star of which—Rami Malek—took home the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series trophy at last night’s Emmy Awards.
The brilliantly creative show plunges viewers deep into the dark, mysterious world of a group of hackers who are fighting the all-powerful E (for Evil) Corp. And in my experience, the more you watch, the more you find yourself wondering whether the alarming stuff that both bad guys and the vigilantes pull off on the show could actually happen in the real world—and possibly even to you?
Here are three prime examples from past episodes for which the answer, unfortunately, is yes.
The webcam on your laptop is being controlled remotely by someone secretly filming you simply for voyeuristic purposes or even to gather information they can use to blackmail you.
Not only does this happen to one of the show’s lead characters as she is undressing during one of the early episodes of Mr. Robot, but it occurs commonly enough in the real world that cybersecurity pros and others in the know make a habit of covering the lens of their webcam when they aren’t using it. They do so by using a piece of tape, a Band-Aid or a more elegant solution: a tiny lens cover designed for this purpose that you can buy for less than $10.
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Malware that makes this kind of spying possible can get into your computer in various ways, including things you do yourself, such as clicking on links in emails from people you don’t know and visiting gaming or porn websites, where malware can be embedded in the videos themselves.
Your car is stolen by a stranger using a remote control scanner to intercept and clone the unlock signal on your wireless key fob. The thief then uses his laptop to hack into the car’s electronic ignition and drive off.
That’s how the vigilante hackers in Mr. Robot steal a mini-van to travel to upstate New York where they’ll carry out their grand plan to destroy E Corp.
And the car-jacking method is based on fact, not fiction. Police reports indicate this technique is now becoming the cutting-edge way to steal cars, according to an official at a U.S. insurance industry group that tracks car thefts.
Someone uses a smartphone spyware app that allows him or her to listen in on your conversations, read your texts, steal your password and track your location.
In a scene from the show, a creepy character grabs one of his fellow E Corp. employee’s phones while he’s in the bathroom and quickly uses the app to install spyware to monitor all of his communications and movements. If you do a quick search, you really will find a variety of spyware apps for smartphones, some of which are advertised specifically for jealous spouses or lovers who want to surreptitiously check up on their partners.
It makes sense that most of the hacking attacks seen on Mr. Robot could be pulled from today’s headlines because the team behind the show includes former hackers, FBI agents and cybersecurity experts whose goal is to ensure that what you see on the screen is what the bad guys or vigilantes actually can do.
Bottom line: Be careful out there in the Wild Web.