stuxnet virus

About POI’s accuracy on technology

As someone that’s “good with computers” like they say on the show, I’ve been watching Person Of Interest with my geek goggles on. What I saw was so deliciously satisfying that I felt the need to check on the Internet to see if others had noticed how accurate this show actually was. Surprisingly, I didn’t find many posts, there were some, sure, but I was sad it wasn’t praised more. So, I put together a list of the things I noticed were true or really close to the truth. [Geekmode == ON] Here we go : 

1. The most impressive fact is how Person Of Interest predicted the NSA scandal one year before it happened. In 1x22, Reese was sent by the Machine to protect NSA agent Henry Peck who wanted to reveal to a journalist how his agency was conducting illegal surveillance on a massive scale. In 2013, Edward Snowden did exactly that. 


2. The show once mentioned a dangerous virus called Stuxnet whose source code was in the laptop that Reese and Kara were sent to retrieve in Ordos by the CIA (1x20).

In the real world, Stuxnet really exists and is indeed a very dangerous virus. In 2010, Stuxnet reportedly ruined almost one-fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges.


3. In Person Of Interest, they like to show real code without explaining it. It’s just for fun, they know the general audience won’t care because most people don’t understand it but they also know that geeks notice these things. For example, they showed Finch casually manipulating the real source code of the Stuxnet virus in 4x05:


4. Speaking of Finch, you know how one of his aliases is Harold Whistler, right? We know that he chooses his aliases based on bird names but this one in particular can also be explained by Harold’s past. More specifically his teenage years, back when he used public phones to call people in other countries for free (3x11).

            Btw, the guy on the phone is definitely not French, horrible accent ^^

In the real world, the first hackers were called phreakers, they did exactly what Harold did using… whistles. The blue whistle Harold uses in this scene is the actual model the phreakers used in the 70s, crazy right? It’s in fact a toy that was found in Cap’nCrunch boxes of cereals back in the day. That particular whistle produced a sound that matched with phone operators’ systems and provided to the phreaker a free international line. So, Harold is indeed a Whistler and a good one at that.


5. Still about young Harold, when he built his first computer in 1980, he hacked the ARPAnet (the ancestor of the Internet) which is why he has been wanted by the FBI for treason ever since (screenshot from 3x12).

In the real world, in 1980, someone introduced a virus in the ARPAnet which temporarily halted its functions, they still don’t know who the hacker was.


6. Once again, about Harold, his struggle to accept his creation is already a real life issue. Scientists and engineers are indeed working on building AIs and are facing ethical and moral issues similar to Harold’s. The possibility of a benevolent AI is also mentioned as the only way to avoid a Samaritan-like AI in this very interesting TED talk:


7. In 5x01, Root and Reese stole a truck of Playstation 3’s to rebuild the Machine. I remember smiling at that at first, then I thought about it and figured it would probably work. Of course, in the show, they left out a lot of parameters that would have been needed to make it work and building it should’ve taken at least a day or so but I won’t blame them for that, an episode only lasts 45 minutes after all.


In the real world, the US Air Force actually built a similar supercomputer called « the Condor Cluster » using 1,760 Playstation 3’s. Well done POI, very well done !


8. This one is about Root and is more of a fun fact than technical stuff but still. When Root first appeared on the show, she was this anonymous and mysterious hacker who had managed to break into Harold’s system, which is huge considering how much of a “private person” he is.

So, what is all the fuss about ? Well, when you use a computer, you have a username, right ? All Linux systems have a default user which is called « Root ». So, the root user, also called « superuser » or « poweruser » has full access to everything in the machine. Basically, Root likes to be called a Superuser in her daily life. Now, thanks to my job, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see root…

                                 Yep, this is me becoming root ;)


9. Other fun fact, in Linux systems, the « admin » user is like a common user, the root account is the only one who can modify the system. Just like Harold is « admin » to the Machine, she is Root to everyone (except Harold, I can understand why he always calls her Ms Groves, it must be frustrating for him to be constantly reminded that she bested him). She’s a hacker so the way I see it, when people call her by that name, they literally recognize her talent (even though they don’t know it), saying she’s so good she can access anyone’s system. Considering how the show ended, I’d say that her name is more than ever accurate… Love you Root, you classy, sassy, badass cinnamon roll.


10. Now, this cool trick that we use at work with my colleagues of the IT department: neodym magnets taken from (old) hard drives are some of of strongest magnets you can find. They’re so strong we use them to fix screwdrivers to the wall but they can also mess with electronic devices. This trick was used by Root in 5x07 to open doors which had an electronic lock. Root, you badass geek, forever in my heart.


I’m choosing to stop here because there’s just too much awesome accurate tech stuff in this amazing show to count!

If some people want to add to the list, or discuss it, I’d love to know your thoughts! [Geekmode == OFF]

First addition to this list by ellainthetardis:

11. When writing code, everything must follow a specific order, otherwise the code will act up and don’t know what to do. Think of HTML and CSS codes, which are what you see in web browsers every day!

The element in an HTML file (or root element) tells all the other elements in the code what to do. What order they should appear in, what to make certain things look like, etc.

So my first thought when I saw Root’s chosen name was this: like the person before me said, Root considers herself a superuser. Add to that the fact that she thinks she’s superior to everyone else, even Harold. Like a code in a string of HTML, she loves telling others what to do and expects them to follow her commands.

She’s always saying “Trust me” because she actually knows what’s the better option here. And also, because even though she thinks (knows) her mind is superior, she is still asking for other people to really believe in her. (And now I’m gonna go cry. Excuse me.)


About POI’s accuracy on technology 2.0 is now posted! It’s here : x

vimeo

Can malware ever be used for good, not evil? Lev Manovich examines computer virus Stuxnet for our Design and Violence blog

[Patrick Clair. Co-produced by: Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Est. 1932) & Zapruder’s Other Film (Est. 1989). Stuxnet: Anatomy of a Virus. 2011. Motion Graphics, video. (3:21 min). Image courtesy of the artist]