USA’s Mr. Robot came on the scene in the middle of 2015 as a hidden gem amidst an empty summer selection. The ten-episode long first season chronicled the journey of Elliot Alderson as he navigated his way through the complexities of mental illness, social injustices, and global conspiracy theories. Elliot is a talented engineer for a cybersecurity company called Allsafe. In his off-hours, he uses his technological expertise to fight against corruption, particularly Evil Corp’s insidious world domination through accumulating 70% of the population’s debt and effectively enslaving its consumers. There are a few tech shows already out there but what sets this show apart from all the others is they actually get tech right.
First, it is necessary to understand the basics. If you are reading this, then you are on a computer, whether it is a laptop, a PC, a Mac, or a mobile device. Every computer has a unique identifier known as an IP address when it connects to a network. This IP address is a unique string of numbers that allows two machines to talk to each other as if on a first name basis. In fact, a Domain Name is the name an IP address takes on so you don’t have to remember a string of numbers (i.e. “www.wikia.com”).
A server is like a super-computer. A cluster of servers is like a beefed-up super computer. The more servers you add, the more traffic a system is able to handle. A server farm is a collection of servers (usually known as a data center) that might be for the same company (as in the case of Evil Corp) or for numerous smaller companies.
Servers are what run the world. In order to pull up the web address (URL) this article is stored under, your computer is “networked” to the internet (either hardline or Wi-Fi). Behind that web address are a plethora of servers storing data (like this article). There are also servers that are relaying your command to access this article and transmitting this article back to you. This is all known as “network traffic.”
Have you ever gone to a webpage and it has taken a while to load or it crashes when it tries to load? Usually, this is a case where they do not have enough server space to handle the amount of traffic (page load requests). DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service ) attacks take advantage of this by using thousands of computers that have been previously infected to crash and/or flood servers, rendering them unusable.
This is the big event that occurs in the first episode of Mr. Robot and it is done with stunning accuracy. Elliot discovers there is a malicious rootkit installed internally that is replicating the virus whenever they use their normal course of action to stop it. The only solution when viruses start replicating is to take the infected machine(s) offline to get rid of the virus. This is why Elliot and his boss, Gideon, have to go on-site to combat this problem (you cannot remotely access servers that are no longer online).
Once the attack has been stopped and the servers are brought back up, log files are gathered to investigate the cause of the attack and to potentially discover who was behind it. Log files are created anytime anything occurs on a system. Every time you start up or close down an application, it’s written into a log file. Every time you receive an error, it’s written into a log file. There are system logs, application logs, user logs, service logs, error logs, monitoring and routing logs, the list goes on. Log files are the recorded history of what has occurred on a system and every action taken is traced into a log file.
Because of the volume of information recorded, log files are not saved indefinitely and are usually overwritten on a semi-regular basis, meaning when log files need to be reviewed, they need to be copied before they are overwritten. After the DDoS attack, it was Elliot’s responsibility to go through the log files and find the perpetrator(s) of the attack as well as ways of preventing a similar attack from happening in the future. He uses this to his advantage and slips in the IP address of Evil Corp’s CTO (Chief Technology Officer) into the log file, effectively blaming him for the DDoS attack and causing his arrest.
Mr. Robot is the first show to use real-world technology accurately with an attention-to-detail that can only be achieved from being written by people who have lived it. From having Elliot called in after-hours to assist Lloyd during the attack to the misogyny in the tech industry experienced by Angela, every episode takes on everyday tech scenarios and explores them through the dark lenses of a global conspiracy run by the 1% of the 1%. If you’re into technology done right, then watch this show.
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