401 Access Denied Ep. 11 | Favorite Hacker Movies with David Scott Lewis
Who better to discuss our favorite hacker movies with than David Scott Lewis, inspiration for the iconic film "War Games."
Hollywood has a knack for influencing public opinion, and 37 years later, the movie is still credited for shaping society’s impression of hackers. We’ll get the background of the real story behind the movie and discuss the other hacker movies we love to watch over and over.
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Joseph: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another 401 Access Denied podcast. It's a pleasure to be here, really excited about today's topic and we also have our special guest that we have on the show. Again, my name is Joseph Carson. I'm the cohost of the show itself and so background's a long time in cyber security and based in Tallinn, Estonia and my other co host is with me today as well, Mike Gruen.
Mike: Hi Mike Gruen, VP of engineering at Cybrary, DC based company, long career in IT and cybersecurity as well.
Joseph: Okay, it's really great.
Mike: and we have with us, sorry,
Joseph: Go ahead.
Mike: And we have with us a very special guest. David I'll let you introduce yourself.
David: Well, thank you. So David Scott Lewis, thinking David Lightman from the character war games. You Google my name, you'll get the whole story. You'll hear more about it and the, over the next half hour. Gentlemen, I'm a COVID-19 refugee in Hong Kong right now and might be in UK pretty soon. The only one of the few people in the world who's currently traveling.
Joseph: That is, that's actually a very unique situation right now.
David: Yes, it is.
Joseph: In Estonia we can't go anywhere so before we opened up, I did see some people send me pictures at the airport asking me today, Joe are you missing the airport? Here's some memories and they were kind of teasing me with pictures of the lounges in the airport so, but sometime in the future, we'll all get to travel, but that's a very unique situation and of course, David as you mentioned, our fun topic today is, you know, and it's really dear to my, kind of my background and what got me into the industry is that, you know, basically through everyone's careers, you know, what really shaped me in being the industry that I'm in was a lot of the iconic movies that we watched when we were younger that had a big impact, I know right now my kids are watching the likes of the FRIENDS episodes again so they're really get influenced by friends, but what really influenced me was really iconic hacker movies. That really kind of got me thinking and got me really interested in gadgets and also influenced me being from a very young age, getting into gaming, playing games, you know, playing with friends and really getting in competitive side. So today's theme of the podcast is really going through a kind of history, a timeline of iconic hacker movies. It's really shaped an industry and even when I go to events, we have hacker movie nights and even in the current situation where people are distanced, and communicating over, you know, things like Zoom, Teams and Skype and so forth is that we're even watching movies together, we're even actually doing it through discord channels and once again, online, either using Netflix as the medium to watch it so for me, today's theme is really exciting and it's a pleasure to have David also give us some of his insights and background into, you know, some of the, the iconic movies. So I think for me I'll start off with, you know, one movie that really shaped kind of my kind of background. There's a, you know, I've got a couple that I like to kind of, I watch over and over again, but one movie that really shaped kind of where I'm in the industry of course was War games. War games was one of the first movies that I got to watch, you know kind of a father, you know, got it on I think it was even betamax back then or VHS, whatever medium we had available because, and we said, you know, and watching it, and it was, for me, it was watching the technology and watching techniques and even actually at that time, when I was in high school, or would be referred to the secondary school. It actually also got me very tech savvy that I actually used some of the techniques from the movie, which is interesting as well, because a lot of the techniques we even continue to use today. So Mike, I'm not sure, did you get to watch it I guess over the weekend, or did you watch it recently or have you not watched it at all yet?
Mike: What, War games? I've definitely seen it.
Joseph: War games.
Mike: and we, I've watched it was on actually TV just a couple of weeks ago. So the timing of this it's pretty funny. I watched it with my kids and yeah, it's I remember I it's one of those movies I watched over and over again and for me, the thing, after I got into IT and software development and looking back at sort of how, at least the movie, and we'll hear more about the real story from David obviously, but the sort of innocence of how it all happened and felt just so paralleled so many other things that I think happens in hacking where you're, you know, you sort of, these unintended consequences, things get out of control, you wrote a thing, and next thing you know, it turned into an internet worm purely by accident or I have a similar experience in my background where I accidentally took down Colby college with a denial service attack because I was just trying to find out if my girlfriend was online, stuff like that and so these sort of like innocent, like how it goes from you trying to just do something for yourself and blows out of proportion. I think at the time that I first saw the movie, I didn't really have an appreciation for that and then later in life, as I watched the movie over and over again, it's just, how sort of true to life that is, was really what sticks with me on that movie?
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, you know, I'm lucky enough and fortunate enough that well I, sometimes I prefer not to talk about some of the things I did, I can't but some of the techniques, I mean, I did use, you know, and this is the first time they'd probably, you know, live I'm sharing these details. When I was at school, we just have a number of Apple computers that we use in our computer class and one of the things I did was, you know, one is I used to play computer games and make money and it used to be very costly. We used to have the dilinquent ways to be able to get access to computer games or, you know, back then it was about cutting the tape set so that, you know, finding ways to record and play them back. So you didn't have to, you were able to get a copy of them straight from the tapes but at school, one of the things that I find was interesting, which got me really tech savvy was I used one of the techniques that was actually in the movie where David Lightman basically goes into the, he's getting detention and they're going to see the headmaster and actually finds out where the passwords are actually stored, basically posted in the desk. In my case, I just observed the and watched the teacher doing some what we refer to as social engineering, to find out where the passwords are stored and finding that password. What I used to do at school was I would actually, during the computer class, I had to install all the computer games on the computer and I would actually charge people for me installing the games onto their computers as well so they could play during the class and then what was great was is that the administrator of the school that evening would be so angry and say who put all these computer games on these computers and they started deleting them all. So the next day, when we go back into the computer class, they're all gone again. So I can actually re-charge again, knowing what the password was stored to actually put all the games back then computers, and this became this repetitive thing and it also fed my, you know, personal gaming console. Was it era? but actually the one thing that we see in movies is that, translates into real world scenarios. Very much I think the things that kind of keep to the sand of time is the social engineering aspect. There's a lot of movies then, did use social engineering is a primary technique, so David, welcome to the show and again you know, having a very close kind of tie to war games, can you give it a bit of a background in reality into you know, what techniques were real and what techniques you know, would have you used, prior to the movie coming out.
David: So war games, yeah so it's important to separate the screenplay, which was very accurate from what we saw in the movie, which of course had to be made into a movie. So the screenplay was a little bit different. It did pretty much talk about what's really done. So the movie, but the movie it does mirror many of the techniques that were really used back then. So we're talking about, so let me actually put something in there and the actual timeframe. War games, my real war games took place, in between 74 and 75. So, and then the movie came out in 83. So there was that time lag there, but you can see what the inside of the alistair, I think they showed mci, the computer and the movie. They show an inside a computer. So, so it's not so its tied up, to all of that, that happened back then and it was a very different environment. I'm a little bit older than you guys. So, I'm a few years younger than Gates and Jobs. So unfortunately, because if you notice Scott McNeill, nearly all of them were pretty much lit, about three years older than me, three to four years older. So, unfortunately I missed that, but, so there were certain things happening back then and it was kind of like a hacker slash hobbyist. So I would say that people back then we could build computers. We had to, we had no option. You would get a, you would get somebody from Alistair inside and the parts would be missing. Parts would be missing. So you're building your own computer and parts are missing. So you had to actually understand things then there was Adam Osbourne's books where you actually learn, you know, you could do coding, you could do machine and assembly coding. So it was just a very different world back then but also then trying to understand. I used to use patents to try to get a better idea of how systems are working and even though of course, you're not going to get too much information, but you'll get a better understanding and that's something that's never really been covered. That didn't get shown a war game but in war games they showed the research part. In reality, that's the UCLA and in the movie, you know, in the movie they show Seattle and the Pacific Northwest lab, but tells PNO but in reality, that's the RAM corporation and that's UCLA's main research library. So one of those things are accurate. We're getting their information. There's also the AI component. That was also very important to me from the beginning. One thing that a lot of people overlook about war games is that okay hacker movie, but they forget the real games was the first movie to show AI in its current time frame, unlike 2001 showing how. In 2001, war games is actually showing AI techniques at that time and it was the first movie to do that. So, and that was very important to me. I've been involved with AI since then. So anyway, I'm happy to answer any questions about war games and I'll tell you what influenced me to get into all this.
Joseph: So, I mean, that's really interesting. I absolutely, you know, with basically AI, you know, computers, playing computers, and I think it was you know hard to get the computer to play itself and using things like TIC TAC TOE as those examples is really kind of great and of course, everything that you had, you know, absolutely. I looked at I've got a retropie and I even go back and play a lot of the games from that era, just you know to kind of bring back the memories, things like, you know going back and playing monkey islands and, and art type and there's a lot of games from the eighties era that I played, but also been back into the old PACmantic pecto games that really kind of influence a lot of, you know, even that type of culture as well. So from that, you know, what, what, you know how did you get connected with war games and Lasker and how did you get kind of, where was that connection or meeting, or how to evolve from that.
David: Okay, so a friend of mine was working as an admin to Marty Khan. That's James Khan's brother, and he's in the, he was an Asian William Morris. So Larry and Walter, Larry Lasker, Walter Parkes, who wrote the screenplay. They had, I guess they were working with Marty, I guess he was their agent so they arranged for a meeting. It was kind of a fluke situation, the girl that worked the admin, they were looking, originally, the plot was supposed to be about some kid who won a science fair and it was going to be the Stephen Hawking prototype or protege and, protege, and because of the time I was studying astrophysics, Caltech was involved, all sorts of other things and then they find out, Oh, okay and then we kind of get pulled in a completely different direction that wasn't the original focus of the movie at all but when we were working on this screenplay, I actually pulled it in a different direction, which Walter talks about in the 25th anniversary, they have a session at Google and he talks about, I actually forgot about it. It's what I wanted to see in the movie, because this is during the strategic defense initiative so I wanted it to be involved about space-based warfare, charged particle beamed weapons, all sorts of other things and then they brought it basically back to me, which will ultimately rub the screenplay, surprised me cause that came out of nowhere. So it's like yeah it was interesting to see how that whole thing evolved and it took several years, you know. Where originally the screenplay was owned by universal. That's who I got paid by and then, so universal, I believe Disney owned it or Paramount owned it at one point and then MGM got it. So there was a little bit of a lag. It didn't go, it wasn't a smooth process, getting it made and then the directors changed as well. There were two directors, of these two directors that I remember, on war games. So it took a while. I wasn't that involved with the movie, but the screenplay, yeah. Screenplay was almost verbatim and then just being the character there's even people I deal with today will say, I'm over 60 years old now, will say that they can see my personality in the David Lightman character and I would say, yeah, that's accurately captured as well. So anyway it's the timeframe of 1975.
Joseph: Yeah cause the screenplay itself was kind of around 1975, 76 timeframe and the movie didn't come out until what kind of early eighties, 83?
Joseph: It was you know a large gap between, you know, one is the screenplay being created and also the movie being released itself. Did you, did you ever get to meet Matthew Broderick at all? Or was that something that
David: I did. I did on the, at MGM. Where you see the main stage at Norad, that's where I met Matthew Broderick, but I didn't really develop much. Well, by the time I got to the movie I wasn't very involved with the movie directly at all. Again, it was the screenplay. Yeah, a lot. I would say the two most influential people in the screenplay were myself and Willis Ware, at the Rand corporation, he's now passed away but those I would say we were the two key people that were involved with the screenplay.
Joseph: It's interesting. One thing that you mentioned,you were fixing, you were studying astrophysics, which is interesting because I think that's where if I look in when I read a lot of the old books from that year, cause I still, I like to read and also research. I find that most people who were involved in computing or in, you know, computer science or information technology, or I should, were actually into astrophysics and space and flight, was that a common thing then to study that kind of move people in that direction? Was it or you know, the people that was involved, they were coming from the same background?
David: You know, that's a great question. I know I've done many interviews and that's the first time somebody asks that question. So remember back then, cause I'm older than you guys back in the mid seventies, there was no computer science.
David: Either studied math or you studied electrical engineering. Okay so the ACM, the association for computing machinery, they were the math geeks and I truely believe Double 'e' geeks. Right? So things were different back then. So people who had different backgrounds, it really was more hobbyists, people willing to get their hands dirty, actually could build stuff, oh popular electronics, I would say that's the one thing we all, that was our Bible. You know every month we were looking forward to the new issue of popular electronics and we would buy stuff. We remember things, came in kits, you got them in the mail, you put them together, you got out your soldering gun. You actually did this stuff. I had a ham radio. Yeah. So I ended up a novice initially in advance so that was pretty typical too. You had a lot of people into ham radio back then and then I also built a telescope in the sixth grade, a Newtonian telescope. So there were some people that were doing that. I would say ham radio and certainly popular electronics is where everybody coalesced around popular electronics.
Mike: Yeah, I think there's a really good movie or documentary that was on PBS called Triumph of the nerds that I think does a very good job of capturing sort of those seventies. It's the early days, it's the Apple, Microsoft story of back in the garage and I think it does a great job of sort of showing all of the different, like avenues that people got into computing back then, because right as you said, there was no, there was no Comp sci, it was math or is doubly, or you were doing some sort of hobby, like ham radio and I know a lot of my friends who are actually in software or in IT. Their dads were actually doing ham radio and that's what influenced them. So definitely, and then even by the time I went to college, The University of Maryland College Park, originally the comp sci department was still part of the math department. It then spun out into its own department, but it was at one point still part of the math department and so the, there were a lot of, like a lot of people in comp sci were in math or doubly majors as well, like double majoring so I think that, that continued all the way through the nineties.
David: Yeah, I remember you guys had one of the earliest, fairly large AI departments, you don't get credit for it. Everybody thinks MIT and Stanford,
David: but they forget you guys had one of the larger AI departments. One of the earlier ones too.
Mike: Yep,College park gets I think, because it's a public school, they don't get the, some of the recognition, but yeah, one of the, I actually went there for mechanical engineering and ended up in comp sci but yeah, it's one of the top 10. It was at least for a long time one of the top 10 comp sci departments in the country. I think it's still, probably is but yeah, they, there's a lot of groundbreaking work that was done there.
Joseph: I think it's great as well. David, one of the things I'm seeing in the industry, as well as people going back to basics people going back to you know, really tying it back, even, you know, ham radio today is actually becoming more and more popular. People are starting to get more into it because ultimately at the end of the day, everything we do is based on radio waves. It's basics of communication or radio waves and a ham radio is probably the basics of showing how that, you know, primarily functions, so I see a lot of people in the industry and my peers and even, well, my kids are asking, you know, what things should they get into or what should look at and one of the first time I'm looking at is ham radios. They should understand how ham radios work, because ultimately that's the basis of communication, the radio spectrum itself. And also it's really great to see things like raspberry pies coming out and, you know, the Intel ones and other types of microcomputers that force people to build that force to understand how it puts together. Cause you know, I was a bit, being originally from Belfast in Northern Ireland, we were always a little bit behind the times and we always had the kind of push ourselves to try and get the information because the magazines 2,600 would come in months later, we wouldn't have it, you know, the first editions. We even had those orientations and you were going im and even, you know, some of the games you had the, to write in basic, get to compile it, run it and hopefully that they actually typed it right out or the print was right otherwise you'd find out a month later that you actually, they had an error at a certain line. So I think I'm happy to see people going back to those times and those you know elements where people are understanding the basics and how things function and I think that's really critical because I think for me over the years, that's been lost because people, you know, today, if I looked at, you know, when I did software programming or computer science, you really had to understand, we were sitting with a skill of scopes and watching the waves going through and trying to understand that, but you know, the bits and minors machine code and algorithms and understanding how it works and one of the, my worries was that when I started seeing people in the later years of my studies and sometimes going back to do additional courses, it was copy paste. It was repurposing or reusing existing things and not knowing how fundamentals work and that scared me a bit, but it's great to see. Hopefully it will be a trend that people will get back to those basics and really get back to, I think that really, you know, that hardcore education where people were doing it because they wanted to, and they wanted to learn rather than being, you know, that the sake of just being like everybody else.
David: Yeah, I would wonder how that's going to change. So back then, of course, besides popular electronics then initially you had byte magazine and David Al's magazine, creative computing. So creative computing was the software magazine, Byte was the hardware magazine? And it was, it was a lot of fun. It really was a lot of fun and I don't see that now. I don't see right now let's face it, the CS major, they could even be from CMU or some great school like that you rip open the computer and they have no idea what's underneath the hood, right?
Mike: Yeah. Yeah and there's, I mean, I'd go even further with CS majors because we've built on top of so many things that I can talk to a CS major and they don't necessarily even understand common algorithms and sort of the stuff that really is required for a backend developer to understand in term, you know, these like just these concepts and I, I come from a sort of maybe a different mindset, which is, I think it's great. I think it's great that you can get someone who is essentially an artist to come in and start learning how to do soft programming and build amazing websites on top of all of the things. It's just layers upon layers upon layers and yes, I think there are still, you know, if you're interested in the real hardcore electronic part of the computer science, then you're probably going more for doubly major still, or some sort of dual degree as opposed to comp sci, which comp sci now is a huge, like when I was at Maryland, Comp sci was a degree they didn't have any like specializations, now there's software engineering is a specialized thing. Information technology, you know, they have all the, you know it doesn't really matter. There's just a bunch of them and I think it's interesting on the one hand, because I think in a lot of ways, the degree is more of a vocation than an edge. It's now teaching you how to work, which is has its advantages, but I do think that there's this sort of layering and, the fact that things like stack overflow, speaking of copy and paste, that's how a software engineers solves problems these days, they Google it, they find the solution. Hopefully they, copy and paste the answer and not the question and then they move on and there's some good things to that. That's how we're able to have what we have cause we've just kept on building up. We don't actually have to understand all the way down, but it's still important that there's people coming in, what was that?
Joseph: Hopefully they fix the errors when they're doing this copy paste.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. But I mean and, I think so, right. It's great. I think it's important that we continue to have people coming in at the, you know, every layer of the stack from artists making like amazing website to hardcore doubly sort of understanding that the electronics and the, you know the underlying computer architecture but yeah, it's amazing how you can come out of a, out of a degreed program and not necessarily understand lots of different parts of it. I had to write a compiler. I got to imagine most CS majors coming out these days don't, they don't write compilers.
David: No. So I should tell you what, sure
Joseph: So what influenced you in your career?
Joseph: You were doing astrophysics, what, did they have anything in your background? Was it mostly, was the books or was it, you know, society or was there movies that influenced you, you know, prior to war games that got you really interested in the industry and electronics and maths and computers?
David: Sure. So there was one segment on 60 minutes. That was it. So 60 minutes. So Joe, you're not from America. Do you know 60 minutes? The TV show? No.
Joseph: I do know 60 minutes. Yes I do.
David: Okay. So 60 minutes had a segment called Dial E for embezzlement. That was the name of the segment and when I saw it, I thought, and I was actually, I believe I was in ninth grade when I saw it. I'm not sure about the dates here, but I think I was in the ninth grade and I was doing a math seminar during the summer. Again, I'm not a hundred percent sure of the dates, but I was doing that and when I watched it, I thought I'm actually using some of this equipment already. So let's see what I could possibly do with this. So I got the whole idea from what, from seeing that segment on 60 minutes, I would say that's what really influenced me i mean in my background because of my age, we're talking Apollo, right? So I'm that generation growing up, watching that happen and then believe it or not, Star Trek did not influence me, although I am a loyal fan now, it was on it, I believe it was on Friday nights at nine o'clock or something, but it was, my parents wouldn't let me stay up that late when Star Trek was on but I did watch, you know, 2001 was an influence, obviously, so does the Andromeda strain, I would say those two movies. Yeah. The original Andromeda strain.
Mike: Yeah, yea, yeah.
David: not the goofy remake.
Mike: Yeah, Yeah
David: Yea that was ridiculous. So those two movies, and people are surprised by the Andromeda strain but if you really, you know, if you look at it and you see everything that's involved, that's kind of like, hacking as well, but just from a life sciences perspective,
Mike: Right right.
David: With a lot of equipment. Yeah. So those are, that's really what got me influenced, but that segment on 60 minutes was the trigger.
Joseph: Interesting. That's really, I mean, that's, it's impressive how people get different influences that can sometimes shape the career and direction you know, sometimes it can be, you know, even for me, I, I'm continuously shaping it and I'm always learning. Watching other people getting mentors, communicating but it's always interesting to see where other people's backgrounds and from different locations, even, you know, because I'm from Belfast. I had a different growing up youth, you know, where, you know, Belfast, when I was growing up was in violence. It was a war time, so there's a lot of things that you had to kinda ignore but in order to get your own focus so sometimes there's always challenging in those regards, but definitely, you know, movies and getting into gadgets, really that influence, so from my, the second movie that I have that really also influenced me, which is really when it was when I started more into the education, more getting into hands on and it was a bit later, you know, war games got me into the tacky side of things and really learning about, you know, things like phone freaking looking at how to you know, gain access to games. I'm looking at the social engineering aspect of things that really got me interested in that direction but one that kinda next one has shaped was of course, sneakers. Which of course, you know, was this goofy comedy type of, you know scenario where you've got the, Robert Redford playing, you know, Bryce, was it, doing basically, you know, the Sneakers and hacking into banks? I think that was really kind of one, the first one really, I got them to understand what pen testing was really looking at, you know, the access and inside of things. So that was another one but for me, a lot of the gain, was the social engineering aspect of it. A lot of what they did in the movie itself, somewhat was more kind of for the visual aspect of things where it wasn't really kind of I wouldn't see it as being real world scenarios, but definitely the social aspects and the social engineering and, you know, a lot of what they were doing with the recording and getting access to the bikes. I find that really interesting as well. So David did, do you have any, did Sneakers have any influence or because of course it was much later. It was around the early nineties. I think it was 93 timeframe when it came out.
Joseph: so it was almost 10 years later and I was, I think it was probably one of the first movies really, that kind of rebrought re-introduced hacking back in since war games so did, was that, something that influenced you at all? Or was it something that just kind of passed by.
David: So Larry also wrote sneakers, so they also were the screenwriters for Sneakers. So I worked a little bit on that, but not much. The concept was different for Sneakers. They actually developed that while they were at 20th Century Fox, we were at a private studio, I don't know private studio, Green Three productions. It was on Sweetzer and Sunset in West Hollywood for War games, but they were actually, they were then celebrities at that point so they were actually at 20th Century Fox doing, doing Sneakers so sneakers was, there's also a difference in it. You've got, you can kind of sense it watching the movie, War games was a labor of love, Sneakers to them was a job. That's the difference and the people approached it very differently. The people that actually worked on the movies, not just the screenwriters approached it very differently, for like Robert Redford, it was just a job, that's my understanding, the way they approached it and for Matthew Broderick, he really kind of got into war games. You know, it'd be people were more enthusiastic about it. So Sneakers, so yeah, that was much later and that was really supposed to be a movie about physical security and then it kind of morphed, that's where the term Sneakers comes from and it comes from the physical security world and then it morphed into what you see in the movie as movies all can do right. They morph from the screenplay and they have to be visually exciting. So that's how it evolved. So at that point I was, I had kind of moved on so It wasn't yeah Sneakers wasn't, but I enjoyed the movie, but I wasn't to be part of it.
Mike: I think one of the big differences with Sneakers and War games, War games is a story about it, It's more of the story of the characters, I think, than Sneakers is and I think that's where you see that sort of, that warmth that comes through in War games that probably made it more even easier as an actor to get into the character, get into the roles and not just treat it as a job because I think it is, it's much more accessible and it's more, I think it's just more about the people in a lot of ways, and, and the hacking is this other, this thing that sort of supports the movie, it's, you know, it's a key element obviously, but it's not as I think it's not as like where sneakers, it's definitely, the hacking is more in the, in it than the character development. I think.
David: Yeah. My guy was saying to expand on that they actually met my Jennifer. Her name was Helen and I was actually with her for 11 years. We were high school sweethearts.
Mike: How nice.
David: And so they actually knew her.
David: She didn't really like the way that she was portrayed in the movie, but she wound up getting promoted to first level management at used aircraft quicker than anybody in the history of used aircraft. She became a double A, and she was working on Milstar and other classified projects and she went that path. So I think that from the Jennifer in the movie
Mike: Right, right.
David: She would wind up Milstar, but anyway, so, but there really was and again, they had met her so there is that element in War games that is based on, in reality and it does make it more human
David: and there's nothing like that in sneakers right.
Joseph: So I think so the characters really come through and more on war games, much more.
Joseph: You get to see the more personal side of it, the more human you know, where basically people are curious as well and that definitely comes across in the characters for sure and you can see that difference. Absolutely, David, as you've mentioned, you know, for some it's basically, I think for a lot, even in the War games, they were, you know, maybe Matthew projects one of the kind of first roles and early roles he was getting into where basically were Sneakers, they were already established kind of actors you know that's playing a role and just doing a job.
Mike: So I'm curious there's a different Robert Redford movie that comes up frequently when you look for hacker movies. I watched it last night, fell asleep, Three days on the Condor
Joseph: Fell asleep?
Mike: Yeah, exactly cause it's not a hacker movie. It's I mean, there's some computers, he's a CIA guy, whatever. I'm curious if either of you have seen that movie or thoughts on it,
David: I have seen it and I like it and so I thought it was a great movie. I think it was really based on the book Seven days of the Condor so they compressed it for the movie.
Mike: Yes actually Six days of the Condor was, Six days was the book.
David: Oh, 6
Mike: Yeah and to be fair to the movie, I started it super late. I've had to put the kids down for bed. I didn't start it until 11 o'clock at night so the fact that I fell asleep is not any, anything to do with the movie like
Joseph: Reflection of the movie.
Mike: It's not a reflection on the movie just my inability to stay up past 11.
David: Yeah so I thought the premise was interesting that I say I liked the premise Max Von Cedo's always a wonderful actor so I enjoyed that book. Yeah. I enjoyed it. I thought it was an entertaining movie. Can't speak to it much beyond that,
Mike: Yeah, exactly.
David: but I did do it, enjoy it.
Joseph: Yea I think it's really, it's been a number of years since I've actually seen that movie. I think, when was it produced or when was it like,
Mike: It's a 70s oh is it a 60 something.
Joseph: Late 70s
Mike: I know it's late seventies based on the music and the rest of it. It's definitely, I would say it's late seventies. I don't remember exactly.
David: I think it's late seventies as well.
Mike: Right but you know, one of the movies that you know, speaking of Matthew Broderick, and War games and where hacking is sort of, you know, one of the movies that I think of and you can convince me that it's not a hacking movie is Ferris Bueller's Day off. Now there's a lot in that movie where, you know, whether it's him changing his attendance record, he, his sister gets a car, he gets a computer that was like the, one of the things so he, there's definitely the supporting role that hacking plays throughout the movie. It's not in any way a main character. It's just a sort of side note changing his attendance record. The stuff that they do, the social engineering of how they get the restaurant into the restaurant that has, you know, it's all booked up, it's a fancy restaurant. They can't get the, you know, they don't have a reservation. How are they going to get in and how they get through all of that and then even the total failed car hacking of trying to roll back the odometer so I think that that's one of those movies that's like, definitely doesn't come up in your, you know, your list of hacker movies, but one that I like to think of a lot. It definitely had a lot of influence on me. I think when I was in college, one of my college roommates used to refer to me when I talked about my high school antics is like you, you live Ferris Bueller's Day off, you're Ferris Bueller and so I think there's some, there's something where that's, and for me, a lot of these movies, it's more about life imitating, art imitating life. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is like it I wouldn't say that they influenced me to get into, you know, into computers or IT or any of the rest of it, but watching it I think about those things and how it relates to my own life so there's that, I'm curious if anybody wants to argue with me about Ferris Bueller's Day off.
Joseph: No, I agree. I mean, one of the things is that. You know, a lot of people kind of refer to hacking as you know, the technical side, the computer side of things and that's one element of it you know, a lot of when I am growing up and yourselves is that a lot of it applies the social engineering side of things is to get things that you want
Joseph: to get, you know, my parents to buy me a computer game, or even to get a computer, you had to use social engineering to first of all, get them to give you the computer so absolutely when you're looking at Ferris Bueller's Day off that a lot of the techniques, well, they're not very techie focused. They are related to the social engineering aspect of really what hacking was, is to really get what you wanted which is
Mike: Right I mean, there's even the physical side where he does what he does with the doorbell or the or his own bedroom door, when they open it, and it turns on the snoring, you know, there's all those aspects as well, where he's tying into the sort of the physical world. I'm curious, David, what's your thoughts like that?
Joseph: But it also did the breathing
Mike: Did the breathing and the mannequin, I mean, there's a lot going on in there anyway, David.
David: So I've seen it, I enjoyed it and I don't remember any of that, zero recollection. Any of those good things from the movie so sorry about that, I can't comment. I remember when I watched the movie, I enjoyed it, but I have no comment to be honest.
Mike: But I mean, I think that now we're seeing the difference in age, right? That was a movie that came out right in my, like, you know, that's definitely 80 might say it's 84, 85 it's soon after War games and so it's sort of in the wheelhouse of movies that like, I can, if it's on TV, I can't not watch it or at least tune in for some period of time
Joseph: anything, anything to get a day off school.
Mike: Exactly, War games also falls into that category and then, and another movie that falls into that category for me, again, it's another movie that definitely didn't influence me, but it was so sort of parallels things really well, which is Office Space which again, hacking it, you know, it's about, you know, the sort of how they introduced some code into the thing to do the Superman, whatever rounding error, to, embezzle money and of course it goes wrong because software developers, are not great at testing things. I'm one, I feel like as a software engineer, I can say that
Joseph: It wasn't, wasn't testing someone else's job it wasn't
Joseph: The same, the person using it is testing it.
Mike: Right and I think so Office space is another one of those movies that for me, I look back on like when I saw it, it has a diff, you know, I was already working when it came out and I actually didn't like it when I saw it in the theater as much, because it was just too close to reality and it's supposed to, you know, it's a comedy, it's not, you know, but it's just a little too, it was a little too close to reality at the time in the nineties, before dot-com bubble and stuff but now watching it, you know, and looking back, it's another one of those movies that I love to watch. I think, you know, again, in hacking plays sort of that like supporting role, I actually was in, I had that opportunity in the 2000s, I was working on a project where I was responsible for doing a whole bunch of calculations with a retiree health system where basically it was reimbursing people and there's the same thing where the reimbursement was a calculation that involved a percent and we sort of joked around about the like, well, can we just create a, you know, like there's going to be rounding errors, what are we going to do with where does that money go? when we, you know, so those options, so, not to say that we ever thought about doing the embezzlement, but more just the, it turns out that like these things actually do happen. You can, these situations happen in the real world where you have those opportunities and I think.
Joseph: And that brings up a really good question that I've got. So David, one of the things, you know, a difference between when you were you know, getting involved in, you know, this and when I started and a lot of what can also, I led on the more costly side, because there was no, when I was doing it, it was illegal. There was laws that was introduced in the early nineties that actually influenced, that actually made protection and computer crime laws and stuff and, you know, when you had started, you know, back in the late seventies and eighties, there was no laws that would have actually criminalized some of those activities. So do you think that even War games itself actually maybe have influenced laws and regulations and later afterwards, maybe even those, you know,
David: Yes. Can you guys still hear me? We're seeing, I'm getting a little bit of a pause there okay.
Joseph: You're fine. Okay, you know the movies actually had, kind of influence on those.
David: So, if you read the book Dark territory by Kaplan, he talks about that. He opens up with War games, Reagan the book opens with Reagan telling the meeting that, did you guys see this movie over the weekend? It's called War games. I thought that was a great way to open the book. Here's the President of the United States all enthusiastic about this and then go, it was on and on and on, and that actually did lead to the, as the CFAA, it is the CFAA I believe and that's really still the main law in existence. Now, when I was doing things, I was a member of APSIA and the old crows. So the single Association for the United States. The old crows is electronic warfare. They had a huge operation at the old green monster, the whole used aircraft building, where my, where Jennifer wound up working my Jennifer before GM bought it and I don't know what they've done with it and then also after sealer was at the air force base division which was in El Segundo, well, they're both near there. So anyway, so people knew what I was doing. So certain people knew what I was doing. So if things really got out of hand, there were people that say, okay, don't worry about it. Okay, so, but you're right. There were no laws, but I wasn't dumb enough to try certain things. I did with at least somebody knowing what I was going to be doing.
David: And knowing that I wouldn't take anything too far. So I did take that under consideration back then. So again, the people from the old crows, people from APSIA were both involved. I should mention something else that was kind of critical for me. There was a group that I belong to called PCC that kind of meant Personal computer club, but they never wanted to really name the acronym. So it's just PCC and they were a hobbyist group and we used to do a lot of stuff. This is, this is something, this will date me, HP65s. So HP65s was where the first real kind of handheld computers and we were writing code and doing all sorts of things with it and that's what really was a group to support the HP65 and that really helped develop my skills because this was all a bunch of hacker types and that really did help and really it was nice to have a supporting group while you're developing your skills and learning, all of this, I think that was really kind of critical and I used to go there quite often like it was Friday nights, we met on Friday nights and it was pretty far away from me. It was about an hour drive from where I was, now in Los Angeles, it's probably about a three hour drive because of traffic, but, anyway, so that was also influential and I think, what's my point, my point is having a support group, a hobbyist group, I think helps. It really does help develop your skills. It encourages you to pursue more things. You always want to one up your buddy. Okay and that drives people toward excellence and I and then the whole backdrop of the Apollo program, the space race in general, I think was also critical. It was always in the back of our minds.
David: And that's something I think you guys missed because of your age, that the space race was over, you know, but for my age group, the space age was really a driving force behind everything, behind really everything.
Mike: And it's funny that you mentioned things that we, you know, because my age, our age you know, we grew up internet was, you know, world wide web, all that is when I was in college, you guys, you know, it's different and so I think back to you, you mentioned being in clubs and how important being in clubs was, nowadays with the internet and the accessibility to all this information I think that also breeds this, like, you know, like there was no such thing as a script kitty back in the early days, because you had to understand you had to work with people yet to you couldn't just copy and paste you know, a hack and you know, or not understand what was going on and I think that's another thing that is missing is the sort of human element. I think it's really easy to, to sort of get in, to get access to so much information without actually that human portion of it where I think
Mike: Where if you're in a club, not only are you getting that support, but you're also getting sort of that ethical, moral, like here's a human who's going to potentially help me to, you know, to like remind me to like, be a human and morals and ethics and things like, that I think might be might be lacking a little bit now with the online aspect of anything.
Joseph: I agree, yeah. I think having that, like having things only online and people doing clubs online and memberships and subscriptions and communicating only online, I think it does lose that society, moral, ethical compass, because even when I was growing up, that's what a lot of influence and prevented me from getting into the criminal. I think we all started off in some regards, a script kitty, you know,
Joseph: that's where I kind of would get hands on and copying things from magazines and books and, you know, learning things from, from movies and, and repeating and then perfecting them getting better but it was the clubs that kept their moral compass it was really when we were talking about, you know, other people are mentors in societies and I think even, I think that's, what's critical in even the early days of the Loft and Called the Dead Cow. They kept each other, their moral compass in the right direction, the ethical reasons, and having those types of clubs where people who may have by themselves without that club or community you may have went off into, you know, kind of criminal directions. It was that kind of mentorship and moral that kept everyone going down the right path and I think today we are missing a lot of that and I think that's probably why we do see a lot of youth going into criminal activities and we get into this rehabilitation and re-education and reintroduction to society programs that hopefully will, I think we need to catch it earlier.
David: I think one key thing is the hobbyist element in many ways, it's just gone. So if you remember that scene in Apollo 13, where they throw all the materials on the table, we're trying to figure that out. That's what we would do at PCC. We would do that stuff. We'd get the latest issue of Popular electronics. We'd throw all this stuff on the table. We add a bunch of new stuff toit, Let's go at it guys and that's just totally missing and that you need to do in a group hands on you can't do it online, can't deal with hardware online,
Mike: Right yeah.
David: Right, you gotta do it
Mike: I didn't know, we do infrastructure. We do infrastructure as code now, man, like that's the thing, right? Like
Mike: I'm a huge proponent of DevSecOps. Like right now, all of my infrastructure it's in this file. That's my hardware. It's awesome, it gives me a lot of control.
Joseph: When your internet connection goes down,that's when the problem happens.
Joseph: So, but so, David, one of the next questions kind of comes closing up to the end, is that from a direction side, Is there anything, you know, after those times, since then, what has been, you know, what would have influenced you the most? I mean, there's been so much iconic, you know, I think in the mid nineties, kinda, there was a phase of trial, you know, movies coming out that had some components to it and I think in the late 2010s and since then, of course there's been a resurgence. I think one that I remember that probably had a more vision visionary aspect, which people don't really talk about as somewhat lost in history, as well as Johnny mnemonic or basically Keanu Reeves you know, is basically having a chip in his head where it contains data and there's artificial intelligence, so that those elements of it and I think for me as a there's some things that lost time that for me, it was a visionary side that showed me kind of a glimpse into the future but since then, has there been anything that's influenced you or that would have been, iconic that, you know, since that era that has probably, you know, given you some kind of a direction yourself or, you know, for the future, even in artificial intelligence per say.
David: I think we should all admit that Jesus Christ was a hacker, right and Neo was a hacker. So I think that's the best embodiment of what a hacker is. So I think just right now, I think if I was younger looking at what the motivation would be, I would say it's the world situation. I think it's just responding to global threats. We all know what they are. I can't even talk about them because of where I am so these are issues and but there are also opportunities right for career paths, opportunities for people to pursue. So the world's changed in that sense with state actors, not just non state actors, not just the loan hacker, the lone Wolf hacker, it's changed and the world has changed and who would have thought this would become a profession? Not I
Mike: What I think is interesting is the ethical hacker is a professional now, right? With bug bounty programs, with all these different ways of like back in the day, if you were to hack into a system, there were two possibilities. One was you end up in jail or you end up working for the company that you just hacked into. Right. Like on their security team right.
Joseph: It's the reverse like first you do your time and then you get hired.
Mike: Right, exactly. Right or both, now, like you can actually have a whole career based on the ethical hacking side of helping companies to secure their systems cyber security, that whole thing. It covers everybody now. It's, there's not there's no company that doesn't have some sort of online presence or some need for security, even if they are a mom pop shop chances are you have a point of sale system that is somehow connecting to the internet in order to do things in it and so I think that notion that you can actually have a career, a legitimate career, you know, as a hacker I think is awesome and I think it's, you know, really does speak volumes for where we've come in society from the sort of back room sort of in the dark type world
Mike: to really in the forefront.
Joseph: No, let's go back to David's point and you know, one of the things when I started there was, you know, when I started my career, it was 1991 when I started university. That's where basically I got into choosing, I had a crossroads in my youth, one was becoming an artist and the second one was going into computer science and I chose wisely, but I kept artist part of me going, but one of the things was that, you know, security was not, it wasn't a job. It wasn't a role. It wasn't a career. It was something that I did as part of my job. It was, I was assistant administrator, I would say network infrastructure. I was a computer science, security was a component, it was one of the things that I had to do as part of the overall job of keeping the business running and even to the point where, that, a lot of the things I was doing was run automation. I was putting defibrillators in ambulances and EPG readings and connecting them through old Nokia 3200 phones back into emergency rooms, and then sending patient data before the ambulance arrived at the emergency room so doctors can already pre diagnose victims as they were arriving. That's what we were using technology for, was to make the world a better, make it a better connected, a safer and looking at really, you know, the wellbeing of people and it wasn't until around 2002, where I was responsible in network operation center and it was when I became a secondary victim of a major DDoS attack. I don't know, David, if you're familiar with Steve Gibson who's not of course
David: I am
Joseph: He runs the security podcast, is an amazing guy and at the time that's actually, that single event is GRC Gibson research, a company that was a victim of the same DDoSs attack that we were a secondary victim of. That was my transition. That one point in time, that DDoS attack the grc.com got which turned into amazing white paper. I loved reading Steve Gibson's report that he wrote on it, about this 13 year old script kitty hacker who just one day decided to turn his botnets against his company and reading, even the communication that they had, it was that one point in time, that's where my career changed. That's where, my direction, where it was more about networks and before that it was connection and then all of a sudden, that, you know, that DDoS attack changed me to being focused purely on that point in time forward into cybersecurity but yeah, who would have thought that even today, you know, that this would have actually became a job, you know, breaking into two, you know, internet banks, not physical banks. It would have actually turned in, you know, many people in career, even now at university, I was actually a mentor and do you know, people's thesis and their social security mass Cyber security Master's courses here in Estonia. So giving you know direction on their thesis as well, and even found out last week that one of the videos that I've done in the industry is now been used to educate people at Liverpool university so it's amazing that how we've came along that you can now actually have a completely dedicated career, in this area. It's amazing.
David: It is, it really is looking back from those days. Yeah. It was not obvious this would happen,
David: Maybe a career path in the NSA or in some sort of signal intelligence, perhaps because radio operator so that just kind of makes sense, but the way it evolved, no, I don't think anybody, nobody back then really saw that.
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely. Great. So, I think, Mike, any other thoughts or comments that you want to cover?
Mike: No, I think we've covered the full gambit, you know, everything from movies to books and some real life stuff. So I think things are in great shape.
Joseph: Yeah, what I want to do, make a comment to, you know one that has also, you know, made an influence, probably not a major, you know, is of course the movie Tron so, that's one of the, definitely that kind of gets lost in time as well, but you know, it was one that also influenced a lot of, kind of more with the kinda visual and the gaming aspect of things for me and because that's always something I continue to do, I, you know, when you want to basically get back in and, you know, get your thumbs really tired, nothing like getting into a good game console so it's a pleasure. Thank you, David, for coming on the show. It's amazing. Great to have you here. Hopefully it's been an interesting conversation and I got to kind of going down memory lane cause I think it's important for the audience that listens to the show that it can, where it all comes from. I think, you know, people, sometimes we, it's important to connect people with the past and things that really shaped and influence where we are today and, you know, we've been in the industry a long time and David a little bit longer, that have really, you know, through basically our past, you know, and hopefully sharing and educating and showing people, you know, it's important to make sure that, you know, the basics, you know, basically getting into where it came from, and even sometimes get a little bit of hands on with hardware. You know, I've got a couple of ham radios behind me, which I'm always venturing back into, and it's really important for the next talent and the next future that comes in this industry, that we keep them providing the resources and things that do stand in time that provide the additional education to make sure again, you know, as Mike mentioned, it's important that we keep their moral compass. We keep it down the path to ethical and I think hopefully, you know, David, I know the world is a bit of a chaos right now and, you know, Political directions are going different ways but what I do find during these times of pandemics and situations and political amass and other things is that technology does bring us together. It's one thing that connects is a one thing that, you know, is the common language in many cases, across different cultures and hopefully that will provide an influence as well, to reverse some of the things that is currently happening and hopefully technology can be used to bring as much more closer together and provide a much more safer society moving forward. So it's an absolute pleasure having you on the show. Is there anything you want to share with the audience or anything you have any thoughts or last minute comments?
David: Oh, I think you're techno optimism is a great way to end this. I want to thank you guys for inviting me on Mike we've never met before, so it's nice chatting with you and Joe, always, I always, you know, we always enjoy our time together, so thank you for letting me share some of the some of the memories and now we need to look forward to a really good AI based cyber grand challenge based Movie that's where I'd see the direction going. That's where it's going to go next. quantum computing, more quantum than AI, but also quantum, but also AI.
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely. Mike, any last minute comment?
Mike: No, I love the idea of the quantum, cause that'll break all of our modern encryption. I have the screenplay in my head already.
David: Let's do it, let's do it
Joseph: anyone we can do,
David: Okay let's do it.
Joseph: Yeah you know anyone who listens to podcasts is in movie making that really wants to take this to the next level and reality. We're all here to be advisors and consult and share our thoughts and ideas because
Joseph: because, we have on this show, we have the right people and again, at that point it's been a pleasure, David, having you on, I look forward to seeing in the future,
David: Thank you.
Joseph: If you're going, you know, I'll probably, if you're going to be closer to me in the near future. So, at some point, I'm pretty sure I'll make a hop over, we'll grab a drink or some dinner together. Mike, next time I'm in DC. I have no idea when that's going to be,
Mike: I'm sure we'll see each other.
Joseph: I don't know about opening up, but I'm definitely sure we'll catch up. So for the audience, again, many, thanks for being on the show and listening to us going on about things that really shaped where we are today and to again, for this podcast is every two weeks, subscribe, wherever the subscription is, follow us, listen to us share us with your friends and look forward to, you know, every two weeks come, catch up with us on very exciting topics. Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure. Have a safe day and goodbye.