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I watched the movie ‘Swordfish’ over the weekend. Fast moving, explosive, entertainment at its best, with John Travolta as the flashy TVR driving and amoral genius, ‘Gabriel’ employing super hackers, in a twisting plot involving robbery and murder in the war against terrorism.

Swordfish was of course released early last summer, well before September 11th and yet the plot very nearly suggests that it was inspired by the circumstances surrounding that tragedy. Also, there’s Gabriel himself, as in the ‘Gabriel Principle’, the name I gave to emerging hacker threat to IT security in a Sky News interview in May. An eerie coincidence I thought but then I’m notoriously superstitious.

Hollywood’s hackers may look more like Keanu Reeves rather than teenager Raphael Gray, the welsh wizard ‘Curador’, who found himself in a Swansea court last June for "borrowing" several thousand credit card numbers, including, allegedly, Bill Gates own, from the comfort of his bedroom in some remote valley. You may remember from the news at the time that finding Curador was a challenge for the FBI, as they know rather more about Kabul than they do about Cardiff and have more chance of finding the former on a map although Wales has a growing Afghan population or so I’m told.

Back then to Hollywood, the willing suspension of disbelief and the intricate plot of Swordfish. It appears that cracking a 128Kb crypto key involves building a ‘worm’, a polygonal structure, which is created with much waving of hands and keyboard tapping and which on screen resembles a genetically engineered virus. Of course, once this ‘worm’ is set loose, $9 billion of government money can then be transferred into the bank account(s) of your choice as easily as I can pay my own bills through Barclays Internet banking.

Hollywood does love its hackers even if business doesn’t like the example it sets. Thanks to films like the Matrix and Swordfish, it offers them a kind of glorified, Armani-clad respectability, which encourages all the ‘Wannabe Scrip-kiddies’ to have a go at the first innocent and poorly-protected NT Server they kind find hanging off some neglected corner of a company network.

Amateur Cyberchologist that I am, the truth, I’m afraid to say, is that in most cases, real hacking is a pretty dull activity, invariably performed with sledgehammer-like finesse and with a disproportionately high nuisance factor to business. Should however anyone come up with a ‘worm’ that can efficiently and invisibly redistribute the millions in Gordon Brown's Treasury’s current account, from the Bank of England to numbered accounts in the Cayman Islands do let me know.


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