If it's a computer, then it's vulnerable. Period.
A Cracker or Playful Hacker can cause unlimited harm/mischief in the TV world because any computer, or any device with a CPU as a component—or even with a few strands of copper wire in it—is connected to the Internet and thus becomes easily accessible and subvertible to the character's hacking skill. Everything from NORAD to the engine computer on your SUV can be tampered with and shut down from a laptop in a room thousands of miles away. This openly defies the fact that in neither case are said computers actually online in a way that is reachable by someone on a modem.
Here, everything is online. There are no closed systems that aren't connected to the internet at large, and any machine can be plugged into or have its electronics easily screwed with from afar. All you need is a wireless connection and some illegal programs - and voila, you're in.
This being said, writers were probably just getting a bit ahead of themselves as this Cyberpunk Trope is increasingly becoming Truth in Television. As ubiquitous internet connectivity becomes essential for almost any electronic gadget or device, everything from cars note which are now being marketed at the Consumer Electronics Expo to military networks will become increasingly hackable via the internet. Even without an explicit internet connection, many devices have varying types of wireless functionality, which to a skilled adversary are as good as an internet connection.
While one would assume that any security sensitive computer system would avoid being connected to anything, most users and Sys-Admins will fight to the death to avoid complicating their Windows updates and Gmail access so most computer systems end up attached to the internet. Even control units for critical infrastructure now only come with an RJ-45 connector and a hard-coded ability to speak IP. Very few organizations have the resources or the will to construct their own air-gap networks, so all the traffic flows over the public Internet or telecommunications networks protected by VPNs and firewalls. Finally, even if a system is air-gapped properly, this is still not a complete guarantee of security, as famously demonstrated by Stuxnet, which is thought to have spread to Iranian nuclear facilities through USB drives. Even supposedly closed-access systems aren't, as demonstrated by Chinese hackers stealing fighter jet plans from the US government.
Still, there remain some gross exaggerations like the ability to erase a person's existence by deleting his identity records. In Hollywood reality, physical records like paper birth certificates and driver licenses are always null and void if the computers can't find a digital copy.
This trope is usually how an Evil Computer manages to subjugate humanity: By shutting down or reprogramming everything electrical in the world, from nuclear missiles to street cameras to light bulbs.
Of course in a series set in the Present Day (or just twenty minutes from now) it might make sense to assume that most things have a connection of some kind, despite that no matter how networked the world gets, there will always be systems kept offline for security reasons.
Compare: It's A Small Net After All, Plug 'n' Play Technology. The Other Wiki calls the real-life version of this the "Internet of Things" (no, not the Internet of Stuff).
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Anime & Manga
Ed in Cowboy Bebop retaliates against a pair of policemen who try to apprehend her by hacking into their ship's autopilot and taking it for a joy ride, accidentally crashing it. (Fortunately for them, she's a Playful Hacker and does it while it's parked outside with no one in it).
The basic premise of Corrector Yui is Magical Girls in an online world trying to fix things in the real world, including school trips, traffic lights and medical machinery.
In Serial Experiments Lain, everything is online, without exception, to the point that one of the catchphrases is: no matter where you go, everyone's connected.In fact, Lain once almost gets run over by a car, because of a failure in the citywide car guidance system. Considering that the first scene depicts someone uploading their consciousness to the internet by committing suicide, conventional electrical gadgets being connected to the internet isn't far-fetched by comparison.
The premise is basically this (minus the psychokinetic powers also present): human brains have electromagnetic vibrations in them as part of the neurons' functions. Planet Earth has ubiquitous electromagnetic resonance (called Schumann Resonance after its discoverer), which according to the series subtly affects the functions of the human brain. Somebody discovered how to manipulate the Schumann Resonance in a way that connects all people's minds subconsciously without necessarily even relying on machines, which naturally are also affected.
Perhaps the attack on the Magi computer system in End of Evangelion would have failed much sooner if NERV, instead of putting up firewalls in a Race Against the Clock, had simply disconnected the bloody thing from every line connected to the outside world.
The English dub for Ireul's invasion of the Magi has Ritsuko suggest that attempting to sever the Magi from each other or anything else would require dismantling the Geofront (in the Japanese version, she merely voices her concern about abandoning the Magi so swiftly).
Satsuki, the hacker in X1999, has a computer that is not only sentient and can hack into anything online, but it can actually electrically manipulate the power cords themselves to attack people. Even disconnecting the computer from the network doesn't help once she's got her claws in it.
Lampshaded when Satsuki steals Nataku's life support data. "We're being hacked and we aren't even on a network!"
Ghost in the Shell justifies this trope as making sense in a world where almost everyone you meet has a cybernetic implant connecting their brain wirelessly to the internet. Shown most prominently when the Laughing Man, on more than one occasion, hacks not only cameras but people's visual inputs to replace his face with his two-dimensional logo. In a Mind Screw moment, people will even remember and swear that the logo is the real face.
However, the trope is averted when logical. In the aforementioned Laughing Man incident, two homeless guys without any cybernetics are not affected. Not that they see particularly much. The military uses "autistic mode", meaning they turn off their wireless capability. Likewise certain facilities and networks are not connected to the broader net, forcing Section 9 to resort to more direct methods fairly often.
And then there is the case of "ghost hacks", where a person's natural personality and memory can be deleted/edited from a remote source. This is really, really hard however - it's mentioned that there are fewer than a half dozen individuals in the world who are capable of it.
The hackers fight in Man-Machine Interface involves someone disconnecting a vulnerable plug and using lasers to attack the satellites used by the other side to transmit info!
Real Drive has this, although there are still some people without a cybernetic implant.
Digimon absolutely loves this trope. Apparently, the Digital World and Digimon can affect not merely computers and phone lines in the real world, but everything from microwaves to traffic lights to an entire house's electrical setup. This is because the Digital World isn't simply an analog for the Internet—it's the physical manifestation of all digital data no matter how vast or minute the system may be. This is shown in the movie Our War Game, where we actually see the Internet as a separate realm within the larger Digital World. Therefore, anything computerized, online or otherwise, can be affected by using the Digital World as a go-between.
This applies mostly to the first two seasons, Adventure and Adventure 02, and Frontier. In Tamers, the Digital World and the Internet (referred to as "the Network" both in-universe and in supplementary material) are implied to be practically the same thing, so even the most tech-savvy of enemies like Makuramon, Zhuqiaomon, and the D-Reaper only able to attack systems connected directly to the Internet. The closed-circuit LAN system Hypnos operates on during the second half of the series proves largely invulnerable to the same type of attack that knocked out Hypnos HQ earlier in the series.
Justified in Blame!. The Netsphere was designed as an online paradise and safe haven for any human with Net Terminal Genes, as well as a system with absolute control over near everything within The City.
Safeguards can even download themselves from the Netsphere into the physical work where they can construct bodies from the nearest random materials.
Summer Wars. Everything is connected to the online community of OZ up to and including major governments, large corporations, and traffic control. It is essentially the entire Internet routed through a single UI platform. So when an account-stealing AI gets released into OZ...
If Batman needs anything, ever, somehow the Batcomputer can always find it.
Averted in Aeon Entelechy Evangelion, where the Grid is heavily regionally segmented, and the connection between these segmented parts is only allowed in specific timeslots under very heavy surveillance, all in the name of protection from the Migou, who can put any human master hacker to shame.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is an example of the evil computer version — in this case, Skynet. Many of the electronic things it spreads through, like cash registers, aren't even supposed to be online, so the Terminator infects stuff with remote-control Nanomachines.
The heroes of Sneakers, with the super-chip they've just stolen, are able to access anything from the Federal Reserve to the national air-traffic control system.
Hackers is all about a group of teenage hackers who do all sorts of things by hacking into computers as youthful rebellion.
The direct-to-video sequel War Games 2 plays it straight. When RIPLEY gets control, it can view through every CCTV camera in the world (apparently), and control traffic lights, and somehow make a UAV travel from the Middle East to eastern Canada in less than an hour. The main character books a plane ticket to Paris online. In 1983.
This is used in Live Free or Die Hard. The hackers have a "fire sale"; communications, water, power, all are taken down in sequence. They even give a jet pilot false orders to kill McClane. Of course, they are unable to remotely access the power grid and have to physically break into a power hub and later, the U.S. Omniscient Database.
Superman III, notable for displaying this trope before the Internet as we know it came along, has the villains remotely accessing everything from bank accounts to traffic lights to the weather itself (by messing with satellites). This is played for laughs to an extent: the traffic light flashes back and forth between the red man and the green man; eventually both stay lit—and then one jumps down and starts attacking the other. Now that's some magical hacking.
The Sandra Bullock movie The Net (1995) is entirely built around this trope. It was made when the Internet was just becoming mainstream in America and explores the frightening possibilities of this new technology. The plot involves a computer programmer being targeted by shadowy forces who hack her personal records to ruin her life. Scene after scene is intended to show how pervasive and powerful the Internet is becoming.
Independence Day is truly guilty of this. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum find themselves trapped in an organic alien craft with, of all things, a laptop. They then manage to use this laptop to hack the "brain" of the craft and and escape.
In Short Circuit 2, Johnny 5 replaced his shoulder-mounted laser with a radio that can hack things. He uses it to shut down cars by triggering their burglar alarms and pilot remote-controlled model airplanes. However, in the last few minutes of the movie where the villain is escaping in a boat, Johnny 5 tries to use it on the boat, but it doesn't work because it is not radio controlled.
In High School Musical one of the "brains" uses her laptop to hack the school's electrical grid, disabling power everywhere except the theater, so that Troy and Gabriela can make their callback at the climax of the show (movie or stage).
In Eagle Eye, the Voice with an Internet Connection who guides the protagonists, (ab)uses the fact that Everything Is Online to control every bit of electric machinery to aid the protagonists in their tasks. Traffic lights, security cameras, metros, mobile phones, electronic billboards, everything can be manipulated. Even construction cranes. And the movie, via timestamps on computers, shows it takes place in the distant future of January 2009.
Subverted with Agent Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) who, thrown by the fact that cameras keep conveniently going online, seeks out the closed-circuit cameras of a small business store.
The Voice With an Internet Connection can even cause a power pylon to drop its wires on a target and electrocute him — despite the lack of any apparent mechanical means, online or otherwise, in place for the purpose.
Carried to a ridiculous extreme in Ghost in the Machine (not to be confused with the trope of the same name): in a freak accident, a serial killer has his mind (or soul, or whatever) transferred into Cyberspace. Not only is he able to hack computers, he can also control electrical appliances, including electrocuting his victims, and in one particular scene causes a microwave oven to cook someone to death. In mere seconds. From several feet across an open room! Apparently by turning it Up to Eleven, despite the fact most magnetrons only have one power level (pseudo-levels achieved through duty cycles). Though it does look cool.
In The Matrix, everything is the result of being plugged into a computer simulation.
That's kinda reasonable if you accept that the robots were rooting for him at that point (as their only hope against Smith), and you really, really don't think about it.
In The Core, the plucky comic-relief hacker prevents Project Destini from firing by hacking into the power grid, and re-routing all electrical power, throughout the United States, to Coney Island. Apparently, there is no longer any such thing as a manual transformer switch.
Selina Kyle remarks that "everything is collated and quantified. It sticks", and says how any kid with a smart phone can upload anything onto the internet, in justification of wanting a "clean slate" computer program to wipe her criminal record clean.
Inverted with the stock market heist — Bane's crew apparently need to take over the physical building housing the trading floor in order to run their fake trades (or at the very least, start the process).
The main villain in Skyfall is somehow able to use computers to cause a gas explosion and escape from his jail cell.
Averted in The Social Network, when Zuckerberg is shown hacking (realistically) into his college dorms' directories. He notes that one dormitory's network is isolated from the main college network, says "Can't do anything about that", and ignores it, moving on to the next one.
In Transcendence, The virus shuts down basically every piece of technology on the planet, though it is mentioned there are a few spots where technology is working. Boston has phone service, for instance.
In the Doctor Who Missing Adventures novel System Shock and the Past Doctor Adventures novel Millennium Shock, the Big Bad has spent years planting alien microchips in all kinds of things, precisely so they can do this. Perhaps this is why Mickey in the TV episode "World War III" is able to launch a missile from his computer with a single password...
In Snow Crash, Hiro Protagonist's motorcycle is rendered inert by a computer virus. ("Asherah's possessed his bike.") Perhaps justified by the book's setting in a futuristic Cyberpunk world, since there's already lots of work going into the idea of making the electronic engine-management system of cars remotely accessible, so that it can be disabled in the event of theft, or stopped by the police without the need for risky manoeuvres. More creative uses are left as an exercise for the student...
If it's a computer, Otto Malpense of H.I.V.E. can control it, hack into it, or just plain mess around with it. Examples include; "talking" with a computer-controlled car, deactivating the Big Bad's space station while texting the semi-good guys, and jamming a grappler device.
Honor Harrington: Played straight and averted, depending on the computer network.
In the book Brain Jack , the A.I. Ursula can access everything in the world.
This is how the events of The Fear Index can take place. The book that was ordered online required only a simple e-mail with no interaction with humans. The wantabe killer was contacted online. The conversation to the killer was ripped from files hacked from a doctor's office. The VIXAl-4 was able to build itself a new mainframe and maintain itself by ordering staff online, with money it stole from Hoffmann's company.
In A Fox Tail Vulpie manages to infect everything connected to the internet with a Contagious A.I.. Everything ranges from TVs to military robots and spaceships. Before his big move he plays with some traffic lights using his phone.
Justified in Galaxy of Fear. One book takes place on a luxury cruise starship, and many functions are being switched from being done by crew to being handled by the computer, from choosing a course to cooking the food. When the computer goes rogue, well...
In Dan Simmon's Hyperion Cantos, most of the computer systems in the world are connected together through the "megasphere", a multi-world Internet monitored by AIs from the Techno Core, but some systems (notably military networks) are designed to be independant. It is revealed, however, that the Techno Core can access these systems anyway. So, everything everything is online even if it's not supposed to be. Which sucks because, of course, the apparently benevolent AIs finally betray humanity.
Illium, also by Simmons, takes this to its logical extreme. The noosphere connects everything in nature to the web, allowing people to talk with trees as one of the less egregious examples, in an early version of what would eventually become the Allnet. Activating said Allnet grants you the ability to see every flow and chemical process, properly named for your convenience, of everything everywhere on earth. You can also teleport whever you want, from wherever you want and to wherever you want, of course including nstant verbal and nonverbal communication with anyone anywhere. It's pretty convenient.
In Charles Stross' Glasshouse, both everything and everyone is online. First because everyone has a communication implant allowing network access at any time, and second because almost all of the technology for transportation, healing and other activities common in the futuristic setting (immortality, altering its own body, creating clones of oneself, ...) is based on nanotechnological devices that deconstruct people (or things) molecule by molecule, store the pattern, alter/duplicate/transport it and reconstruct the result. Therefore, wars are fought through network worms which infect these nanoassemblers, and you have better have a good firewall if you don't want your personality to be hacked and edited.
Live Action TV
In the first-season Buffy episode "I Robot, You Jane", a demon is scanned out of the pages of an ancient book and into a file on a school computer. For the rest of the episode, he's considered "on the web," and bad things happen around the world because of "computer error." Giles and Buffy worry that the demon's presence on the web will give him the opportunity to meddle with traffic signals, destabilize the world's economies, and launch nuclear missiles.
The fourth season of 24 features a terrorist plot to simultaneously melt down every nuclear reactor in the US using a piece of Applied Phlebotinum that looks like an ordinary laptop computer in a fancy attache case.
Season 7 introduced us to the "CIP device", a widget somewhat resembling a PCI modem, which had the power to hack into air traffic control transmissions, remote control aircraft, cause chemical plants to go critical, and cause general havoc nationwide.
In the second season of Homeland, the terrorists remotely access Vice President Walden's pacemaker and set it to a defibrillate test mode in order to give him a heart attack.
While many medical devices utilize NFC to allow reprogramming and even charging through the skin, there's no way to access them from more than a few inches away.
Initially justified with the grumpy supercomputer Orac in Blake's 7. Orac's creator also designed the "Tarriel cells" that power all computers in the Federation, with the specific goal that Orac could remotely access them undetectably and unstoppably. How it also managed to control alien computers is not explained.
Power Rangers Operation Overdrive: A Monster of the Week infects the Humongous Mecha with a virus... that is transmitted to the base, and somehow, to an android character who has never shown to have any actual connection to the base's computers (he's got to push buttons like everybody else - and in fact, wasn't even known to be an android until this incident!). This would have actually made perfect sense in some seasons (which have literalMagical Computers that are connected by the same mystical forces) but Overdrive is all tech. On the other hand, the virus was transmitted by a Magic Ninja...
In Cybergirl, the Cyber Replicants are able to interface with any computers simply by cocking their heads. This includes security systems, ATMs, electronic keyboards, TVs and school computers. Only one of which is usually online.
However, Cy's predecessor Alana (in The Girl From Tomorrow) has a wrist device that interfaced with any and all computers. In 1990.
In Jake 2.0, Jake use his symbiotic Nanomachines to move a new Cadillac sedan, noting that the car is computer controlled.
Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad takes this to ridiculous levels; in one episode a "mega-virus monster" inside an alarm clock gives the main character a sequence of nightmares. Only the Rule of Funny lets one suspend disbelief.
Don't forget the pom-poms that were infected with a virus that uploaded whoever used them to the villain's computer. Ironically, the villain only wanted the cheerleader who owned them, but by the end of the episode the entire school (including the lunch lady, the main character's little sister, and the entire football team) were screaming floppy disks hanging from his ceiling, which he found very annoying.
In one episode virus monster took over the wristwatch of one of the heroes, giving the villains control over her hand.
What about the episode in which the villain switched two of the heroes' voices by putting a virus into an electric keyboard with voice-recording capabilities?
Then there's the time the Big Bad developed a way to figure out the heroes' secret identities, but needed more electronics for him to access in order to run the program, so how does he gets it? He has his Dragon start a campaign to get everyone in town to put up Christmas lights.
Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad was made of this trope. One virus even turned the water into hydrochloric acid by doing something to the water department's computers. Note that this was the mid-90s.
Most egregiously, the cooking timer. The wind-up cooking timer. There's nothing electronic about those, but that doesn't stop the Monster of the Week from driving Mrs. Starkey nuts.
She also manages to disable every single nuclear weapon in the world. Apparently, not only are missile silos hooked up to the 'Net, but also every nuclear submarine and good old-fashioned plane-dropped bombs. Also don't forget all those terrorist cells who somehow manage to build/steal a nuke. Apparently, the first thing they do is set up a wifi receiver.
In the Inspector Morse episode "Masonic Mysteries", the villain is able to frame Morse by hacking into the police computer and altering his records. And he does all this from a prison terminal. After doing a computer course at prison.
The Cylons of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica use this trope a lot. In some cases it's justified as in the miniseries where the Colonies have allowed a Cylon infiltrator to write their military coding. In the second season, there is a particularly silly example where the computers on Galactica are connected by physical wires, and this somehow allows the Cylons to hack into the network. And yes, they break the network and prevent the Cylons from hacking in by simply pulling out the wires.
One of the systems connected was comunication (or it was a miss-translation, havent seen the episode in english) so getting a virus in is not that silly.
The First Cylon War forced the Colonials to take Everything Offline to combat the Cylons. Indeed, the Colonials became Genre Savvy enough to make it so that Nothing Is Online, at least for a time. If you look closely, you realize that indeed, almost nothing seems to be networked together on the The Battlestar, up to and including the main guns, each of which have a cockpit with the gunnery crew inside aiming it.
John Henry from The Sarah Connor Chronicles is able to control lights, elevators, and normal doors through the Internet where he is physically located, and it is explicitly stated that he has been linked into those systems at the behest of the company's owner. There's no mention of it being done 'through the Internet'.
In the serial "The Green Death", the megalomaniac computer BOSS (Bimorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor) plans to take over the world by controlling all the world's computers. In the 1970s (or was it the '80s?).
In "The Eleventh Hour", the Doctor writes a computer virus that resets everything everywhere to zero, including random clocks on the wall. Mechanical clocks.
Amazingly averted once by NCIS: Los Angeles: when asked to do something about a security system, the team hacker points out that it isn't actually connected to the internet. Played straight most of the time otherwise, though.
JAG: In "Shadow", Grover claims to control the torpedo via his laptop, and is able to set off various bombs he has concealed throughout the ship. It is lampshaded that the only way he is able to do this is because he arranged for extra pieces of equipment to be installed in the submarine while it was still under construction.
On Caprica, Zoe Greystone creates an online AI avater of herself and several other people not by copying their psyche, but by relying on information online such as medical records, security footage, etc.
Noteworthy is the fact that Caprica in itself is neither our planet nor our present time, but it's a nice metaphor/warning/criticism of our reliance on technology and its possible consequences.
In an episode of Flashpoint, the team's technical expert Spike notes that the criminals running an illegal casino made his job easy by using basic off-the-shelf wireless cameras for surveillance. He can easily access the system remotely and use the cameras to guide the team into the building.
Another time he is forced at gunpoint to hack into the security system of a police evidence warehouse. Apparently every alarm in the building can be accessed remotely over the internet if you know the access codes.
While often played straight, this is subverted at least as often on Leverage as Hardison typically needs physical access to hack into the target systems. However, the subversions generally only apply when it is important to the plot. When it is an element played for laughs, it is more likely to be this trope, one notable example is when Hardison easily hacks into the traffic cameras in London to spy on Nate.
Subverted in the season 2 finale of Sherlock: Moriarty disables security at three major locations in London... using a phone app. According to him, all that is nothing more than a sales pitch to the highest bidder for said app — or rather, the code for the app. He even mentions casually hacking into any nuclear missile silo he chooses. However, this ends up being an elaborate bluff, as the app in question is simply something that sends a text to security people at the locations he 'breaks into', who have already been paid off. The "code" was a trick for the benefit of the Holmes brothers; and it works. Both Sherlock and Mycroft are convinced it's real. Moriarty was amused in Mycroft's case, but very disappointed that Sherlock also fell for it.
In Champions, every motor vehicle in Millennium City is remotely controlled by a central computer. They never really discuss the implications of this.
Shadowrun is generally one of the usual suspects, though it does avert the trope on occasion. In 3rd edition, extra-sensitive systems were often offline or in a closed-circuit system, though "extra-sensitive" may or may not include the security of top-secret megacorp research labs. 4th and 5th edition still take the cake: almost all computers rely on wireless technology, meaning you don't even need a physical connection to your target to wreak havoc. Forget people's cars, start thinking about people's cyberware, which may include things like eyes or even the connection between their brain and their somatic nervous system — meaning that a good runner team needs a good decker or technomancer in order to safeguard their stuff from getting bricked or worse by Matrix attacks.
However the new "mesh" structure of the wireless matrix means that you need to be physically inside many corp facilities to hack their equipment.
Eclipse Phase has most everything connected by wireless mesh, including robot brains. Exsurgent technology goes farther, actually. You can hack someone's brain through their sensory input.
That said, the extremely paranoid Jovian Junta has all their government systems on a closed-loop wired network. And even the more reasonable Titanian Commonwealth has a hard-wire backup system in case of TITAN attack.
The basic premise of Mega Man Battle Network. In some optional missions, escaped viruses make their way into action figures and electronic keyboards. Even the Mafia operates online.
The premise of Mega Man NT Warrior, the anime version of the above game series, is naturally founded upon this trope as well. The first episode demonstrates this by showing that a kitchen oven is connected to the internet, and its self cleaning devices are regulated through it.
Also occasionally averted. While many unlikely things are connected to the internet such as Mayl's piano & Myuki's mirror (which may just be PCs designed to look like these things), there are many devices like cars, TVs, vending machines & major public works like the water treatment plant that are not online, despite being computer controlled & must be jacked into manually.
Taken to such ridiculous levels that you can find EM wave spaces in medieval crowns, sunken galleon masts, rocks, and even rotisserie chicken, and that's just in 2.
Taken to ridiculous extremes in the Sega CD game Panic!, where a computer virus infects the World Central Network, and every machine in the world, including vending machines, vehicles, elevators, and countless other objects, starts going haywire in indescribably bizarre ways. This makes substantially more sense than the rest of the game.
Splinter Cell: Double Agent has a sequence where a character hacks into some slot machines and makes them start spewing money as a distraction. To make it worse, those slot machines are on a cruise ship at sea.
However in the previous Splinter Cell games, averting this was the whole reason for Third Echelon's existence: Sam Fisher is only sent in to infiltrate the facilities that can't be breached by electronic means. One mission in Chaos Theory has Grim try to hack a bank's network, discover they unplug their hard drives every night then wryly pass comment before sending Sam in.
"Crazy world we live in where physical intrusion is less of a threat than electronic intrusion."
A major plot point in the .hack series is that everything is connected to the world wide web and, moreover, is connected by reliance on some variant of the single operating system that survived a catastrophic network virus disaster called Pluto's Kiss. This means everything from nuclear reactors to traffic light programs to heart monitors is somehow wired together.
In the first four games, this software standardization is utilized by the MMO, The World, to facilitate an ever-growing database of human personality observations designed to create the Ultimate AI, cutting into real world systems to allocate memory and processing power. As the controlling software - Morganna Gone Mode - suffers from its own Logic Bomb, fragments itself into eight components, and then each of those components is destroyed, the systems it has hacked into begin breaking down and can not be recovered due to the nature of the overriding program. The stress is relieved when Aura, the Ultimate AI, is finally completed and she re-stabilizes the whole of the system. Then improves the system.
In the second group of games, the inherent human-based AI producing software comes full circle and manages to bite the human operators in the butt in the form of AIDA, essentially the leftovers of Aura, multiple free-radical programs that affect players' minds directly through their neural headsets. Then, when the AIDA situation is resolved, a second Cubia appears in response to the re-activation of parts of the original Morganna program. And it tries to perform garbage collection on the whole of the affected systems, i.e., the whole network and everything connected to it.
Interestingly, reading the news reports on the outside world in the games shows that there are, in fact, plenty of people who see the problem with the system, and are trying to break ALTIMIT OS's monopoly on the world's computers. The problem is that most people who lived through "Pluto's Kiss" are so convinced that ALTIMIT is invulnerable to viruses (and for the most part it is, only sentient AI's have been able to harm it), that they're unwilling to take a chance on anything else.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey takes place in a future in which, indeed, pretty much everything is online. The mysterious network failures known as "The Static" have even resulted in fatal car accidents, and, indeed, one the things you get to hack during the game is a car.
In Outlive instead of the human spies who do operations for the player on a set budget and have a training time if they get captured and killed, the robots pay money to create expendable viruses that are used in certain quantities for certain missions. These can be used for everything to scouting an area of pristine wildernes and sabotage, to redirecting ICBMs.
In Alpha Prime, one of the major gameplay mechanics is a device which can remotely hack into and control cameras, doors, pressure valves, vehicle loaders, sentry guns, and proximity mines. The game lampshades this trope when your Mission Control, who hacks into pretty much everything else, says about opening a window, "Anything can be opened from a console when you have a real pro on the job."
Used as a plot point in Final Fantasy XIII: The Big Bad controls the internet, and lets the party shop through secure channels that the military doesn't know about in order to fuel his plan to turn them into Super Soldiers and help destroy humanity. He even taunts you about this whenever you go shopping later in the game.
Played straight in MindJack where due to advances in cybernetics by the huge corporations nearly everything and everyone is online.
Averted in Deus Ex twice. One mission involves getting an allied AI access to military internet systems. At the end of the game Deus Est Machina Helios get its power because people willingly follow it instead of the corrupt leaders currently in power. It can at most "change some codes and turn off a couple lights" on its own.
Project Eden: Lucy hacked into a police computer and get her sister sent to the cities underground, so she can steal her body.
Ubisoft's Watch_Dogs uses this as a central premise. Taking place in a post-2003 Northeast Blackout alternatepresent version of Chicago, the government now has their hand in every electronic device (phones, computers, and even things like ATMs and traffic lights) in the city and all interconnected to a centralized network called the "CtOS". This is both a blessing and a curse for the city, as protagonist Aiden Pearce is able to take advantage of this widespread network by hacking in and screwing around with the system in order to prevent crimes, save lives, and generally dole out vigilante justice.
Downplayed in Gunpoint. Everything within a single building is on the same circuit, which is controlled by software. The gameplay revolves around a phone mod that lets the player character hack the software to rewire the circuit (e.g. making a light switch open a door that normally uses a handprint scanner). Most buildings also have multiple circuits, and the electronics on one circuit cannot interact with ones on another.
If the character purchases a separate mod, even guns can be put on this system, resulting in situations where firing a gun will instead turn the lights off, or triggering a motion detector will fire a gun.
Subverted in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The villain is able to hack the US drone defense network using a [[Macguffin rare earth metal device]], but only after breaking into and accessing the server on a US carrier. Played straight afterward when he is able to control EVERY drone the US has, and even take over public utility facilities.
A frequently Defied Trope for the SCP Foundation. Any SCP that is an artificially intelligent computer programs must never be run on a computer with any kind of network connection.
The most wonderful example of this would be Inspector Gadget's niece Penny's Computer Book. In a time when the first laptop computers were just being released, hers could break into anything to help her Uncle Gadget.
Also applies to XANA's attacks in Code Lyoko, although this is partially explained away — the inky black "spectres" are apparently capable of wiring up any electronic device, inanimate object, or even human being, as desired.
Jérémie also manages to hack about anything with the Supercomputer, including military databases.
In an episode of the old Mega Man cartoon, a virus causes everything to work for Dr. Wily. Even phone cords. And toasters. And sofas. In fact, the objects he controls act in ways they couldn't possibly in normal life, like street lamps strangling people. Half of the objects didn't even use electricity, like a push lawnmower and a exercise bike and he controlled all those appliances all at the same time with just a joystick.
Parodied in a Halloween episode of The Simpsons. Homer's workstation falling victim to the Millennium Bug causes everything to rebel, including pacemakers, electric shavers, and cartons of milk.
In the cartoon series The Batman, a Digital Advanced Villain Emulator (D.A.V.E) program "escapes" through the power cord of his computer, into a manufacturing factory, knocks out a worker by firing electricity through the keyboard and then reprograms the factory to build him a body.
Earlier in the series, The Riddler hacks into a computer system and is somehow able to remote-operate a crane at a construction site.
Played straight and averted in the same episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man, "Shear Strength". Dr. Octopus hacks into and controls satellites, cell phone GPS locators, street lights, even a coffee shop cash register all because they have computers. However, he later needs the help of someone else to get some Homeland Security codes, as they are on a closed network.
In Static Shock, a disgruntled technician builds a helmet that allows her to uplink her consciousness to the Internet in the form of the ultimate worm virus. Not only can she connect to things that shouldn't be online, she can take anything that has a computer in it and use that fact to access functions the computer itself couldn't, such as driving cars by accessing "the onboard computer systems", which should really just consist of a GPS or something. Now, given that she chose to pull this gimmick against an electricity-themed hero and his supergenius sidekick, she doesn't last very long — she gets taken out with antivirus software which winds up feeding back through the helmet and pretty much rendering her catatonic. The repercussions are never discussed.
Acknowledged in ReBoot: Daemon can't infect systems that don't have a connection to the net. Interestingly, you can use Portals to access said systems.
In The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue, Rob temporarily loses his thesis due to a virus being spread by a sick old computer. He was using it call for help and ends up helping him get it back in the end.
In one episode of the 1980s animated Incredible Hulk, an evil computer starts taking over the world through the electric power lines. All manner of small appliances, including electric razors and pop-up toasters, start flying around and attacking people.
Charlie Strap and Froggy Ball Flying High (original name "Kalle Stropp och Grodan Boll på svindlande äventyr"), a 1991 Swedish animated feature film, had this as a key part of the villains' plot. They have a floppy disk with a program on it that allows them to hack into the government's computers as easily as pressing a few buttons, which they will use to give themselves permission to move a historical castle to the main characters' forest, and re-build it into a hyper-modern hotel. Apparently, the program can also edit the government's non-digital records... though that might just be the villains being idiots and assuming this trope to be in effect.
As uptake of the internet has increased, and particularly the advent of "always-on" broadband internet connections, as well as the increasing importance of the internet for many areas of everyday life, this trope is pretty much true in real life as regards personal computing. This has of course brought with it security problems- whilst at any point up until the mid to late '90s having a virus checker for your home PC was maybe a good idea but still only optional and hacking/cracking was something that only happened to large organizations, nowadays the very idea of not having anti-virus, firewall and other security software installed on your system is unthinkable.
Networked devices that have no reason for being that way were recently pointed out as a massive security problem in office environments, as in this case of a net-enabled, self-updating ''coffee maker'' (?!?). Not only can a sufficiently grief-minded hacker execute a "denial of coffee attack" by remotely screwing with the boiler temperature or the grounds:water ratio, but the control program has to be run on an XP box somewhere on the coffee maker's LAN, which effectively opens a back door onto that machine, and from there into the entire network. Oops!
One can also connect a Wifi-equipped interceptor device into a private and secure network, then spy on that unit, and consequently the network, over an internet connection. In fact, this is the way most viruses work, exchanging "device" for "program."
This and many other examples on this page fall under a trend called the "Internet of Things" with the idea being that if all of your appliances are smart, they can do things like, say, putting on your cup of coffee for you while you're showering or turning on the AC for you when your phone gps notices you're heading home.
Vending machines are actually worth putting online. It allows the operating company to check on their status remotely, and only dispatch service personnel when needed, rather than having to schedule them more frequently to ensure there aren't outages. This saves significant money and/or time. (If you're a service person who gets paid according to how large a number of machines you cover, you don't want to have to visit each machine more often than you need to, since that reduces the number of machines you can cover.)
There are also actually some limited versions of this technology in existence now, or under research, but they are usually passive in nature. EMESCAT systems, which have existed since the Cold War, are designed to remotely gather information (such as, say, reading what's on your CRT computer monitor) from the electromagnetic radiation given off by a computer. This generally takes the form of a sensitive EM sensor near the computer in question, such as in a van across the street, or the other side of a hotel wall. Superconducting Quantum Interface Devices (also called SQUIDs), are similar devices that are currently (mostly?) theoretical. These latter would generally depend on direct physical connections to the computer, but ranged versions have been proposed.
TEMPEST and all manner of passive and active sensing systems have existed for a while. Similarly, the old-school UK TV detector vans (if they really existed) used simple tricks to spot even televisions that had been turned off and unplugged (less useful nowadays with vastly more pervasive use of electronics). However, reading your screen or your keystrokes from across the road is not in the same ballpark as reading the same information from anywhere in the world. There have been documented cases of highly effective electronic warfare (such as the Israeli strike on a Syrian 'nuclear facility' in September 2007) but these are, once again, done using in-theatre devices and not by some hackers with a net connection somewhere else in the world. hacking local devices remotely is not even slightly the same game as hacking arbitrary devices via the internet.
Cloud Computing: It's the future! (TM)
Electronic road signs are apparently easy enough to manipulate with physical access, but obviously not connected to any network.
At least in some places and countries they are connected to a traffic control network for the sake of keeping tabs on malfunctions, and for making statistics easier.
Irregularities with voting machines in the 2006 American election were blamed on McAfee anti-virus software by the company that made them. Why voting machines would need anti-virus software - or to be hooked up to the internet at all -is a troubling concept, as this XKCD cartoon points out.
There's a bit of a kerfluffle over the harddrives in networked copiers; they are never properly disposed of and tend to keep all sorts of documents on it. This is, of course, a security breach.
Quite sad considering that all you need is a screwdriver and a magnet, or a hammer and nail (or just a hammer).
Some departments of at least some governments are smart enough to keep two (or possibly more) distinct networks: one that contains all the classified data and isn't connected to anything outside, and another network that does connect to the outside and on which nothing sensitive is permitted to be. Occasionally, cases from these isolated networks turns up in recyclers' hands, including their prominent notices about the system being only allowed to be connected to the isolated network. Given that the government of Canada does do this, and the above reference to the hard drive destruction hardware, one can presume the hard drives are disposed of properly.
While your car isn't technically "online," its onboard navigation and security suite (like OnStar) is. While this hasn't been maliciously abused, some hackers with a laptop over a bridge have managed to engage the brakes and disable the engine in rush hour traffic.
Tractors of today are highly sophisticated affairs that query online databases to synch data regarding how to plant crops. An apocalyptic food shortage months from now would be precipitated by someone playfully setting seed and planting depths to ungrowable levels today.
There was a point at which Predator feeds were unencrypted at one juncture in their trip back to base. For $20 of software you too could have watched through the eyes of a US drone!
Note that this doesn't mean someone could have taken it over, the issue was simply the video feed. While it is an issue it doesn't totally follow this trope. The reason it was done was that too many different groups wanted access to the video feed and there wasn't enough encrypted bandwidth.
Many video game consoles and handhelds today use a lot of features that require the user to keep a constant internet connection, even if the device is turned off (though nowadays many electronics are put in standby mode). While a user can choose to disable their internet connection if they really want to play without being forced to connect online, you will get gimped out of several features and services that require an internet connection in the first place. Your console/handheld doesn't send out sensitive information so there's usually no worry about being hacked through your game console. Having games and systems that need constant internet connections can greatly annoy people whose internet services are ruled by a bandwidth cap.
Not content with keeping it cool for us, fridges are now apparently sending spam.