The Big Bad has launched the world's most potent virus and you've got 10 minutes before he destroys every computer in the world! Quickly, hack into his Master Computer and delete the virus! What, you don't know how to hack? Never mind - the computer is state of the art, which apparently means Extreme Graphical Representation, easy to guessHighly Visible Passwords, and a Viewer-Friendly Interface. Instead of exploiting security flaws, you guide a little 3D version of yourself through a fiery maze that somehow represents the firewall, without forgetting to leave a Skull and Crossbones image that takes the entire screen of the hacked computer. It's nothing like real hacking, although either way, you may have to use Rapid-Fire Typing. That last part also means that any AI or robot that can directly interface with a computer is automatically the greatest hacker in the universe that can instantly take over any system no matter how secure, because it doesn't need to type.
Hollywood Hacking is when some sort of convoluted metaphor is used not only to describe hacking, but actually to put it into practice. Characters will come up with rubbish like, "Extinguish the firewall!" and "I'll use the Millennium Bug to launch an Overclocking Attack on the whole Internet!" - even hacking light switches and electric razors, which is even sillier if said electric razor is unplugged. The intent is to employ a form of Artistic License or hand waving which takes advantage of presumed technophobia among the audience. You can also expect this trope to annoy those within the audience whose occupation involves computers or the Internet, to about the same degree that the Hollywood Atheist trope annoys real atheists.
To be fair, Hollywood Hacking predates the metaphors. There's a Hollywood Brute Force that is very often used on passwords. When this is used, you will see a constantly changing string of random letters and numbers, and they will stop changing in random order one at a time until the correct password is showing on the screen. Particularly sophisticated ones will make the correct characters start glowing. This is done because it looks much neater than the correct password popping up out of nowhere.
Of course, with computers, this could also fall under much the same heading as And Some Other Stuff; If the thought of popular TV shows, movies, or books showing kids how to make bombs in their kitchen gives Moral Guardians the shivers, imagine what the thought of said works showing them how to use those horrible demon machines in their rooms to hack bank accounts, crack Pentagon secrets or steala copyof the screenplay for the upcomingTwilightmovie would do to those same Moral Guardians.
In Video Games the Hacking Minigame is an Acceptable Break From Reality based on the Rule of Fun ... mainly because who wants to sit there and exploit security flaws when you could use a green tank to shoot stuff?
If the attack brings two computer-savvy users head-to-head, then you've also got Dueling Hackers.
In more serious terms, this trope has the potential to be socially dangerous. The reason why is because in some series, (particularly police procedurals) and in the media, this trope is used to give Real Life hackers a bad name, and as a general form of fearmongering. It causes technophobic audiences to believe that hackers are more dangerous than they really are, and also promotes the deeply disempowering belief that computers are arcane, mysterious, and hence undiscoverable things, which said audience could never possibly understand, except at the most basic level.
See also Hollywood Encryption.
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Anime and Manga
In Cowboy Bebop, Ed hacks via a school of cute, tiny fish nibbling on screenshots of web pages.
Mahou Sensei Negima! (the manga, at least) has Chachamaru attempt to hack into the school's computer system, which are represented by pixellated sharks. A student uses an artifact to transport herself into cyberspace and fight them, Magical Girl-style. It's almost certainly a parody of this trope, as she uses legitimate hacking techniques (SYN Flood, a Denial-of-Service attack, etc.) that are simply visualized in ridiculous ways (the DOS attack is a tuna, for example), and the "spells" that she's chanting are Unix shell commands with accurate iptables syntax.
Made fun of in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series where Kaiba's computer claims to be so advanced it makes hacking look like a boring video game. Said computer also points out how Kaiba seems to be pressing the same keys over and over prompting the latter to claim he learned how to hack by watching old episodes of Star Trek.
This concept is revisited in Yu Gi Oh ZEXAL, when Yuma's sister Akari attempts to track down and destroy a virus, complete with an RPG-style dungeon and a boss battle.
Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds has a different version; rather than passwords, information is hidden behind duel puzzles (a duel-in-progress is presented and you have limited chances to figure out how to win in one turn). It's an... interesting way of shoehorning duels into episodes that otherwise wouldn't have them. At one point the access to an important database is hidden inside a duel puzzle arcade machine - the person who thought it up claims that nobody would look for a database there, plus he can slack off at the arcade and claim it's for work.
In Dennou Coil, even the least eye-catching examples of hacking look suspiciously like Hermetic Magic and Instant Runes (the more visual ones? They involved rockets). In this case, though, it's justified in that a) they're not using the internet at all, but rather Augmented Reality technology and b) the Augmented Reality subculture in the series is dominated mostly by preteen children, the exact sort of people who would try to make hacking as flashy as possible.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has, in Lagann-hen, Lordgenome's head HAACKIIIING into the Cathedral Terra by having a virtual recreation of his body run down a virtual hallway connecting the ships, then running around virtual corridors to find a box, smashing it open with his head and eating the red sphere inside it. Nobody cared about how unrealistic it was in this case because a) it's Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and b) it was hilarious.
Both used and averted: firewalls are represented by spheres with shiny, meaningless glyphs on them. But when the characters hack into them, they do it by connecting an intrusion program (which looks sort of like a welding torch) and waiting a while (though it takes only a few seconds of screen time). In one episode, such a software hack was used to distract the target from the Major breaking in and physically connecting to the local network. The creators have noted that the cyberspace doesn't really look like that at all, but it's an entertaining visual representation for the audience's benefit. Even Shirow Masamune acknowledges in the original Ghost in the Shell manga that cyberspace wouldn't have a visual appearance, and he only did so for the sake of entertainment. He created the series before the modern concept of the internet and cyberspace even existed.
There are also Defense Barriers, which are firewalls for people's cyberbrains. A firewall designed to protect your very soul (which, having a cyberbrain, means it is now digital data and therefor tangible). Each level of the barrier rotates at varying speeds and opposite directions from each other, and you can pass through them by advancing through a specific hole that shows up when they are properly aligned.
Hanaukyō Maid Tai has the maid staff trying to prevent a hacker from accessing their system by playing what appears to be a game of Centipede against a spider that's stealing information by walking across the screen and grabbing boxes from a warehouse. When Grace wakes up she defeats the hackers with some quick keystrokes by summoning a giant Pacman.
The anime features a lot of the Hollywood Hacking staples, such as Rapid-Fire Typing and virtual reality representations for hacking, but it also balances it out with a lot of parts that are grounded in reality (such as the movie's villain, a hacker AI named Love Machine, acting like a botnet program, and doing things the way an actual real-life hacker would do them.) Even the virtual reality representations are justified, as it's clearly stated that it has replaced the Internet in the movie's universe. It's also not made clear how much of it is an accurate image of what is actually happening and what is just for the audience's benefit.
The main silly thing is the giant sequence of digits, apparently meant to be a password hash, which Kenji "solves" on paper in a few hours...then again, in a few minutes...then again, in his head. Leaving aside the nigh-impossibility of reverse-engineering a password from a hash at all, let alone by hand (that's the whole point of hashing passwords before storing them), why would Oz willingly spit the number at anyone trying to hack their way in, especially if it's solvable?
Psycho-Pass is interesting in that it presents a Dystopia where Everything Is Online, even human thoughts can be monitored through the internet, the eponymous Psycho-Passes and the Sibyl System; and yet it averts Hollywood Hacking most of the time. In fact, for Choe and Makishima to hack the Sibyl System, they need to divert as much attention from the area housing the computers they need to hack, sneak in and manually access and change files. The character who can play Hollywood Hacking straight is the Chief of Police, Jusei, as revealed in Episode 16. This is probably due to them secretly being an advanced cyborg.
In Masterminds, computer hacking consists of playing a literal computer game, consisting of hunting for a "valid entrance" in a 3-D animated dungeon (with hostile skeletons!), while the system itself proclaims full awareness of your activities and their illegality. It's a good enough sport to let you proceed without a fuss if you win.
In the 1985 movie Weird Science, Wyatt uses a computer program, "Crypto Smasher v3.10", that provides a very detailed (for that time) graphical representation of the hacking he is doing to break into a military computer system. The connections are all rendered as tunnels, with the mainframe itself appearing as a vast space with CGI versions of images from the opening sequence of The Twilight Zone.
This is also seen in the movie Swordfish to a degree, when Hugh Jackman's character creates a worm to hack into a bank and steal the money for John Travolta's organization. This film features large amounts of Rapid-Fire Typing and Viewer-Friendly Interface. Also, as he is first hired, the hacker is able to break into a government network in only 60 seconds through extreme Rapid-Fire Typing while receiving oral sex and with a gun pointed at his head. Hugh is the best at what he does. At another point of the movie the dialogue indicates that the writers of the movie think that a computer with multiple monitors is inherently more powerful than one that has just one.
WarGames invented the whole tapping-a-few-keys-and-saying-"We're-in" shtick, and set the general form of how every movie hacker is portrayed. At the time, the techniques presented in WarGames were very realistic, from phone phreaking, wardialing, to social engineering. Some aspects of which are still in use successfully today, especially the social engineering aspect. (Just look at the trope image.) It's just that Hollywood never got past the 1980s in terms of graphical representation. And in the real world, Technology Marches On and most of it got much, much more boring and automated since then.
Hackers, of course. The entire movie basically. And it is glorious. There are some realistic discussions about password security, which is how some of the earlier hacks get done (Admin password is God...), and pretty much all of the prep work for the big hack is actually realistic. Lots of stealing passwords, going through discarded printouts, tapping the phone lines. It's like they did all the research on how hacking actually happens, and then decided that would be boring.
Played with in one of Eddie Izzard's stand up routines.
"Hundred bazillion possible passwords... "Jeff"! And I'm in." "How did you know?" "Well, he was born in Jeff, on the seventh day of Jeff, nineteen-Jeffty-Jeff... And they're always so swish about it, too: Hacking into the Pentagon computer... double-click on"yes"..."
The novelization, and deleted scens imply that Apple computers (among other things) were derived from alien technology.
The Mangler 2 features a website known as "The Hackers Mall" which appears to date from the early 1990's and displays an visual homage to the Take That of Independence Day, numerous examples of Everything Is Online (various "hacked" cables posing a physical threat to the protagonists) and a wired up Lance Henriksen/computer hybrid with what looks like a bucket attached to its foot. Also, Cyberpunk Is Techno.
The Core has one of the characters reroute power from the US to a single location and find secret weapons files seemingly from the Internet.
Star Wars' R2D2 can hack into any Imperial or Civilian computer system with ease, so long as he can tell the difference between a computer terminal and a power socket.
Jurassic Park: Averted in the "I know this, this is UNIX!" scene where they actually are running a legitimate UNIX OS derivative from SGI called IRIX that was running a 3D file system navigator that they were developing at the time.
Exaggerated in Wreck-It Ralph. Turbo invades Sugar Rush and attempts to delete Vanellope Von Schweetz from the game code, but can only render her as a glitch and modifies everyone's memory of her so they treat her as a criminal and an outcast.
In Skyfall, Q has a hacking display resembling a wire model, whilst hacking can be used to achieve practically anything, from leaving "breadcrumbs", to causing gas explosions. It isn't, by any means, the first James Bond movie to feature hacking, but it is perhaps the most straight example of this trope. The "breadcrumbs" in question are presumably supposed to be things like CCTV sightings and credit card payments.
1995's The Net focuses on a mysterious secret program that is used to to erase Sandra Bullock's identity from every computer in the world. The film culminates with the deletion of the program, which reverses the erasure: this is comparable to deleting your personal copy of OpenOffice and thus undoing every edit you've made to every OpenOffice file, even those you've moved to other computers.
Also, in the beginning where Tony hacks into a government mainframe using only a cell phone.
Johnny Mnemonic, unsurprisingly written by William Gibson (both the short story and the screenplay) has a scene where Johnny uses a VR headset and gloves for hacking, entering codes on a virtual keypad and in some places rearranging some blocks in a pyramid shaped 3-d puzzle, and another time hacking into his own brain with an avatar that dodged attacks from a security program and pulled an image out of his implant. Though the original short story just had Jones reading the imprint of the access code on his implant with a SQUID.
Sneakers both averts and plays it painfully straight. A lot of the basic techniques are played accurately, including a lot of the social engineering aspects and overall straight-up footwork required to get the basic information on what you need to get into and how you get into it, while a lot of the stuff you see actually on the computer screens is utterly Hollywood.
The original TRON is a bit of legitimate and much Hollywood intrusion. The ideas of physically accessing the internal network to log in with a backdoor, and injecting high CPU-use problems into the system to keep the MCP busy are reasonably legitimate, the fact that your security programs are represented as Anthropomorphic Personifications inside the Grid, well... not so much.
The Demon Headmaster: The only thing preventing access to the Prime Minister's computer is a weak password, and to hack it, you just need to tell the computer "knock, knock" jokes. Apparently, it takes the combined power of the brightest minds in the country to figure this out.
The very grandfather of this trope is William Gibson, who wrote the whole graphical hacking trope into his novel Neuromancer. He later admitted to basing it off teenagers playing arcade games, and that he had never used a computer before he wrote Neuromancer. Oddly enough this gives it a timeless (if vague) quality that accurate specifics would never have. He later tried a computer, to find it "disappointing." Eventually, Gibson broke down, and seems to be as addicted as the rest of us, having recently switched from keeping a blog to posting to Twitter.
In Tom Clancy's Net Force, people use VR to demolish code or bypass filters, such as killing viruses by turninghttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SQUID them in nasty rats in a city, or passing firewalls by shooting them in a Wild West duel. It's a lot more fun than sitting at a command prompt and getting carpal tunnel, according to the personnel.
Clear and Present Danger averts the trope, with a government techie requiring hours and hours to guess the password to an encrypted file, using lots of biographical data about the owner as a library. The movie abridges this by having the techie use the same concept but luck out after a few tries.
In the Warhammer 40,000 novel Soul Drinker, a mechanized tech adept connects via a mechanical implant to an ancient relic... and uses it to hack the sentient circuitry inside at the speed of thought, as the technology was so advanced that they couldn't keep up otherwise. According to the description, the relic is so amazed at having the first of four firewalls gene-encoders broken through (and therefore light up on the grip) that the second one falls soon after.
Frequently occurs in Animorphs, usually by Ax, as a result of his advanced alien knowledge. Human computers are extremely primitive to him.
The novella "True Names" did it three years before Neuromancer. It actually went further by making the case in-universe than in the age of VR, effective hacking is by definitionHollywood Hacking; governmental security is portrayed as less effective because of their agents' insistence on straightforward analogues of programming code and terminology to sensory representation, while the underground adopts and uses magical idioms and intuitive rather than logical interfaces.
"They have convinced themselves," Csongor said, "that if the three of us get inside the building, we can determine which unit contains the Troll."
"Why do they believe that?"
"Because we are hackers," Csongor said, "and they have seen movies."
In Josh Conviser's novel Echelon, almost all computer usage has become Hollywood Hacking complete with an immersive VR interface that almost plays like an MMO. The layers of abstraction make computer use easy for everyone, since now Everything Is Online, but some of the characters realize it could not possibly have grown naturally out of the Internet, and that it's a kind of "cultural terraforming" memetic weapon designed to be very easy to use and thus subvert an entire world's data management. It is, alas, never followed up on even in the sequel.
How do you hack in Idlewild IRV? Physically grab a program's avatar and wear it like Tricked-Out Gloves. Naturally it's impossible to access any program that isn't visible at the time and place.
Live Action TV
Bones, specifically Pelant. The guy can do pretty much anything, and nobody can seem to design a security system capable of blocking him.
This was handwaved (lampshaded?) in Nikita with the explanation of, "I even made it look like a video game so your little tween brains can handle it."
In possibly one of the most ridiculous evil plots known to man, you've got Bowser/King Koopa's hacking-related world domination plan in the Mario Ice Capades. The gist of it? From within a video game, he plans to use a virus in a NES console to hack a computer, and apparently take over the world (in an extreme version of Everything Is Online). This is then compounded by the program's host saying that an evil computer virus will 'release all the evil forces stored up in the computer'. Yes, it's actually a real TV show segment.
JAG: Meg's failed attempts to seize control of Grover's computer, in "Shadow", lead to various responses, ranging from an animation of Grover giving a raspberry, to other concealed bombs being armed.
The episode "Driven" had a sabotaged car-driving AI, and they hacked into the SUV through sensor feed transmissions. Yes, there was a manual-adjustment feed, for slight adjustments of a specific system, but they used it to hack into root control within seconds. And then they have a fancy GUI menu on their own system to interface with it.
The episode "Kill Screen" had a semi-plausible cyberattack scheme where a hacker inserted a sophisticated subroutine into an online video game that he was lead programmer on. He could then use this to hijack the player's computers to use as a distributed network that would act as an encryption breaking supercomputer. However, the computing power he gets from this is massively exaggerated and the setup is seemingly able to crack the Pentagon's network within half an hour (with convenient timer and graphical progress representation). Once discovered such an attack should be easy to stop but the NCIS team instead has to race against the clock to shut down the main server.
One episode even has two characters typing simultaneously on the same keyboard in order to prevent a hacker from hacking an NCIS computer. This scene is mocked mercilessly in the Crackedarticle "8 Scenes That Prove Hollywood Doesn't Get Technology."
At least one episode reveals a "hacker"'s IP address - The address is 192.168.0.14, meaning that if the address is correct and not faked, the hacker would have to be using a system that is internal to the NCIS organisation, since 192.168.*.* is used for private networks only and is not directly Internet-accessible.
A recent episode had the team recover a micro SD card and, fearing it had a virus on it but still needing to see it's contents, decide to open it using a laptop that's been "isolated" - by being put in a glass box. Then the virus still spreads through the power cable.
This is how the new Cybermen were first defeated, once Mickey finished typing the same five characters over and over the password to their internal systems had appeared on screen one letter at a time.
Subverted in "Asylum Of The Daleks". Oswin Oswald apparently uses a standard keyboard to rapidly type her way into the computers of a Dalek asylum. Daleks, being the mutant alien cyborgs they are, don't exactly use technology readily compatible with human keyboards, and the Doctor himself isn't terribly convinced when Oswin tells him that Dalek technology is "easy to hack." The whole keyboard hacking thing turns out to be one of many illusions Oswin has unknowingly put in her mind to keep herself from grasping the Awful Truth: she currently is a Dalek, and she was chosen to maintain the asylum planet's network due to her genius intellect from when she was still human.
Unnatural History uses this for one episode. Young hackers vs. other young hackers. By the way, only one of the good guys has any Informed Ability with computers beyond the basic functions everyone knows, and another has spent most of his life in the Third World.
Chloe Sullivan from Smallville is absolutely the queen of this trope. In the first season she's merely an above average hacker as a high school freshman. The next year she moves up the ability level scale by managing to hack the records of the charity that managed Clark's adoption. By Seasons 3 and 4, however, she's a completely master at hacking, and can hack emergency services, electric grids, medical records, and as of the later seasons, even government agencies. In one episode of Season 8, she is given a piece of alien technology...and successfully hacks into it within a relatively short span of time.
Hardison is able to basically hack anything electronic. Oftentimes from a cell phone. It is also notable that the difficultly of a hack is inversely proportional to its importance to the plot. He is able to hack into London's camera system effortlessly but he often requires physical access for the target company's computer. While physical access is often necessary in reality, it would logically be necessary for police controlled surveillance cameras as well.
At least a bit of this was explained early in the first season: Hardison spends considerable amounts of money and spare time getting back doors into any system he might someday feel the need to hack - he isn't often really breaking in on the fly, and his cell phone is usually giving commands to a much more powerful "home system". It's still unrealistic, but a surprising number of systems become much more hackable once somebody has the resources to do things such as produce shrinkwrapped software and substitute it for a company's order.
The Sherlock episode, "The Reichenbach Fall": Moriarty wows everyone with a tiny application he claims has the power to hack basically anything on the planet. He demonstrates this app by simultaneously hacking the Tower of London, the Bank of England and a major prison. At the end, it's revealed he found people beforehand who had master privs to the locks at those locations, and paid them gobs of money to help with his demonstration; all the app did was call them and tell them it was time.
"This is too easy, this is too easy. There is no "key", DOOFUS! Those digits are meaningless. They're utterly meaningless. You don't really think a couple of lines of computer code are going to crash the world around our eyes? I'm disappointed, I'm disappointed in you, Ordinary Sherlock!"
Crash Zone: The episode "The Shadow" features Hollywood-style hacker tracking—a program which, in a Viewer-Friendly Interface, slowly homes in on (and loudly announces) the hacker's home city, street address, and finally (somehow) their name. There is a race against time as the hackers try to log out of the system before the program finishes spelling out the computer owner's name.
Subversion in How I Met Your Mother: Barney tells Marshall that his hacker friend can help him access his bar exam results and throws a lot of Expo Speak around to establish realism; it turns out to be an elaborate means to get Marshall to see a stupid YouTube video.
In Supernatural, Sam and Kevin can hack into almost any system when the plot demands it. In the episode "Devil May Care" (S09, Ep02), Kevin hacks the military server obtaining private photos and personal information on a Sergeant with a couple of keystrokes.
Happened more than once, but the most infamous example was in "The Ides of Metropolis", which gave us two malicious hackers spewing jargon the writers clearly didn't understand at each other while Superman stopped their supervirus with a 3.5" floppy disk:
"My LAN isn't talking to me. Should I reboot?" "It's collapsing into a subdirectory!"
In another episode, Clark uses brute-force on a keyboard, so fast the keys start smoking. Apparently no one heard the extremely loud clacking sounds.
In Star Trek: Voyager the ship is transported back to the 90s, and the villain manages to hack Voyager, the 24th century Organic Technologyspaceship and the Doctor, a sentient, evolving AI hologram so advanced that even in Voyager's present they still don't fully understand him, by typing really fast on his computer. And for a followup, someone will hack an iPhone by vigorously waving around semaphore flags.
Done in Sega Pinball's GoldenEye with the "Send Spike" Encounter, where you shoot ramps to send "spikes" and make connections to cities around the world.
Behind the pretty G.U.I., hacking works more or less like plausible hacking with radically advanced computer technology and nigh-unlimited computer resources. The "normal" hackers are using semi-magical abilities which let them bypass all that and hack things instinctively, with some significant downsides. They'd be the real Hollywood Hackers, since if they claim to be "Spoofing the Firewall to Brute-Force the TCP/IP Kernel," it would actually work!
Also, Shadowrun (depending on version you're using) actually based things on real life — you actually are using hacking tools. Often times you're just using a program to repeatedly issue various commands to basically break the program you're interacting with. The security programs in Shadowrun are coded to recognize when they're under attack and retort with basically the same thing. The difference being that buffer overflows in living creatures tend to have more serious consequences.
Steve Jackson Games will probably never stop referring to GURPS Cyberpunk as "the book seized by the US Secret Service". The book does have rules for "realistic" (if almost 20 years out of date) hacking, but most of that chapter is devoted to Neuromancer-style cyberspace hacking. The core 4e books contain a skill called "Computer Hacking", precisely for Hollywood Hacking. However, the rules note that the skill should only exist in the more "cinematic" games — in a realistic game, the would-be hacker will have to instead learn a bunch of various skills like computer programming, psychology, etc.
Do you want to hack into a robot, a computer or even a vending machine? Play "Pipe Dream"! The game says that the pipes carry "electric gel", making it the equivalent of opening 'er up and tinkering with the wiring. Doesn't explain how you got it open or drained the pipes in the first place, though.
This is actually an artifact of an old plot idea where all of Rapture's tech was Bio-mechanical and run by tiny men inside the machine. The pipes were increasing the ADAM flow to the man inside which would make him grateful to you.
And if you would rather skip it, you can just pay the machine to be hacked.
The sequel replaces this with a "hack tool" that presumably works like an electronic lock pick that requires split-second input a few times.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey: Hacking is represented by a rather ludicrously simple matching-up-symbols game. This Hacking Minigame is actually given an in-universe explanation: Olivia explains to ZoŽ that she is using software to hack, and the software is designed so that it looks like a symbol-matching up game. This way, if someone walks by and sees ZoŽ's phone screen, it'll instead look like she's playing a game.
The PC version, for the record, has a slightly better version which at least mimics the interface of the player's "omni-tool". It still falls under this trope.
Mass Effect 2 has two different Hacking Minigames. The one where you connect pins on a circuit board to open doors is relatively plausible, whereas the one where you look for matching pieces of (unreadable) text in a scrolling grid to hack people's bank accounts is just as absurd as the first game's flashing lights.
Mass Effect 3 does away with the hacking, you put your omnitool against the door and a few seconds later a VI works out the access codes for you.
The Internet and network levels in Shadow the Hedgehog. Firewalls are represented as actual fiery walls.
Tron 2.0 features a level where the protagonist must reconfigure a firewall. From the inside. Of the computer.
The game Uplink from Introversion is intentionally designed to play like Hollywood Hacking. You have programs that can figure out a password for you and disable firewalls and so on automatically, though later on you can wipe mainframes and other computers by going to the DOS-like command prompt after hacking in and have to use realistic commands to delete everything (and not just by typing in "delete everything"). Several freeware clones, like Dark Signs, have been cropping up slowly yet steadily. Quality and spot on the Hollywood to Realist scale varies somewhat among them, but a greater emphasis seems to be put on command-line interfaces.
Despite the fact that passwords do indeed exist, and essentially work as locked doors with plot device keys, most "hacking" is done by sending a program with a gun somewhere, sometimes via the internet, to shoot something. Particularly ridiculous in the first level of the second game, where an automatic gate lock is hacked by going on the internet and pushing a button guarded by a conveniently sleeping security program.
Also, in the third level of the first game, a malfunctioning metroline is repaired by a kid sending his program onto the internet and having it shoot some stuff another program put there. Essentially, you clear up a Denial of Service attack by destroying malware that was blocking the flow of data.
In the third game's Bonus Dungeon, the only way to progress is to "hack the security system". If you accept, you are faced with three completely immobile towers with huge HP that have to be destroyed at the same time in one hit. Fail and it's an instant One-Hit Kill.
In the second game, FreezeMan.EXE launches a nationwide Denial of Service Attack by burying the network in Ice programs that freeze programs and deny access to various places. You have to resolve this by finding an experienced hacker and giving him several samples of the Ice program codes so he can develop a countermeasure. Freeze Man himself is the Command and Control program orchestrating the attack, and threatens to bring all of the network down with him when you defeat him in battle, but it proves to be an empty threat as without his command presence, the Ice Programs stop working.
Amusingly accurately represented in Network Transmission. In a certain level, Shadowman.exe successfully deletes a critical security certificate quickly, just before Megaman.exe shows up to retrieve it. However, Lan's father was later able to reconstruct the security certificate from the data fragments Shadowman.exe left behind, implying that either Megaman.exe was fast enough to rescue some cached data or Shadowman.exe had no time to do a full secure deletion of the security cert.
An aversion shows up in Battle Network 3, where Mr Match uses a combination of peer pressure, ego manipulation, and social engineering to trick Lan into inserting malware into a research lab, resulting in a fire. The fire on the other hand, is perfectly impossible based on how it's done note because rather than a heat producing apparatus or remote controlled control of volatile chemicals, 3 programs that only one has anything to do with producing heat are given to it, which means that somehow the computers can heat up to 120 F without frying themselves first.
Spybotics: The Nightfall Incident, hosted by the LEGO site and actually quite entertaining. Hacking is represented by a turn-based strategy game, with different programs representing both your own units and enemy units. No longer hosted on the Lego site, but can be found here among other places.
The old Commodore 64 classic Paradroid had you hack via a minigame.
In Fallout 3, hacking computers is done by opening up a key-log of recent entries and picking out complete words. The game then responds with the number of correct letters in that word- you get five guesses, hopefully getting closer each time, then the computer locks you out and usually sets off an alarm. In at least a semi-reasonable attempt at justification, the player is very obviously using a security flaw to bring up the list of recent entries.
Ratchet & Clank have come up with an entertaining variety of combinations for hacking into things - usually involving a mini-game, a handheld gadget, and little glowy dots.
The mostly-forgettable Bethesda game Delta-V features "hacking" as a glorified recreation of the Death Star run (and a bloody hard one at that).
In the Brotherhood of Nod ending of Command & Conquer, Nod hacks into GDI's Kill Sat via a virtual reality interface. Within the virtual world, a successful hacking requires dodging laser fire from a forest of turrets, then moving through a small hole that constantly changes shape. Two of the hackers are electrocuted by GDI's defenses.
Sam & Max, to get past a firewall in Reality 2.0, change the color of their De Soto. Seriously. After they're past it, they engage in some mild hacking as a means of laundering money into Bosco's bank account to pay for that episode's uber-expensive item.
In My Sims Agents, you can hack certain devices to get information. How? Simple, you use the remote to guide an icon through a scrolling maze under a time limit. Deviate from the light path, and your time runs out faster. Also, if you run into an icon at an intersection, it changes the route the path takes, which may be a longer way.
Cracking a nanofield in Iji is accomplished by maneuvering a little square on a grid of flashing squares to reach the opposite corner. Maybe the nanobots are just giving Iji an Extreme Graphical Representation or something.
Hilariously sent up in this preview. Wheatley tries to hack a password by trying each password in alphabetical order. Slowly. And he still manages to screw the order up. This is a real method of cracking passwords, called "brute-forcing". The key difference is that real computers can try amounts of passwords per second ranging from a few thousand to several million, depending on the strength of the attacker and connection quality. Still, it is considered a slow, clumsy, and easily-countered method.
Later in the game, he tries to hack into the neurotoxin control centre. Which mostly involves putting on an accent and pretending to be a neurotoxin inspector. Performing a "manual override" on a wall or "hacking" a door meanwhile is much more violent that the name suggests.
Hydrophobia has you gain into computer systems by matching wave-lengths with the console. Particularly funny as the games protagonists are completely confused just how anybody could hack into their system!
Hacker Evolution looks like it takes more realistic route, since all hacking is done trough command prompt... except passwords are broken by typing "crack [server] [port]", there is no need to hide oneself after breaking in, files can be uploaded and downloaded freely and player can hide from authorities by paying 500$ for new IP...
Saints Row: The Third: In one level the Saints hack into a rival gang's usernet. This involves you running around a Tron-like environment shooting their avatars, while the Big Bad tries to stop you by reversing your controls, giving you lag and making you play a command prompt game which unfairly victimizes unicorns.
Danball Senki has Infinity Net where battles between digital representation of LBX (essentially functioning gunpla) take place and data can be "picked up" with said LBX. Rapid-Fire Typing also applies.
The Ubisoft game Watch_Dogs is basically this trope as a game. Hacking a train by pressing only a single button? Hellz yeah. Justified: The main character hacks the ctOS network that controls everything by exploiting back doors past security into the system that he himself programmed.
The little known Neuromancer video game portrays hacking as tossing programs at a polyhedron until its HP is reduced to zero, before its own ICE flatlines you.
Megatokyo: Hackers use Magical Girl representations of themselves to hack into a nebulously defined security network. This may or may not be a reference to the Negima example above, or something it was parodying. It's also unclear if this was actually happening, or just representational.
Kevin & Kell dips into hacking every so often, although it tends to be more blatant metaphors for what they're really doing.
Overcompensating in this strip. Weedmaster P attempts to determine what flight Jeffrey is on. Possibly played strait given what Weedmaster P is wearing and part of what he's saying. Possibly averted given some of what he's saying are actual computer terms including looking for a backdoor. Subverted when Baby finds a note in the toilet with the flight info. This may also be a reference to the movie Hackers as the male and female protagonists use the handles Crash Override and Acid Burn, respectively, and are sometimes referred to together as 'Crash and Burn'.
Thisxkcd webcomic takes the cake... someone flaps a buttefly's wings just once to control the air currents, causing temporary pockets of high air pressure to form. They're then used as a lens to deviate cosmic rays so he can flip the desired bit on his hard drive. When he could just have used the Emacs command M-x butterfly instead.
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Page 21 of "All the king's dirtbike's and all the king's men" shows Dark Smoke Puncher supposedly hacking the giant robot that used to be Cumberland. The screens show the robot shooting something, a couple of windows and a close-up of its face. The Alt Text proceeds to lampshade it by saying "IN ORDER TO HACK THE ROBOT ONE MONITOR MUST BE DEVOTED TO LOOKING AT ITS FACE".
Sinfest features Sisterhood-member Clio and her highly-successful string of attacks on DevilTech's fembot-production facilities. The fact that her target has a policy of installing unguarded data-ports on the exterior of its buildings makes things somewhat easier for her.
Hacker Typer is a neat-o site that lets you simulate Hollywood Hacking. While you frantically hammer away on whatever keys you want, the screen generates string after string of green "code" on a black background, similar to what you see on the screens of "hackers" in movies.
Referenced in Red vs. Blue season 6. Simmons is trying to get into a high security system; Grif offers such helpful advice as "try hacking the mainframe" (or cracking it) or "try uploading a virus to the mainframe" featuring a laughing skull. Protip: it's not a mainframe, and a virus is definitely not going to help you spoof a randomly-generated 2056-bit encryption keys.
Subverted on the Darkwing Duck episode "Aduckyphobia". Professor Moliarty hacks an electronic safe lock by first measuring it with a caliper, then entering a few numbers on a pocket calculator, then finally, striking it firmly with a wooden mallet so that it disintegrates.
Fairly minor but still entertaining examples can be seen in the new Young Justice TV series, employed by Robin.
All over the map in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. Mildly justified by the fact that computer interfaces are primarily AI units with their own personalities and quirks; overpower or trick the AI, and you get full access. The team's Playful Hacker is as much a Con Man as he is a programmer.
Raf from Transformers Prime hacks into the federal network of the USA to find out where one of their microchipped agents is. He's 12 (and a quarter!). He does this later on to find out a train's exact co-ordinates. This also bites him in the ass, when one of MECH's mooks realizes what Raf's doing and with a flick of a switch makes a "bomb" go off in Raf's laptop, even making the hardware sizzle. Hollywood Counter-Hacking everybody.
In Jonny Quest vs. the Cyber Insects, Dr. Zin's Mooks instantly upload a vague kind of virus into the Quest family's Robot Buddy just by pressing some random button, which instantaneously totally rewrites his programming and brings him under Zin's remote control. Jonny also hacks Zin's own computer with the same virus later on.
In Kim Possible, Wade can do this, mostly in regards to hacking speed. Most of it is explained away as him being a super-genius capable of inventing things like a holodeck and a love-ray. A typical moment for him is describing how tight security is before casually announcing that yeah, he's past it by now. Subverted in a few cases, though. When trying to hack Team Impossible, Wade needed time, which ended up being an issue as Team Impssible used that time to give Wade a virus to wreck his system when he wasn't looking.
Strictly averted in Science Girls, when Jennifer tries to get Missy to hack into the alien's wormhole device. Missy makes it very clear she can't hack into something that may not even be a computer, much less one she has no clue what the security is or even how it works. She even lampshades it by quipping "Hacking isn't magic, you know."
Clear and Present Danger has a reasonably realistic social/exhaustive attack, trying various permutations of birthdates (although they type each manually). It isn't even quite swordfish: they get down to having to mash together digits from different family members. (In a final blow to the Hollywood Computing, they even use "dir /w" to list the disk contents, even if the display is a little viewer-friendlier than normal.)
The hacking is explicitly shown to be a process of reading code and trying out strategies based off of the security settings of the target, although it takes much less time than in real life.
Also, the objectives of the "hacking" scene are modest (download everybody's photo in every house, without having to manually navigate to every page and right click on each image), and the descriptions of how to do it for each house's webpage, although brief, are 100% realistic. The easier pages have unprotected directory listings in Apache, so you can get all the images with a single run of the wget command. The harder ones require posting search terms to a page and scraping the output to find the photos; this requires custom scripting, therefore "bring out the Emacs" (a plain-text editor used by many programmers).
The hacking, and indeed all of Zuckerberg's monologue in that scene is a verbatim transcript fished from the real life court documents. So not only is that the actual method that he used to hack it happened roughly that time time frame as the time stamps on his posts attest to.
Appears in a minor form near the beginning. While he did this all from an impossibly thin smartphone, when Tony hacked the display screens being used at the Senate hearing, if you look closely at the device as he handily holds it up for an instant, you can see that it is connected to several Microsoft SQL servers (did Oracle sponsor this movie?), and is running the "Stark Industries Terminal Hijack System". You can even see the images of the movies he shows later on in the scene in the corner, queued up. When you see the displays a split second later, it showed what appears to be an exploit involving using a built-in user, a common entry-point for hackers, to reboot the system to Stark's own operating system (complete with "Welcome Mr. Stark" printed in asterisks across the screen). While they did take a bit of artistic license, showing things you would never see and listing directories for cool scrolling text effect, at the very least the hack was depicted realistically. And since the mobile device was apparently a piece of Stark Industries equipment (which has been shown to be ridiculously advanced already, especially in the form of the Iron Man armor) this also makes sense.
It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it subtle touch, but Ivan breaks into the Hammer Industries computer terminal that Justin helpfully provides while talking about how they'll make arrangements for him by using a default or commonly-used administrator username and password combination, a very simple thing that highlights one of Hammer's weaknesses. He says that their "software is shit," but what he might have meant was that their security was lacking.
Later in the movie when Ivan takes control of the Hammer Drones and War Machine, what sort of techno-lingo-made-up hacking tool did they use to free Rhodes from the suit's control? Reboot it.
In Antitrust, the Big Bad's most dangerous weapon is his access to medical databases, and the protagonist is able to easily hack into the computer system because no one bothered with securing a terminal in a children's play area.
In Catherine Jinks's young adult Evil Genius series, the protagonist, Cadel Piggott, is a Sociopathic HeroTeen Genius, but his hacking always takes a good deal of thought and planning, at least a couple of days to weeks to break into the system, and there's tons of mentions of Trojan Horse programs, backpacking on other programs, and a couple of backdoors.
In John Sandford's Thomas Kidd novels. Kidd uses his programming skills to take down his targets, but to get access to the systems, he uses social engineering and the help of a burglar friend.
Handled realistically in Daniel Suarez's Daemon and its sequel, which shouldn't be surprising since Suarez is One of Us and worked in computer security before becoming a novelist.
Japanese live action Bloody Monday featured a teen hacker using real UNIX applications, GNOME Desktop components and lot of Python, while the fancy 3D graphs were limited to the government agents' computers.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors averts this and It's Up to You at the same time in one scene. Lotus creates a program to brute-force a password, while Junpei watches - or, if the right choices are made up to that point, he could go looking for a hint - but Lotus still manages to finish her program and find the password first.
Broken Saints averts this by way of having a real hacker on-board as tech advisor.
Averted by Nagato Yuki's hacking skills in Haruhi Suzumiya where she's hacking the back door the computer society uses to cheat the Day of Sagittarius with real code; lots of it. Although we don't see the original lines of code she used to hack their backdoor we do get glimpses of the code she uses to rewrite the game.
In Sherlock. Moriarty claims to have a master code that can hack any system, and demonstrates it by simultaneously breaking in to the Tower of London, the Bank of England, and a high-security prison. There's no such master code; Moriarty made it up. He accomplished all three break-ins with inside help.
Averted in The Matrix Reloaded, when Trinity uses a genuine hacking program called "nmap" to identify a viable target from a command line (with plenty of Rapid-Fire Typing, but in short bursts), and then uses a (fictional) "SSHnuke" program to attack a secure connection. This is actually pretty well done, and while the program she uses to make the actual attack does not exist, it's a similar idea to a "real" attack on a remote computer, and highly skilled hackers often have a personal library of programs/exploits they've written themselves. Not only that, but in the timeframe of the simulated reality (the turn of the century earth) SSHv1 really had an exploitable remote vulnerability. Of course, the less said about the rest of the Matrix's relation to real computers, the better, but at least their hacking of simulated computers inside a giant simulation is a realistic simulation.
Transformers, believe it or not. The Decepticons hacking essentially boiled down to them going up to the big computer hard-lines, plugging themselves in, and copying the information. There was some techno talk about them having a special frequency to identify them, but the actual hacking was averting many clichťs. The human hacker, meanwhile, had to have a copy of the intrusion (basically the web history stating what file names were copied, without anything else shown) onto a memory stick and taken to him manually, and unlock some encrypted/embedded information. Still fairly hollywoodish, but the way it worked is entirely possible. Considering the many other liberties taken (the spider bug virus being notable and all systems being shut down by said virus) they're handwaved by the fact its aliens interacting with technology based on a reverse engineered Megatron.
The Casual Vacancy has scandalous posts written anonymously on a town message board by means of SQL injection- which is an entirely plausible method in real life (especially since the culprit behind an SQL injection can be nigh impossible to trace if done correctly).
Elysium shows console text and computer code, the need for physical access, and the ease with which Elysium is rebooted and its citizen registry altered is due to the use of code stolen from an insider who wrote it explicitly to mount a coup. Of course this still leaves the gaping plot hole of why downloading the code from his head into the core would kill him when they're clearly downloading and displaying it from his head onto the monitors in the smugglers' base
Grrl Power not only has their tech geek mock Hollywood Hacking ("are you asking if I routed it through the traffic light system and bounced it off a dozen satellites?"), but his main jobs thus far have been getting the social media sites in a tizzy over a specific event and breaking into a bank's security system (that he notes was poorly designed) so he could upload their video footage onto YouTube.
The Last Angel: Red One and Echo are both able to punch through software-based defenses like they weren't there on account of being military seed AI's, but simple hardware countermeasures like system isolation and keeping ships far enough away to impose light-lag issues stop both cold. Assuming, of course, that they haven't rigged the game by putting a time-delayed virus into your system ahead of time or acquired backdoors, which is NOT a safe assumption.