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Dueling Hackers

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A head-to-head confrontation between two computer hackers, combining the excitement of people typing with the thrill of network protocol loopholes being exploited.

One hacker is trying to penetrate a computer system while the second is busily trying to keep the first one out. Expect the hackers to consider each other to be a Worthy Opponent. Often mixed with an attempt to back-trace the invading Hacker's source, depicted much like phone back-tracing usually is. Expect plenty of Hollywood Hacking jargon and visuals to keep the audience occupied.

Almost no one thinks to simply unplug the target computer from the network because apparently Everything Is Online, always.

Also worth noting is that in reality, if hackers have identified each other, whoever has root access (or is closer than the other one) can simply deny the other one access to absolutely everything. By default, this means that if either hacker is the home security, they automatically win the moment they know the hacker exists. This is why in reality, hacking is all about stealth (hence the common phrases like "trojan horse" and "worm")

Can overlap with Rival Science Teams, if the Dueling Hackers are working for scientists, or are scientists themselves.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: Chisame versus Chachamaru in the festival arc.
  • In Gakuen Heaven of all things the vice-presidents of the student council and the treasury are constantly trying to hack each other and keep the other out.
  • In Bloody Monday the protagonist has many duels with opposing hackers, both in the first and second seasons.
  • Ghost in the Shell has a few examples. It also averts the trope in Solid State Society. Section 9 actually does cut the power when they start getting hacked (via fire axe to the power cords).
  • Happens in Cannon God Exaxxion as both sides run a propaganda war against each other.
  • In Demon Hunters: Dead Camper Lake, two Cyborg Dueling Hackers complete with ominously named programs with skull icons, while sitting face to face at the same table. Eventually, the losing cyborg shrugs, picks up his laptop and clubs his enemy to death.
  • A slowed down and scaled up version: The .hack plot-lines for the Twilight manga and anime involve a group of hackers breaking down an MMORPG while the game's programmers try and counter the slow infection.
  • Hanaukyō Maid Team. In episode 8 the Jihiyou family hacks into the MEMOL supercomputer to steal information (and possibly activate the mansion's Self-Destruct Mechanism). Grace manages to defeat them.
  • It's not really made that much of, but this happens between Yatouji Satsuki and Imonoyama Nokoru in X/1999. She is trying to hack into the computers of CLAMP Campus and he is trying to keep her out. Given that Satsuki is a technopath working in tandem with a supercomputer, the fact that Nokoru actually manages to make it combat instead of a Curb-Stomp Battle is pretty impressive.
  • Happens often enough in Den-noh Coil, since realspace and cyberspace are linked. A particularly heated one happens between Isako and Fumie early on.
  • While it wasn't precisely done by hackers (mostly), the Digimon Adventure movie introducing Diablomon featured a fight between the viral creature and the hero 'mons... IN CYBERSPACE.
  • Mohawked cyber-hacker Gogul was kept out of the action of the first episode of Cyber City OEDO 808 by being constantly engaged in a hacking duel against the "virtual ghost" who was fighting him for control of not only the functions of the massive Oedo skyscraper the episode was set in (including the gyroscope that kept the ridiculously-tall structure stable), but also the 30 gigawatt satellite laser canon orbiting overhead, leaving Sengoku and Benten to handle all the physical stuff.
  • Bubblegum Crisis: In the eighth and final episode of the original series, Nene, the Hackette of the Knight Sabers, is caught in the middle of a "Die Hard" on an X situation at A.D. Police headquarters caused by a disgruntled scientist and the hero hunter boomers he created — one of which physically merges with the ADP's main server and takes control of the building. Once Nene's teammates come to the rescue, Nene has to battle the hacker boomer in order to escort the police chief's daughter to safety, opening locked doors and overriding building defenses all the while. After the other boomers are defeated, Nene has to prevent the hacker boomer from self-destructing the headquarters building.

    Comic Books 
  • Birds of Prey: Oracle and Calculator faced each other online several times. Typically, it was to get the other's location so they could send superhuman agents to arrest/kill each other.
  • Robin: Tim ends up in a hacker duel with a hacker the Joker kidnapped in "Joker's Wild". When it becomes clear that the kidnapped hacker is trying to hack into the batcave's systems and won't be of any aid in his own rescue Tim cuts the power to the batcomputer.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Part of the climax of Hackers. Also the scene where Dade tries to take over the TV studio. In reality, it's two robot arms trading a videotape. In Hollywood it's two titans meeting on the battlefield, if the kung fu clips interspersed with the robot arms and neat visual effects surrounding Dade's head are supposed to mean anything.
  • The James Bond film GoldenEye has a world map where the audience can see how the tracing back of the hacker works (in Hollywood!). The backtracing map is trivial to implement (traceroute, GeoIP, Google Maps, whatever takes your fancy), its just that fancy Viewer Friendly Interfaces tend to get in the way of most useful network administration or abusing activities. Also, Playful Hacker Boris kills time by hacking into Western computers and taunting his opponents as they try to thwart him. He even thinks of unplugging his computer in the end, when he gets hacked back. He doesn't just pull the cable out though, but rips out whole racks of gear and throws them on the floor.
  • In Demon Hunters Dead Camper Lake, two Cyborg Dueling Hackers, complete with ominously named programs with skull icons, while sitting face to face at the same table. Eventually, the losing cyborg shrugs, picks up his laptop and clubs his enemy to death.
  • In Resident Evil (2002), Kaplan has a hacking duel with the Red Queen AI to bypass her defenses.
  • The Core treated Rat's interaction with security systems this way, as though he were dueling with the security programmer. After breaking into DESTINI and shutting it down, "Your kung fu is not strong."
  • In Who Am I (2014), two hackers with the alias WhoAmI and MRX try to outgambit one another.

  • A regular element in Vernor Vinge's Hugo-nominated novella, "True Names", especially in the climax, where Mr. Slippery and Erythrina are fighting the Big Bad for control of the world's computer systems, including missile launch codes and military Kill Sats.
  • A Fox Tail quickly switches from Vulpie controlling everything with an internet connection to Vulpie struggling for control against his own robotic duplicate Evil Vulpie.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Alias Marshall (the resident Omnidisciplinary Nerd) was in a hacking duel at least once, as someone tried to break into SD6's system.
  • The KGB, The Computer And Me : A semi-dramatizationnote , semi-documentary made for PBS Nova on Clifford Stoll's discovery of a KGB-backed hacking ring, as mentioned in Real Life below. Features a recreation of the real-life Phone-Trace Race that finally pinpointed the hacker's origin, along with a lot of pretty good (if sometimes slightly simplified) explanations of how the hacking worked, and how Stoll used his ingenuity, computer skills, and the many and varied talents of his friends and colleagues to help crack the case.
  • Smallville, as Chloe tries to keep hackers out of Watchtower.
  • Leverage :
    • Hardison got into one of these in "The Two Live Crew Job". Bonus points for the fact that the antagonist is played by Wil Wheaton.
      Hardison: Chaos. I heard you were in jail. Guess I was wrong.
      Chaos: Alec Hardison. I heard you sucked. Guess I was right.
    • When they re-match later in the episode, Chaos uses the oft-mentioned Mundane Solution (Cut the Juice) on Hardison's rig in his van. Hardison had already set up a hand-cranked generator so he could restart all his equipment and come back online to save the day
    • Parker also had a pickpocketing duel with her opposite number as well. This ends up backfiring, as the guy suddenly finds a lot of his stuff missing and immediately orders a lockdown.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • This is the set-up for a sort of online Meet Cute between Penelope Garcia and her soon-to-be-boyfriend, Kevin Lynch, with Garcia as the hacker.
    • It also happens once when Garcia lost and is out of commission all day while she rips apart her computer (physically) to get it running again.
  • Used quite often in NCIS, predominantly with Abby and/or McGee against any villain of the week who has a modicum of techno savvy who is trying to hack them. Subverted in one episode where Gibbs, who is notoriously bad with technology and especially computers, does, in fact, simply pull the plug when the aforementioned brainy duo are being overwhelmed by a particularly skilled hacker. In fairness, the reason they can't typically do that is because they need that computer online to do whatever they were doing on it in the first place. Especially since it's frequently time-sensitive.
  • Kyle and Jessi do this in a second-season episode of Kyle XY.
  • A legendary duel occurs early in Season 7 of 24 between Chloe and Janis.
  • During the Chairman arc of Walker, Texas Ranger, at one point the hacker working for the Big Bad and the one on Walker's team (who have some prior history between them) get into a duel while trying to crash Walker's plane and trying to save it respectively.
  • In "Chuck Versus the Hack-Off", Chuck has to participate in the episode's titular "hack-off" (a competition where hackers have to outduel their competition) in order to get some dirt on the villain of the week.
  • Generally averted in Person of Interest. Most hacking affairs are entirely one-directional with the hacker working against the system security and either succeeding or failing to reach their objective. In the three cases where an enemy counter-hacks, the situation is generally resolved by powering down the hacking device or destroying it.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Bells of Saint John", the Doctor engages in this with the Shard organization when he hacks and reverses an upload of Clara's soul.
  • Arrow:
    • The episode "Time of Death" is all about this, with Felicity engaging in a hacking war with the Clock King.
    • Two seasons later in "Unchained", she gets into it again with the Calculator, who is revealed to be her Disappeared Dad, and so in the season finale she teams up with him to stop HIVE from hacking into the world's nuclear missiles to destroy the world, only to find they're using her hackivist ex-boyfriend from college to counter-hack them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Can happen in Cyberpunk games when a hacker tries to break into a computer system guarded by defending programmers. For example, in Shadowrun adventures whenever a decker tries to penetrate a system protected by defense deckers (known as "spiders").
    • Since the Matrix in Shadowrun employs copious amounts of Your Mind Makes It Real, hacking duels between deckers and especially Technomancers can resemble a Wizard Duel. Failing to defeat standard IC (Intrusion Countermeasures) tends to leave a hacker with a headache. Failing to defeat Black IC tends to be more permanent.
  • Special mention goes to Infinity, where hackers can and will end up in duels where the loser's head explodes.

    Video Games 
  • One of the RTS missions in Shin Megami Tensei NINE involves defending a private shop's customer records from hackers.
  • According to emails in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Pritchard aka "Nucl3arsnake" got into one of these with Arie van Bruggen aka "Windmill". Pritchard managed to hold his own and would have won if Windmill hadn't discovered Sarif's hidden backdoor access.
  • As Uplink is all about hacking, this is inevitable; lingering around the backdoor of a computer network brings you closer to the target system carrying out a back-trace, and there's also the risk of the system administrator coming online to deal with you.
  • The Spiritual Successor Hacknet also has an example. During a certain mission, Naix will trace you, delete a file on your in-game PC and then execute a forkbomb to force a reboot.
  • In Injustice: Gods Among Us, when the Alternate Universe Cyborg (who's working with Superman) finds his Main Universe counterpart trying to hack into the Watchtower's teleporters (and having beaten alternate Catwoman in the meantime), he sends a virus to his systems to hold him in place. Cyborg immediately counters by hacking into his double's systems to do the same. They stand before each other, using holographic screens to hack into the other's cybernetics for a good while, until they decide that isn't working and go on to just beat the crap out of each other.
  • This naturally occurs several times in Watch_Dogs and its sequel, most notably with Defalt and Lenni respectively. In a variation on the trope, there are also physical confrontations on top of the digital contests.
  • A more physical (sort of) variant takes place in Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory where hacker duels take the form of Digimon battles, as they're essentially living malware.
  • In Ghost 1.0, this is the premise of the Final Battle - Viktor's coder trying to disable the shield around Ghost's brain, while Jacker tries to scramble the brains' ID numbers so that no one will be able to tell which one belongs to Ghost ever again.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Invisible Apartment, the protagonist tries to go after a hacker who nearly got her caught, but since the hacker can't be tracked directly, the "duel" eventually involves physically trying to track down the actual locations from which the other hacker could connecting.
  • Happens in several route in Mystic Messenger between Seven and Unknown. Makes sense, considering they're twin brothers.


    Web Video 

    Real Life 
  • The Cuckoo's Egg is a first-hand account of real-life Duelling Hackers from 1986. Clifford Stoll was asked by his supervisor to find the cause of a $0.75 billing anomaly in the accounts; over ten months, he followed the trail from that, to a hacker who was breaching American military networks looking for information on the Nuclear and SDI programs and selling what he stole to the KGB.
    • This story is notable for being the first properly documented case of computer hacking: Clifford Stoll was an astronomer, trained to document what he did in detail, and with the curiosity of a scientist - as opposed to the standard response of an IT guy, who would usually have just locked out the offending user accounts and forgotten all about it.note 
  • Hackers from Taiwan and China have had actual hacking feuds going on. After all, why not try to hack your countries most likely enemy and get sympathy from your nearest neighbors, rather then making them mad?
    • Israel and just about every Arab nation around also have this going on.
  • Allegedly, the internet has recently been slowed down by a 'war' that started when SpamHaus, a non-profit organization that provides anti-spam services, decided to blacklist sketchy Dutch web filtering firm CyberBunker, who didn't take it lightly. They retaliated apparently not only with a massive strike of the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) kind - but also with a more vicious Domain Name System (DNS) attack.
  • Core War is a nerdier version of gladiator fighting. Programmers write small "warrior" programs in a special language called Redcode, which are then released into a simulated computer to fight to the death.
  • There are actual competitions - sponsored by technology companies - in which a team of programmers have to set up and operate a computer system that performs some function while a second team tries to hack into and take down the system.
  • A Tiger Team can be thought of as a version of this: the security system they are trying to break is not always computer based, but the central notion - pitting two technological experts against each other - is very similar.
  • "Bug Bounties" are sometimes offered by software companies in an effort to avert this trope; if a hacker finds an exploitable bug in a piece of software, they could go to all the trouble of weaponizing it and hope that the company doesn't find and patch the problem before their own exploit tool is finished... or they could just report it to the maker and take a nice payoff - the more the bug threatens security, the higher the payoff tends to be. Of course, some hackers aren't in it for the money, and some have Flame War levels of hatred for the big software companies and want their products to fail, so it doesn't always work.

Alternative Title(s): Dot Combat, Hacker Duel


Cyborg vs Cyborg

Equals? Not even close.

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