Tuesday, 29 May 2018

WarGames

John Badham directed several anti war movies during my formative years. Short Circuit was probably the most commercially successful; Blue Thunder enticed me with its helicopter and jet fighter action; but WarGames (1983) is probably the most important of those, due to its accuracy and not only ongoing relevancy but rather increased relevancy.
The movie came out just as personal computers for the home started being a thing mere mortals could indulge with. It follows a teenager (Matthew Broderick), a hacker from a time before the word became common with the plebs. His hacks involve “upgrading” his school grades as well as those of his female friend that’s not exactly a girlfriend but is pretty close (you know what it’s like, male nerds don’t have girlfriends). Yet our hacker is a curious fellow, and on his ongoing curiosity driven quest for poking around the internet (in a pre-internet world) he stumbles upon what seems to be a games repository. Only that it’s not a games repository: it’s actually the USA Strategic Command’s Skynet, or rather the computer the USA handed the rights to manage its nuclear weapons to. So while our hacker thinks he’s playing a game, the President is thinking the USA is under a nuclear attack from the USSR. Can common sense prevail, or are we all doomed to die due to a computer granted too many privileges, a backdoor, and an innocent hacker?
Although 35 years old, and displaying technology of a far simpler nature than is available today, the principles behind WarGames are all still there: social hacking, backdoors, stupidly simple passwords - nothing you don’t read about in coverage of the Daily Big Hack mainstream media reports to us all the time.
While it can be argued we are no longer under the knife’s edge when it comes to nuclear war, it does not change the fact the same scenario we are witnessing in the movie applies to everything computerised in our daily lives. For example, Australia is about to force its implementation of an electronic health system upon its population within a few months, limiting (and hiding) the option to opt out of this system. Does anyone doubt that eHealth system is weakened by vulnerabilities and all manner of backdoors, which would - eventually - see all of its contents fall into the wrong hands? I don’t.
Which, if anything, shows we haven’t learned anything in the 35 years since WarGames came out.
Overall: While certain aspects are not up to contemporary standards (say, production value), WarGames still makes a valid point. 4 out of 5 paranoid crabs.

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