When you first meet Elliot Alderson, played by the enigmatic Rami Malek, in Mr Robot, he is explaining to a local café owner about how he hacked his laptop to find the huge swathes of child porn in his possession.
Before long, the viewer is taken down the cyber rabbit hole into an underground world featuring cyber terrorism, murder, and the failures of society, all presided over by Mr Robot.
Ahead of the premiere of season three tonight, Verdict spoke to one of the show’s technical consultants, Ryan Kazanciyan (left), chief security architect at security firm Tanium, about the Mr Robot hacks and how it is changing perceptions of hacking.
He works with Kor Adana, one of Mr. Robot’s writers and technology producers.
“In season three, I had the opportunity to work with Kor and team from the ground up on helping shape the story around technology and insert some ideas I had about how hacks could play out and fit the plot,” he explains.
One of the great things about the show is that every time you see one of the Mr Robot hacks on a screen, this was created in real life by Kazanciyan and Adana.
“I try to make it realistic and if it’s compressed for time that’s fine. There are things that in the real world would play out over days or weeks. That is often condensed down to minutes. But that’s a trade-off – I recognise it’s an entertaining show and so I need to balance that.”
However, Kazanciyan says he is often aware of the legacy of the show and the fandom around it.
For instance, every website or QR code featured in Mr. Robot takes you through to a real website, built in the Mr Robot alternative reality. This influences how hacks are crafted on the technical side.
The set of visuals must be clear enough for a non-technical viewer, but also exciting for the technical viewer who will inevitably freeze the frame, tweet about it and analyse it down to the tiniest thing.
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As a result, Kazanciyan and Adana often answer fan questions on Reddit, which goes into the deeper messages hidden within the show.
Mr. Robot is changing the face of hacking
Since it first premiered back in 2015, Mr. Robot has gone from strength to strength. Its cast has won accolades from the Emmys and the Golden Globes, whilst the show itself won the Golden Globe for Best Television Drama Series in 2016. For Kazanciyan, the popularity is a good thing for security.
The show is so popular because hacking is part of the zeitgeist now, it’s unavoidable. But at the same time, getting people to think about these things can hopefully change their behaviours online as consumers. Also, it may even change what they expect of the companies they do business with which can compel companies to do better.
Working on Mr. Robot is helping Kazanciyan in his day-job too. As Tanium’s chief security architect, he wants to prevent hacks in Tanium’s software and for the companies that use it. But Mr. Robot allows him to think like a hacker and envision weakness and exploitation points.
This translates into my job because you’re always having to think about how someone would subvert the system or bypass security. And, then how to protect it instead.
As well, the show is helping to change how the public views hacking and the cyber world. Kazanciyan credits it with demonstrating the diversity of computer science, particularly in the gender and ethnic diversity in fsociety. “The security industry continues to struggle with diversity and there’s a lot we can do better,” he says.
But if you look into the real world, the researchers, thought leaders and brilliant engineers and analysts out there, some of who choose not to be public facing, are doing great work for their companies and governments, behind the scenes.
Mr. Robot season three premieres in the US on 11 October and the UK on 12 October.