Inside Mr. Robot: Technical Advisor Discusses the Show’s Realism, Cybersecurity
Michael Bazzell spent 18 years as a government computer crime investigator. During the majority of that time, he was assigned to the FBI’s Cyber Crimes Task Force where he focused on open-source intelligence and computer-based crime investigations. He currently lives and works in Washington, D.C., and serves as the technical advisor for the television hacker drama "Mr. Robot" on the USA network. In anticipation of Season 2, which starts this Wednesday, July 13, we asked Bazzell to discuss his role on the show, the cybersecurity industry, and how we can protect ourselves online.
“Mr. Robot” has been praised for its realism, which is a credit to you. How do you stay up to date to ensure that the show portrays your world accurately?
There are actually several people involved on the tech side of things. Kor Adana is the on-site tech consultant and one of the writers on the show. All of the consultants have a unique background and contribute based on our experiences. Personally, I still conduct numerous cyber investigations, which keeps me in the loop of current trends in hacking and intrusions.
What are some of the challenges faced in presenting hacking and cybersecurity in both a realistic and an entertaining manner?
I think the biggest challenge is time. We are only given seconds to demonstrate a hack that could take hours. While we are accurate about the details of the hack, we must fudge the time element.
From your perspective, how has the cybersecurity community reacted to the show?
Very positive. When they pick apart a 10-second scene looking for any errors with some python code that is present for two seconds, there must be interest. My goal is to reward those that are that concerned with the details.
In Season 1 we saw the mega hack of the Evil Corp. What's the one major hack that Americans should be most afraid of?
Only one? It's hard to pick one. I think there is still a lot of room for large-scale phishing-related breaches to grow and impact practically every person on the planet.
It's now known that Mark Zuckerberg covers his web camera with tape. Can you provide us with any simple web security steps we should all take?
Protecting a webcam is great, but that does not prohibit access to the internal microphone of a laptop. If a person is going to go to the extent of covering their camera, do something about the microphone. OS X users can use Micro Snitch to monitor and announce if the microphone is enabled. Windows users can insert a microphone plug that has been severed from the microphone itself. Linux users can just remove the audio drivers.
What can you tell us about the thought process that went into presenting the various GUIs (graphical user interfaces) we see on the show?
This is mostly Kor Adana. He spends an enormous amount of time making sure these are right. We might start with an online video demo, or we create our own. He then works to create proper screen-ready products that replicate our research.
What are other shows and movies that you think have addressed this subject matter well or have done a terrible job in doing so?
I think “Mr. Robot” is the first to go this far in regards to accuracy. I hope that the bar is now set high and we will see some amazing shows in the future.
What's your favorite part of working on “Mr. Robot”?
Probably the opportunity to have a small say in a show that I am such a big fan of.
Season 1 was known for having its plotlines also make headlines. Are there any plotlines from season two that you think we'll see develop in real life?
Oh yes! In the episode when Elliot … . Nice try.