Estimated Reading: 5 minutes

March is not yet over and we’re still celebrating Women’s History Month! If you’ve been following us on Facebook or Twitter you’ve been learning about many real life women in STEM fields. Everyone we’ve highlighted has contributed to society in their own way and we want to continue to inspire women to get their geek on!

So let’s turn to the silver screen and see some examples of fictional cyber crime fighters. As important as it is to see real women making real progress, it’s also inspirational to see women in movies kicking fictional butt. Many of us, especially children, model themselves after the pop culture we consume. So the more women on the TV the merrier!

In any context we get excited to see a woman in a lead role, but we’ve found three films where the leads aren’t only women, they also defeat evil cyber criminals who threaten their existence and the world around them. (Read at your own caution – there may be some spoilers ahead.)

 

The Net (1995)

 
Sandra Bullock’s character Angela Bennett believes herself to be a nobody. She’s just a lone systems analyst for Cathedral Software. Like many of us today, she is aware that computers record all of our data – our purchases, locations, all our PII – but doesn’t believe hers is of value. However, all of her information is used against her in The Net and eventually her identity is completely replaced by another.

This movie was definitely ahead of its time. In the past 22 years the internet has become a crucial part of everyone’s lives, but in the mid-90s few and far between were as connected as Angela Bennett. Her life is turned upside down by cyber terrorists, but she is equipped with enough know-how to keep herself safe. She throws away phones before they can be used to locate her. She accesses private chat rooms to keep her conversations secret. When someone claims to be an FBI agent trying to help her, she’s quick to notice a slip-up in details that reveals he is actually another enemy. In fact, she’s the only one who realizes these terrorists are masquerading as a cybersecurity system that the entire country has been using to keep information “secure.”

Angela is even praised by her enemy for being smart. She uses many social engineering tactics to break into her old workplace and download information that will save her life. (It’s safe to say she’s had some security awareness training to know how to sneak into an office like she does!) Unlike Angela, her adversary was not as well-trained in cyber awareness; she leaves her computer on and logged in while her building is evacuated, leaving easy access for Angela to copy the files she needs.

There are many lessons about information security to pull away from this film. For instance:

  • Be wary of what you post online.
  • Don’t live your entire life on the internet.
  • There are vulnerabilities in computerized medical and law enforcement systems.

After getting her life back, Angela decided to make changes that would keep her protected from any more criminal behavior. See the movie to watch some dramatic enactments of situations that could happen in real life and use those examples to change your own behavior!

 

Untraceable (2008)

 
If you can keep up with everything FBI agent Jennifer Marsh (played by Diane Lane) spouts off throughout this movie, then you may already be a information security expert. Usually the single mom is fighting run-of-the-mill identity thieves and small time viruses, but in Untraceable she faces off against a serial killer who broadcasts his murders online. The more people who visit the website streaming his videos, the quicker his victims die. While she’s obviously tech-savvy, Jennifer ends up using her brawn to defeat her foe.

While the film didn’t actually do so well at the box office and wasn’t received well by critics Diane Lane has been praised for her own performance. Her character is a welcomed example of a woman in the cyber security business who must grapple with a difficult work-life balance.

We see her personal and professional lives clash after she is pulled away from her daughter’s birthday when a new victim has been abducted, and again after her daughter realizes their house is being filmed by the antagonist and streamed on their household computer. Jennifer tries to take steps to balance her dual lives: she works at night so she can be with her daughter during the day, and once she sees that her family is in danger, puts them into protective custody. While Jennifer’s daughter largely lives in the background, you can still get a sense of the dedication her mother has towards her. You can also tell she’s the daughter of a cyber crime fighter as she’s fairly tech-savvy herself!

Untraceable is full of warnings for internet users. From private sellers to offline dates, anyone you meet from online could be an impostor. The anonymity that the internet lends its users can make for dangerous situations. (Hopefully you’ll never be in one that involves the FBI with the entire country following along.)

It is refreshing to see a woman take down such a malicious opponent even if the premise was far-fetched. But be warned, this movie is not for the light of heart. It’s Silence of the Lambs meets information security, so prepare yourself for some gruesome, heart-wrenching scenes!

 

Ghost in the Shell (1995/2017)

 
In 1995, the Japanese manga series Ghost in the Shell was turned into an anime movie. The detailed artwork of the film captures a dystopian future where the line between being human or artificial intelligence is blurred and everything/everyone is connected via electronic networks. Investigators attempt to track down a cyber criminal known as the Puppeteer who has been “ghost hacking” or hacking humans with cyberbrains (an implant connecting brains to the networks around them) and manipulating them to commit crimes.

The movie mainly follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a synthetic “full-body prosthesis” augmented-cybernetic human. Motoko is dedicated to law enforcement. She does not back down from the assignment she’s been given, and in fact does everything within her expansive abilities to bring the Puppeteer to justice. The body, or shell, Motoko exists in is anatomically female and some may say is shaped like the female ideal. However, throughout the anime she is never sexualized. She has been noted as being “overtly feminine, and clearly non-female” and a “stunning example of a strong female character that didn’t need to have her feminism make a statement.” It’s common to see Motoko ranked high on lists of best anime characters.

To this day Ghost in the Shell is used to promote cyber security awareness. It deals with futuristic security issues that have only just begun to manifest in our current society. We don’t have computers attached directly to our brains yet, so we cannot be guided into actions by hackers, our own memories erased and replaced. It would be a safe bet to make that one day “cyberbrains” will be a reality. It’s also safe to say that Ghost in the Shell will still be around to advocate security awareness; it is a series that has already withstood the test of time.

On March 31st, 2017 a live-action, western starring Scarlett Johansson will be released in theaters. (We will surely be writing more on this re-imagination once we see the movie!)

 

 

If your information is ever compromised by cyber criminals, it’s unlikely you’ll spend much time in car chases or shoot-outs afterwards. The situations portrayed on film are much more exotic and enticing than how cyber crime manifests and is dealt with in our day-to-day lives.

Having your identity stolen or your computer infected with malware won’t turn your life into a drama-filled fantasy, but it will still be a nightmare to deal with! Keep yourself protected, and like the women in these films, educated about information security defenses. Better yet? Consider a career in cyber crime prevention or digital forensics; something like that may bring you a few steps closer to the action!

Meg Krafft

Digital Marketing Assistant at The Security Awareness Company
After starting out creating digital and print marketing for a real estate company, Meg now assists in keeping up the marketing needs for SAC. When not working she's probably watching a good movie or indulging in local art and music.