BY RUSSELL BRANDOM
Mr. Robot is back, and the C Y B E R is back, too. The show takes a special interest in showing off the details that usually get glossed over, often drawing on real hacks and real cybersecurity problems. So after every episode, I’ll be breaking down who got hacked, how, and with what. It turns out, there’s a lot more to each one than you can see on-screen.
I totally thought defeating Stage Two would be harder than that! It seemed like such a daunting, far-reaching plan. But in just a few weeks and a few minutes of screen time, Elliot basically wrapped it up. The batteries are safe, the documents are distributed, and capitalism is safe from leftist extremism once more. Crying jag aside, Zoloft really does make you more effective at reaching your goals!
We also lost Joanna, and Elliot is just moments away from meeting up with the FBI. Also, the Dark Army is still fighting with Price over Bitcoin, because the Robot timeline hasn’t discovered contract-based blockchains yet. Wait until they find out about Ethereum! It’s going to be wild.
In the meantime, let’s get to the hacks.
HOW TO HACK THE FBI
The show’s biggest hack is a kind of double spyware double-cross. First, Darlene plants FBI spyware on Elliot’s computer while he’s sleeping, letting the FBI see everything he’s doing. Elliot knows something is up when he wakes up, and we see him getting ready to hack after he sits down. After that, the FBI sees him sending a URL in an encrypted email — but when they click on a link, it triggers a spyware download that gives away their location. In the spirit of Xzibit, Elliot put spyware on their spyware, which led him straight to the FBI safehouse.
Tools like this are more common than you think, among both cops and criminals. The most common police example is the Playpen case, in which the FBI distributed spyware to thousands of computers visiting a child porn site. Because the site was only accessible through Tor, that spyware was the only way to track down the visitors. It was controversial but basically successful, turning spyware programs like this into a long-term part of the law enforcement arsenal. There’s also a ton of private spyware, often marketed at jealous lovers or outright stalkers.
Once one of those programs has taken hold, things like capturing everything on the screen (what the FBI does) and pinging back the location (what Elliot does) are standard issue. It’s bad! Don’t click on links from feds!
TAKING A BITE OUT OF CORPORATE CRIME
Mr. Robot presents itself as a dystopian vision of the world, but if you pay attention, the Robot world has a lot more checks on corporate power than the world we actually live in. China needs UN approval to build a sketchy industrial project in Africa, for instance. I wish!
This episode, we also found out that Dom’s friends in the FBI have really stepped up on the enforcement and prosecution of corporate crime. Elliot has a hard time finding someone within E-Corp who recognizes the danger of storing all your paper debt records in a single explosion-prone skyscraper, so he has to knock off a few middle managers before he finds a competent female supervisor.
That means getting two separate middle-manager bros arrested for corporate malfeasance. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to them as Chad 1 and Chad 2. (For brevity’s sake, I’m skimming over the embezzlers and Ponzi schemers.)
Chad 1 is rung up for including a rootkit in the Evil Corp app, possibly inspired by Sony-BMG slipping rootkits onto audio CDs in 2005. It was a really bad scandal, a massive overreach of the implicit compact between vendors and customers — but despite a bunch of bluster and class action lawsuits, nobody ever went to jail for it, much less got led out of the building in cuffs. Bad luck for Chad 1!
Chad 2 was slightly more ambitious, using a defeat device that’s eerily similar to the devices used in Volkswagen diesel vehicles made between 2009 and 2015. This one really did trigger massive legal blowback, including criminal charges against eight executives (and counting), but the whole mess took years to play out, even after regulators discovered the cheat.
Clearly the events of 5/9 have spurred the Department of Justice to crack down on the white-collar crimes that went overlooked in previous eras. If we were really this good at prosecuting corporate crime, we wouldn’t have to destroy capitalism!
That’s it! I’m expecting a lot more hacks next week as Elliot runs into the FBI and the Dark Army tries to salvage Stage Two. But who knows! If there’s anything else you want to see in next week’s report, drop us a line, over email, on Reddit, or on Twitter at the hashtag #RobotAfterShow. See you next week.
Disclosure: NBC Universal, owner of USA Network, is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company. Additionally, we are an independent editorial partner in the Mr. Robot Digital After Show hosted by The Verge.