We asked the best legendary hackers what their reaction was after seeing Matrix
Here is a movie that left no one unmoved, especially in the infosec…
As the latest Matrix movie hits theaters and the Internet, we asked some legendary hackers what they felt when they saw the first episode.
There are a few people in the world of computer security who have made history and whose contribution is little known to the general public. They have made history, either because they have discovered important flaws, or because they have contributed to awareness, or because they are, often in the shadows, at the origin of essential companies in this field. They were also behind legendary hacker groups in the mid-90s, such as the Cult of the Dead Cow, L0pht, ADM, w00w00, etc. We had told part of their story in several articles. As the last Matrix opus arrives in theaters and in the
videoclubs peer to peer networks, it seemed nice to ask them what was their memory of the first episode of the saga. When did they see it, what was their reaction? In Matrix Resurrections, the characters are propelled 20 years later (actually more). For the world of hackers, twenty-two years have passed since the release of Matrix in 1999, a real eternity in Internet time. In this time frame, members of these groups have created Napster, Veracode, Qualys, Whatsapp, you name it…
Personally, I saw Matrix on video-on-demand at the Alexis Park hotel during Defcon in 1999. I remember thinking that the Matrix movie was a kind of allegory. I saw a kind of similarity between the Matrix where what you see is different from what is really there and the emerging world of the internet. A world that would connect all computers and in which some journalists or blissful « experts » saw something like Alice in Wonderland while I saw all this computer insecurity set up with a terrible potential of endless destruction and leak of personal data.
For Deth Veggie, a member of the Cult of the dead Cow, Matrix brings back a lot of memories.
« At New Hack City the Matrix was often on just repeating loop on the projector whilst we were hacking away on whatever our projects were.
So I think Matrix spoke to a lot of us, not just because it really leveraged the sexy cyberpunk aesthetic, but also the whole angle of the disaffected-loner-turning-out-to-have-special-powers/knowledge-unknown-to-society-as-a-whole kind of tied into the early hacker ethic and ethos.
If you go back and read The Mentor’s « Conscience of a Hacker » (aka Hacker Manifesto) tell me you don’t see shades of The Matrix in there. Same with some of the content in cDc issue 200 (1992).
Oh! Going back to my story about New Hack City, also worth noting that that copy of The Matrix was also probably the first pirated movie burned to a CD-R that I can remember encountering.
Actually maybe tied with Blair Witch Project — i think we got both of those at about the same time
Let me pass on another memory, from Omega (coiner of the term « Hacktivism », and the biggest Star Wars fan I’ve ever known…) :
Phantom Menace was due out around the time of Matrix. I was eager to see Phantom; a prequel is something I had earnestly anticipated since 1983.
I saw a TV commercial for matrix and it was trying so hard to be mysterious that it looked dull. There was even a website where you could “enter the matrix” by solving some puzzles & still not know WTF the movie was about.
Reid Fleming went to see Matrix. His deadpam one sentence review: “This is better than (the new) Star Wars,” which hadn’t even debuted. I thought he was just trying to trigger me.
After Phantom Menace I went to see Matrix. After the movie was over, I said to myself: that was better than Phantom. But I didn’t tell Reid that because I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. »
Member of the group L0pht (but also of cDc, Christien Rioux, aka Dildog, recalls:
« I’m Pretty sure I watched it with my roommate and a bunch of other random hackers at the theater and then proceeded to get a bootleg VCD to show it to friends on the projector screen at home. I dont remember my reaction being that strong but i definitely remember being startled by Hugo Weaving‘s performance, who I hadn’t seen in any other films and was thoroughly impressed with his character. »
For his part, Mudge, (the public face of the L0pht group and now Twitter’s head of security after living1,000 lives in the IT security world), had been struck by the special effects.
« I’ve always enjoyed how technology for special effects, and the visual approaches, evolve. There were a lot of clever hacks in the visuals and SFX. It wasn’t just the technology – lots of clever hacks with existing tech too! I Enjoyed the movie very much. »
At w00w00, one of the groups that produced billionaires, as recounted in this article, one of the members recalls the release of the film, « I walked out with two other group members and maybe Dildog -I’m not sure, and we all shook our heads collectively and I remember saying, ‘now, this doesn’t feel like reality anymore… »
Another member, a Frenchman, differentiates between the different episodes. « My memory for the first one is that a friend lent me a videotape and after playing it so many times, the movie became black and white (not green and black). Matrix 2 was an extended commercial for Hollywood Chewing Gum. Matrix 3 was… hum… I don’t remember. I’m downloading Matrix Resurection on a weak 4G card, it’s been 2 hours since it started and there’s 1 hour left. And I’m not even excited. Matrix 2, I remember watching a screener two weeks before the worldwide release, it was when I was in the warez scene. It was recorded in a Hungarian cinema. It was supposed to be a kind of private screening with a group of friends, and the funniest thing was to listen to their reactions. But I think the best tribute to Matrix and w00w00 is this one ».
About that… The use of Nmap, a security tool (a port scanner that can identify machines connected to an IP network and guesses their operating systems), in Matrix has caused quite a stir in the community. It was probably the first time that a Hollywood movie featured a computer program created by a hacker and used by the whole community. In short, for once, something almost realistic about hacking appeared in a movie.
Fyodor, the creator of Nmap, remembers this well:
« I enjoyed seeing the first Matrix so much that I bought midnight opening tickets for The Matrix Reloaded and that was one of the most amazing movie showings of my life. I couldn’t believe my eyes when Trinity whipped out my Nmap Security Scanner to hack the power grid! Nmap got a huge amount of press from that as well. It’s even still the cover image for our Nmap Facebook page Nmap. »