2016 has been a scary year. Aside from the plethora of celebrities dying, the ongoing refugee crisis and numerous plane crashes, the year has also seen nation state hacking and data breaches take centre stage like never before.
To people who are not tech savvy, it must seem almost inconceivable that a bunch of computer nerds now have the ability to literally hold the world to ransom – from installing ransomware in hospitals and botnets of hacked Internet of Things (IoT) devices trying to take down the internet, to DNC party emails being hacked and leaked, plus a plethora of data breaches relating to popular services like Yahoo, LinkedIn and Dropbox.
Maybe you work in the cybersecurity industry and you've have to watch and deal with these problems all year. Or maybe you're just interested in hacking. Whatever it is, this Christmas, if you've had enough of endless TV specials and reruns of holiday films (is Die Hard a Christmas movie?), then you should really try watching Mr Robot.
Mr Robot tells the tale of Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a cybersecurity engineer who suffers from clinical depression and social anxiety. In his spare time, Elliot hacks into accounts belonging to the people in his life, and he eventually becomes involved with a group of hacktivists called fsociety that are seeking to take down a megacorporation called Evil Corp in order to erase all debts.
Here are some key reasons why this show needs to be part of your life:
An accurate portrayal of hacking
The biggest problem technologists have with Hollywood and the TV industry is the fact that computers have long been portrayed as being able to produce solutions to incredibly difficult problems in an instant, just like magic.
As MIT laments, this has led to society having a completely unrealistic impression of what computers are actually able to do. It is believed that the 1983 Matthew Broderick film WarGames inspired the US Congress to pass the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 1984 due to the misguided belief that hackers could in fact cause World War III if they so chose.
Mr Robot is like a breath of fresh air, in this respect. Hacking isn't very interesting really — it's mostly complex coding that can pay off if you find a security vulnerability that hasn't been patched, and it is important to show what it really entails.
But it's not just the hacking, it's the hackers themselves. Mr Robot turns the stereotype of what hackers should be like on its head. Hacktivism isn't just a hobby for bored teenagers after school, it is a way of life, a mission, an underground movement towards some great ideal, and this draws in people from all walks of life, who have two things in common — a desire for change and advanced computing skills honed to understand hacking.
You learn how to securely wipe your data
It's easy to imagine that the Delete button is an easy fix if you want to get rid of data, but the truth is that it is really easy to recover data that has been deleted from a hard drive — consumer PC stores and repair shops do it all the time when people lose valuable information.
So if you really want to make sure that data is gone and cannot be retrieved by a government agency or the crooks, what do you do? Simple, manually destroy every single hard drive, computer chip, SD card and SIM card at your disposal so that it ruined beyond all hope.
Are you putting too much information on the internet?
One of the key themes of Mr Robot is how it is so incredibly easy to gain information on ordinary citizens simply by hacking into their social media profiles. In an age where people put everything onto the internet, Mr Robot asks us to think, are we giving away too much of ourselves? Some might argue that we aren't, and that social networks are secured by their creators, but you can never be too careful.
You realise how easy it is for people to spy on you
Most things in life come with a catch. Almost no one is generous without wanting something in return, which is why you should never install free software offered to you in a pop-up ad and you certainly shouldn't plug in USB memory sticks, CD-Roms or DVDs unless you know for certain where they come from.
The reason why not is because it is incredibly easy for hackers to execute malware on your PC that enables them to spy on you over the internet, and Mr Robot shows just how easy it is for hackers to silently gain a foothold in your life.
How easily people can be manipulated using psychology
Everybody should endeavour to understand how manipulation works, and Mr Robot offers good examples of how easily people can be exploited to do what you want, if you know which strings to pull.
In one memorable scene in the series, the hackers research the Facebook profile of an employee at Evil Corp and discover that she has a loved one in hospital. By sending spoofed SMS text messages to her phone, the hackers convince this person that her loved one is in a desperate situation, causing the person to abandon her post and thus remove an important obstacle to their mission.