Hollywood isn't afraid to bend the truth to tell a tale. The data centers depicted in five popular movies prove this point -- as do the ways characters get into them and steal data from them.
By John Brandon
Hollywood loves data center cameos. In many feature films, a guy sneaks into the server room and places a diabolical gadget next to a server. Usually, he grabs a random patch cable, connects it directly into his laptop and fires off a piece of malware.
Most of the time, these scenes build tension. But for these five movies, they just look comical.
Gaffe: A character sneaks into a data center to steal secrets.
Liam Hemsworth isn’t the only fatal flaw in this low-rated tech thriller. There are several suspect scenes involving biometrics, such as “lifting” a fingerprint image from an iPad that was scanned from a spoon. Then the protagonist (Hemsworth’s Adam Cassidy) flashes a few images from his phone to gain entry into a secret room; that seems unlikely. He even pushes a button on his watch to shut down power in the building; someone even yells “Get our IT guy on the line!” in a panic. At least the servers in the data center look somewhat realistic — and easy to access from one main aisle.
Gaffe: The main characters start plugging into network ports to download funds.
Near the end of this Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones heist thriller, the main characters sneak into the server room/vault and break open a cabinet. They quickly use patch cables to reroute traffic for a stock exchange without having to deal with any encryption. The Zeta-Jones character, Virginia Baker, pulls what looks like an Ethernet cable from her laptop and, suddenly, sets off an alarm. If anything, it’s when you hack into something that you trigger an alert.
Gaffe: A henchman plugs in one cable to get the video feed of an entire casino.
Here’s one of the classic data center cameos from the past decade. One of the criminals in the movie (Livingston Dell, played by Eddie Jemison) sneaks into a casino data center. He clips a device to an Ethernet cable, which magically provides access — major spoiler alert here — to a video stream of casino security cameras. Never mind the fact that the intruder has to write directions on his hand to find the server room and, as a result, seems unlikely to find the right server cabinet and cable. Even if you could re-route the video that easily, the signal would still have encryption to block outside access.
Gaffe: The data center has no hot aisles, and the protagonist plugs directly into a server.
One thing’s for sure about this data center cameo: It sure looks futuristic. The main issue: You’d think the programming geniuses who created the virtual world would know about hot aisles and cold aisles, but instead each server is spaced evenly apart like checkerboard pieces. That, of course, which would make it difficult to connect them. Plus, the main character (Sam Flynn, played by Garrett Hedlund) jacks into a server using what looks like a futuristic Nokia phone. You’d think he’d at least be using an iPhone.
Gaffe: The data center servers are clear gleaming blue boxes with lasers.
You might have a fond memory of watching Hackers back in the 90s, but the scenes showing a high-tech data center are laughably unrealistic. The servers look like something out of Tron: Gleaming blue pillars made of glass rows of text, cheesy sound effects and lasers. In reality, even the most high-tech data centers are purposefully designed to be bland: The goal is to make sure the data is secure, handled efficiently and easily accessible.
John Brandon is a former IT manager at a Fortune 100 company who now writes about technology. He has written more than 2,500 articles in the past 10 years. You can follow him on Twitter @jmbrandonbb. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.