Is Cyber Security’s Nostradamus the Slasher Film Genre?
My wife has a fascination with Nostradamus, the 16th century doctor that many credit with profoundly accurate predictions, that I just don’t understand. While these prophecies are rejected by most of the academic world, that hasn’t prevented his popularity from persisting, resulting in several books on the subject finding their way onto our bookshelf. I think, however, that I’ve cracked Nostradamus’ schtick: be incredibly vague and assume that history will repeat itself. Of course, writing in Middle French, which few people can accurately translate, probably only helped with the confusion as assumptions were made during translation.
Right now, the savvy reader is asking two questions: “What does this have to do with cyber security?” and “How do slasher films tie in?” The answer to the first one is simple… nothing at all. My theory is that just as Nostradamus vaguely predicted the future… at least enough to convince buyers of snake oil, slasher films predict the direction of cyber security.
If you managed to read that paragraph and, somehow, still stuck with me, let’s dig into this idea by thinking about the history of the slasher flick and the history of security.
There is room for debate on the origin of the slasher genre. Some would say that the entire genre was influenced by Hitchcock’s Psycho, while I’ve also seen claims that either Black Christmas or Halloween should be credited with birthing the genre. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s stick with Psycho as an influencer and consider Halloween to be the true birth of the genre.
Slasher movies all tend to have a basic concept – a serial killer, who, of course, cannot be killed, stalks and kills people, typically teenagers, for committing acts that only the strictest Catholic grandmother would find fault in. This continues until he is undone, or appears to be undone, by the only moral or “pure” member of the group (typically “pure” from a religious standpoint). While we think our hero (or heroine – hence the term ‘Final Girl’) has succeeded, we quickly learn in the sequel that the killer is very much alive and ready to start the cycle again.
Let’s breakdown those concepts and see how they apply to cyber security.
Instead of a killer, we have hackers or threat actors. These heavily funded individuals and groups target the uninformed for committing acts that they consider to be completely safe and reasonable. Your grandmother opening an email, your father-in-law clicking the wrong link. Ultimately, these attackers (or at least their acts) are undone with someone with knowledge. Here, we have knowledgeable defenders defeating the attackers, whereas the slasher flicks typically see a religiously pure hero take on that role. However, many religions tie together purity and knowledge, as 17th century Iranian Shia Islamic philosopher Mulla Sadra did and as the New American Standard Bible does in 2 Corinthians 6:6. Finally, we have the return of the killer in a sequel… comparatively another compromise or a new threat group popping up to take the place of the defeated attacker. The slasher flick formula was nothing but an explanation of how cyber security problems would be solved.
Now, at this point, you may argue that we’re aware of how breaches work, we have ways to defend against them. It’s nothing like a movie, where the killer is a seemingly “unkillable” machine. To argue this, I point you to the slasher movie of my teens, Scream. Randy Meeks (played by Jamie Kennedy) spelled out the rules for surviving, yet no one followed them – just as people today fail to follow the steps to proper security hygiene. If they had just listened to him, there may have been more survivors, just as how if breach victims paid more attention, they might not be breached. Randy warned us that if we didn’t listen, we’d be next.
So, now, we have a few commonalities, but you’re still not convinced. Let’s not forget that at the end of the film, they always say the killer is dead but he’s always back for one more sequel. In 2014, we were hearing that antivirus was dead, but we still talk about malware almost constantly. You see, there are more similarities between slasher flicks and cyber security than you might think.
Finally, we have the most telling indicator. The revivals and remakes. In 2009, we saw a new Friday the 13th and, in 2010, we saw the return of Freddy Krueger. What’s old (these film franchises that started during the golden age of slasher films) were new again. We’re seeing the same thing in cyber security as vulnerabilities we had long forgotten are surfacing in poorly written and hastily released IoT devices. Yet another prophecy about the future of cyber security.
The final nail in the coffin is the recent release of Halloween, a sequel to the original 1978 film. This movie forgets all other Halloween movies except for the original and brings us back to the starting point of the slasher sub-genre. If slasher flicks really are cyber security’s Nostradamus, that means that 2019 is likely going to be a very bad year for the return of basic vulnerabilities in IoT devices. If that’s not a horror movie, I don’t know what is.
Posted by Tyler Reguly on Oct 31, 2018