It’s been three years since the security profession — and the world — lost one of its most powerful tools for identifying technology-related threats: new episodes of the dystopian TV series “Black Mirror.” Since its debut in 2011, the show has uncannily predicted both threats to security and mankind. True, much of the technology covered in the program already existed, but the producers reimagined the use of the technology in a way that no one had previously considered.
During the show’s heyday, ”Black Mirror” plots would come up all the time at security conferences to explore how useful tools could turn bad. The show was valuable for its foresight, and in fact, security leaders should always be working with staff or consultants to peer into the near and middle future to prepare their organizations for both forthcoming threats and opportunities. The good news is that this powerful tool called ”Black Mirror” will be coming back: Netflix recently announced it will be filming a sixth season of the show after the long hiatus.
Let’s take a quick look at some of what ”Black Mirror” has gotten right. Spoilers ahead!
Season 3, Episode 1: ”Nosedive”
Plot: The episode depicts a society in which people get rated from 1 to 5 on every interaction they have in the world, which profoundly influences their social standing and success in life.
Twist: From Uber to Yelp to eBay, social media rating systems abound. This episode depicts a world in which high ratings are mandatory to succeed in life. You opt-out at your social and economic peril.
Real-world manifestations: Trolls, activists and extremists have attacked corporate reputations on social media via low ratings and negative comments, such as when white supremacists blasted businesses they believed were Jewish-owned in Whitefish, Montana.
Season 3, Episode 2: “Playtest”
Plot: A video game buff volunteers to test an immersive video game that hacks his brain to identify his fears.
Twist: Virtual reality headset is paired with a neural implant.
Real-world manifestations: Though neural implants are still experimental, the nascent metaverse is already generating many security concerns that range from purely digital to physical consequences, such as real-life stalking or theft from the real-world counterpart of a digital twin. (See “Timed to Get Versed in the Metaverse.”)
Season 3, Episode 3: “Shut Up and Dance”
Plot: Hackers take over a young man’s computer, find incriminating evidence, then blackmail him into committing increasingly outrageous and violent acts.
Twist: Hackers go beyond financial reward, hoping to incur damage on society as well.
Real world manifestations: Sextortion — hackers obtaining compromising pictures of people and threatening to release them — has become distressingly common. In some cases, the extortionist has made the victim commit acts in the real world. The threat to businesses occurs when one of these hackers demands sensitive or proprietary information from an employee whose private information has been compromised.
Season 4, Episode 5: “Metalhead”
Plot: In a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape, robot dogs hunt down desperate human survivors.
Twist: Heavily armed solar-powered robot dogs embed their targets with tracking devices so they can hunt them down.
Real-world manifestations: While weaponized robot dogs aren’t yet roaming the countryside, researchers from Oxford, Cambridge, OpenAI and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have warned of a reminiscent scenario. According to MIT Technology Review, the researchers hypothesize that hackers could trick a security administrator into downloading malware that takes control of a building’s robot security system.
While the individual lessons from each episode are many, the overall lesson that security professionals can take away from every episode is to continually scan the environment for evolving threats and tools.
No doubt, season six will give those of us in the security industry a number of new technological twists to make us think — and make our hearts beat a little bit faster.