Mr Robot – Crypto without the currency (Op-Ed)
Mr Robot is a TV series following Elliot, a young New Yorker who works as a cybersecurity engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night.
Mr Robot is a TV series following Elliot, a young New Yorker who works as a cybersecurity engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night. He is recruited by underground hacker group, fsociety, who plan to permanently encrypt the data of the worlds biggest conglomerate, E-corp, thus wiping out 70% of world debt. Oh, and he struggles with social anxiety disorder and a morphine habit, meaning delusion and paranoia infect the whole story.
Anyway, enough of the precis. I just box-setted the entire first season, and overall I was pretty impressed. If you haven't seen it yet then I urge you to: You're a Cointelegraph reader so I know you have an interest in technology, business, security, world finance... basically the themes of this show. If you have seen it then you're in good company: Apparently Edward Snowden is a big fan.
The show is well written and features some great acting. With all of his social awkwardness, it is difficult to 'like' Elliot, but I was certainly rooting for him to succeed. I did have one gripe though. Not so much a hole in the plot, but an aspect which is glossed over. There is never any mention of how (both in terms of what funds, and also by what mechanism) the plot against E-corp is financed.
How much does anarchy cost?
We learn in the very first scene of the pilot that Elliot isn't motivated by money, but although we are told that the rest of fsociety just “work on the project when we can”, they are all there whenever Elliot shows up. None of the members seem independently wealthy, but fsociety have a sizeable secret lair full of hacking hardware.
Even if we accept that the whole group are self-funded, we know that the Dark Army are hackers for hire, working for anyone who will pay their price. Of course, I guess if you intend to destroy 70% of the worlds debt and are confident of success then there is no reason not to take out a huge loan first to fund it. But how do you arrange secure untraceable payments?
Did somebody say Bitcoin?
After all, this is a Cointelegraph article.
Yes, I've read the threads:
“I can't believe there is no Bitcoin in Mr Robot” - reddit user Sherlockcoin
“It's people like you that try to shoehorn BTC into everything that give it a bad name” - reddit user LouisTheCat.
I personally think that, considering the themes of the show, it would seem natural to include some mention of cryptocurrencies. However, as the funding of the plot wasn't mentioned it wasn't necessary. And in any case, I think it is extremely unlikely that fsociety or the Dark Army would have relied on Bitcoin.
The whole point of fsociety meeting “in real life” is that their encryption is the real world. They are careful not to even share contact details so that they cannot be linked to one another. I hardly think they are going to leave a trail connecting their Bitcoin wallets.
If somebody sends you bitcoin then that transaction is preserved for all time in the blockchain, and everything that you do with those bitcoin is equally preserved in the public domain. It is the equivalent of receiving a briefcase of marked bills. Okay, so yes, you could 'launder' those coins through a Bitcoin mixer, but that isn't without risks.
I'm genuinely not sure why recent high-profile hacks have been demanding Bitcoin. If the ransom is paid and a high enough reward offered, then every would-be cyber-detective in the world will start analysing the blockchain in the hope of catching them. All it would take is one link to crumble and the whole tower can come toppling down.
A briefcase full of cash?
Maybe cash would work between fsociety as they all meet in person, but the Dark Army are unwilling to take any risks. I don't see them accepting a case full of notes which they don't know the history of.
So some form of cryptocurrency exchange seems likely to have happened off-screen, but of what? Perhaps the secure altcoin DASH, which utilizes preemptive mixing of transactions through it's Darksend protocol. This obfuscates the history of coins sent, essentially laundering them with every transaction.
We asked Philipp Engelhorn from DASH if he'd seen the show and what he thought:
“I had a great time watching Mr Robot (Elliot is the perfect crazy character).
I was really missing the “crypto point” in the show, and sure I was waiting for wh1ter0se (DarkArmy) to request Dash payments for their services. Lets see what Season 2 will bring, I hope Sam Esmail and Team manage to keep the same quality in research, tech, storyline, … as they started in Season 1.”
Whatever the truth, a second season is on it's way, and whether we see any mention of cryptocurrencies will depend on which way the story goes. I certainly don't think it should be shoehorned in, but it is great to see such topics form the basis of a show, and even better to see how popular it has been.