A Roundtable of Hackers Dissects 'Mr. Robot' Season 3 Episode 7: 'Fredrick & Tanya'
Technologists, hackers, and journalists recap the latest episode of the realistic hacking show.
Episode 7 of Mr. Robot’s third season was heartbreaking, as we [SPOILER ALERT] bid farewell to two of our favorite characters. We distracted ourselves by talking about lockpicking and plane hacking in addition to Trenton and Mobley’s tragic deaths. (The chat transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.) This week’s team of experts include:
- Harlo Holmes: a digital security trainer at Freedom of the Press Foundation.
- Micah Lee: a technologist with a focus on operational security, source protection, privacy and cryptography, as well as a journalist at The Intercept.
- Matt Mitchell: a hacker who leads cryptoharlem, which aims to teach basic cryptography tools in the inner city. He also trains newsroom journalists (at Global Journalist Security), activists & human rights defenders in digital & operational security.
Yael: So what's with Angela asking if the people who died in the explosions are going to be okay?
Matt: I think it's whatever White Rose did, which White Rose referred to in this episode.
Yael: It's always so heartbreaking when people who are... delusional think they have all the secret answers.
Matt: Yeah like that Kanye West & Sway interview.
Micah: It goes back to her mom when she was a kid. Her mom told her that, even when she dies from cancer, she's going to be okay. I think however White Rose brainwashed Angela, she exploited her childhood trauma.
Yael: Yeah, if you study cults, a lot of people who get sucked in have some kind of deep trauma to exploit. Then Darlene is like "......".
Matt: I love when Angela rewinds it. "They all came back; they are all fine." Everyone's okay again. WTF.
Yael: Okay, Angela.
Harlo: I need to rewatch the part where White Rose and the E Corp guy are explaining why Angela is the linchpin in this whole operation... can anyone refresh my memory?
Matt: Yeah, so White Rose’s plant would be destroyed with a lawsuit. Angela and that awesome people’s lawyer of hers had a case. She was at E Corp gathering evidence but was brainwashed. The new plant is in Congo.
Yael: Okay, so tell me about this bike lock picking thing.
Matt: Ok so when Trent and Mobley were in the back of the Caddy, Trent broke free of her bike lock wrist wrap lock. Question is, did she brute force it or use a bike lock hack like Samy Kamkar unveiled? They used his hotel keycard copy tech, MagSpoof, in season 1.
Micah: She clearly brute forced it. You could see her trying each combination until she got the one that works.
Harlo: I am watching some YouTubes right now! Pretty interesting stuff. By pulling the cord taut, and feeling which numbers feel like they're hitting up against their catch point (on each wheel), you can narrow down the possible combos, and then brute force it.
Matt: Combination lock hacking ftw.
Harlo: lol, TYPICAL NYC KID. Can pick locks, can't drive for shit.
Micah: Even if there was no bike lock exploit, and the lock itself had four numbers and each with 10 digits, that's only a total of 10^4, or 10,000 possible combinations. If you can try them once per second, that's 2.7 hours max to brute force it, but 1.38 hours on average.
Harlo: What’s the brand? Assuming she did not try all combinations, and was relying on tactile feedback to narrow down which numbers were actually possible, her success probably depended on the brand being more cheaply manufactured.
Matt: Also, all hackers, please learn to drive (and how to operate a firearm). I was SO happy when they started driving, only for the episode to crush my hopes.
Micah: You know, they should have run farther away than the West coast. They should have gone to Mexico, and used better opsec in their hiding.
Harlo: I don’t know, if White Rose is your adversary, that might be difficult.
Micah: They thought just the FBI was after them, though. They didn't realize the Dark Army was their real adversary.
Matt: Getting a job at an electronics store like Fry's, working Geek Squad is not a good disguise. Staying with a real-world friend of the life you are leaving behind, also not smart.
Harlo: Yeah, Dom already had Mobley on her radar. Probably would make it really hard to get on a plane.
Matt: The kill switch email to someone Trent trusts, who is that?
Harlo: OOOH, we shall see. Hope it's Juanita from J-date.
Matt: Yasss. Hahaha.
Yael: This episode was just so .
Matt: Why not mention the killswitch email to save your life? She said, even if something does happen to us I have an email that is set to automatically send to someone I trust, or something like that.
Harlo: Might make for good leverage, but I'm not sure Trent and Mobley had anything Dark Army would want at that point.
Matt: It was so heroic of Trent to go out like that. Also, when Trenton was screaming to save Mobley, she could have grabbed the gun on her side of the table and shot them all, even if it ended in her getting killed. Better than screaming. Not to sound like an NRA person.
Yael: Do we have any people of color left on the show who aren't Dark Army?
Micah: Trenton and Mobley were the original F Society crew who freaked out when they saw Darlene murdered someone, and who were like, “I'm out.” It's so tragic that they're the ones taking all the blame for the major terrorist attack killing thousands of people. Did you know when the FBI raided the building and found their bodies, they also saw an Iranian flag? Dark Army is doing some misdirection.
Harlo: Yep, didn't the henchman say that their purpose is to "tell a story"?
Matt: Yeah, man, blame Iran; everyone else does. Perfect.
Yael: I have to say that I'm not really into this whole killing all the brown people narrative.
Harlo: Me neither.
Matt: Joey Badass aka Leon still alive.
Yael: But he's with Dark Army, isn't he?
Matt: Yeah, and he is also crazy.
Micah: He's just a guy who really likes TV, and occasionally murders people when he's told to.
Yael: So correction, I’m not crazy about the whole "killing all the brown people not in Dark Army" narrative.
Harlo: If they're being framed as Iranian hackers, the surname "Biswas" doesn't seem to fit, and so, things like that make me kind of angry.
Matt: True true. So nice shout-outs to CVEDETAILS.com. Are we gonna talk about this air traffic control thing? Cause if I talk about the dead hackers more, I am gonna cry. I am always sad when hackers get merked. No matter why. RIP MegaByte.
Micah: CVE stands for Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures. It's a standard system for identifying vulnerabilities. Each vuln gets a unique identifier, so you can be like "Apache Solr earlier than 7.1 is vulnerable to remote code execution vuln CVE-2017-12629" -- and anyone mentioning that vuln, or Apache Solr, has a way to describe it. So there was the Dark Army-produced F Society video threatening a second major terrorist attack.
Matt: They found an Oracle WebLogic CVE and wrote an exploit for it in Python. They went in this time. Damn.
Micah: I don't think the Dark Army is planning on actually doing the airplane attack.
Harlo: No, me neither.
Matt: I think it's more misinformation/misdirection.
Micah: I think it's just a ruse, to fully and completely frame Trenton and Mobley.
Yael: So it was FAA’s NextGen flight data/enterprise messaging system? So they were just showing HOW you could do a plausible attack targeting air traffic control systems at airports/crashing planes in Chicago/Atlanta/LA?
Matt: Well, that 2015 report from GAO is about how easy it could be to attack air traffic control. The podcast for the report is about how the over 100 air traffic control computers and software are automated and can be disrupted. Also, the US Government Accountability Office has a podcast; who knew?
Yael: How plausible was the airplane hack? More or less plausible than a hacker flying a plane sideways?
Harlo: We shall see, but if it's a misdirection/frame-up operation, it only has to look plausible enough that they were serious about trying it.
Yael: As pissed off as I am about them killing off these characters, at least it's...somewhat realistic?
Micah: Elliott/Mr. Robot got played so hard, they were all used as pawns for the Dark Army.
Matt: Yeah, Mr. Robot is pissed. I predict a hack back against the Dark Army, a little active cyber defense, aka attack.
Micah: It used to be that F Society was fighting for the people, trying to erase debt and not get caught by the FBI. Now it's like, please FBI agent Dom, succeed in exposing the global conspiracy.
Matt: Yeah, I am so bummed out about this narrative.
Yael: Yeah, I wish they had more on the little guys in F Society and how they're handling all this. You know every blogger and YouTuber is gonna have an opinion on where things went south.
Matt: I want a resurgence of F Society hacking for the people and fighting the man. I think that's what Mr. Robot wants, too. Maybe he can get Elliot on board with that. All those people at the season two intro part who cut the balls off the bull, maybe one survives.
Micah: I think the F Society brand is spent at this point, to be honest.
Matt: Yeah true true. Gotta rebrand. Maybe an offshoot. AnarchoSociety.
Yael: I want an F Society without a top-down hierarchical model dependent on Mr. Robot/Elliott/Darlene/whoever.
Micah: Consensus decisionmaking F Society, with affinity groups and spokescouncils, all organized over onion services.
Matt: Decentralized as well and I am in... :) No gods, no masters. I will say I didn't see the deaths of Mobley and Trent coming.
Micah: Rest in peace, Trenton and Mobley.
Matt: W0rd rest in power y'all. Gettin’ root on that box in the sky. Remote execution forever in our hearts.