How WarGames influenced national cybersecurity policy
In 1980, Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes, former Yale classmates in their late 20s, were writing the screenplay for “WarGames.” (It would be nominated for an Oscar but would lose to Horton Foote’s “Tender Mercies.”) A hacker friend had told them about “demon-dialing,” in which a telephone modem searched for other modems by automatically dialing each phone number in an area code and letting it ring twice before proceeding to the next number. If a modem answered, it would squawk; the demon-dialing software would record the number, so the hacker could call back later. In their screenplay, this was how their hero broke into NORAD. But they wondered if this was plausible: Didn’t the military close off its computers to public telephone lines?
Mr. Lasker lived in Santa Monica, a few blocks from RAND. Figuring someone there might be helpful, he called the public affairs office, which put him in touch with Mr. Ware, who invited the pair to his office.
They’d come to the right man. Not only had he long known about the vulnerability of computer networks, but he’d also helped design the software for the real NORAD computer. And Mr. Ware proved remarkably open, even friendly. Listening to the writers’ questions, he waved off their worries. Yes, he told them, the computer was supposed to be closed, but some officers wanted to work from home on weekends, so they’d leave a port open. Anyone could get in, if the right number was dialed.
“The only computer that’s completely secure,” Mr. Ware told them with a mischievous smile, “is a computer that no one can use.”
I’m going to have to see if we can get Hollywood to back a remake that uses actual understanding of modern computer security. Maybe explains why encryption is a good thing?