Hacking & Cyber Security: The Impact of WarGames (1983) on US Military Policy

My favourite movie of all time is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so after discovering Matthew Broderick also played the lead in the 1983 hacker movie WarGames, I figured incorporating the film into my weekly remediation would be a great way to get back into the swing of things following the two week study recess. Credited as the first hacker movie, the film follows the life of seventeen-year-old David Lightman who, in an attempt to hack a gaming system, accidentally accesses the War Operation Plan Response (WOPR) – a United States military supercomputer originally programmed to predict possible outcomes of nuclear war. Believing it to be a computer game, Lightman gets WOPR to run a nuclear war simulation, however, now tied into the nuclear weapons control system and unable to tell the difference between simulation and reality, the computer attempts to start World War III.

Only after being taught that ‘the only winning move is not to play’ through a never-ending game of tic-tac-toe does the computer finally cease its mission, preventing a global catastrophe as illustrated in my gif above. Researching the film a bit more thoroughly, though, I discovered that its release actually resulted in a change in United States military policy through highlighting the ease with which seemingly secure systems can be infiltrated by external parties with the right skills and knowledge, as further explained by The New York Times, New America, The Guardian, and Fred Kaplan via the video below.

As personal computers were extremely new at the time of the film’s release, and there hadn’t been any major hacking operations to raise concern at the present time, these potential issues were frequently dismissed, at least until the attention brought about by WarGames in 1983. Following the concerns on cyber security expressed by President Ronald Reagan after his viewing of the film, it was revealed that there had actually been many concerns about cyber security within the military for a number of years prior. In fact, one of the earliest published pieces on cyber security – Security and Privacy in Computer Systems (1967) by Willis H. Ware – was unheeded for decades until these new policies were proposed under Reagan.

Despite the fictional nature of the film, it sparked a number of changes in cyber security, both within and beyond the military. More importantly, still, it was a great movie, so if you haven’t already, go stream it and let me know your thoughts in the comments! Remember: it’s for BCM so it’s a completely productive use of your time!

5 thoughts on “Hacking & Cyber Security: The Impact of WarGames (1983) on US Military Policy

  1. Hey, that’s a really solid choice of your favourite movie! I haven’t seen War Games yet but I’m keen to after this week’s lectures. I know you looked at how the military changed their cybersecurity, but I’d be interested to research if this influenced cyber terrorists and changed their approach? I did my blog post on Anonymous and who/what they’ll take on next. Hope the end of the semester is treating you well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Taylor, I have to say that when I click on your blog, the first thing I see is your photo.
    Your smile is beautiful and infectious, it brings me good mood!
    This is a great blog post, so perfect that I can’t offer any constructive comments, but I think I’ll go see your favourite movie! Hope everything goes well with you.

    Like

  3. It was interesting to read your blog post! I personally haven’t seen War Games, like many of us haha! It’s really interesting how a film can influence governments and groups – purely out of the fear that this movie could instil in them! It is interesting to also note that it increased the ‘popularity’ of hacking and how it was then stigmatised to only be negative. I definitely think its a film I need to check out and enjoyed reading your blog post! Thankyou 🙂 !

    Like

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