An eye-opening feature-length documentary, The Hacker Wars explores the duality of the modern-day hacker, and the government's response to their activities. The film profiles a few of the highest profile hackers who have tackled the secretive inner workings of corporations and governmental agencies, and faced severe punishments from law enforcement as a result.
Andrew Auernheimer - otherwise known as 'weev' - is perhaps the best known figure from this larger-than-life set of characters. A master troll who became a media darling, Auernheimer is shown on the eve of a long prison sentence at the film's opening. His crime? Exposing the email addresses of over 114,000 AT&T customers, including public personalities like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and news anchor Diane Sawyer. In his defense, he claims that he was merely shedding light on a major security flaw in the communication company's online operation. The FBI felt differently, and Auernheimer was eventually sentenced to over three years in prison.
Characterized by a tremendous aura of brash and arrogance, hacking maestro Barrett Brown is currently undergoing a sentence of over five years in federal prison for his crimes along with fellow hacktivist Jeremy Hammond, who was sentenced to ten years. Both are incarcerated for releasing sensitive correspondences from the email system of Stratten, a global intelligence company. Some of these emails insinuated involvements in insider trading and advanced knowledge of Bin Laden's hide-out in Abbottabad.
A large segment of the public view these figures as heroes who speak necessary truth to power.
The film is complimented by additional interviews with the journalists who have tracked the world of the hacker with great interest, including NBC News correspondent Michael Isikoff, and Pulitzer Prize winners Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges.
Sharply edited at a lightning-fast pace, The Hacker Wars questions the motives of law enforcement agencies that often seem too preoccupied with policing the release of information the public has a right to know. But the central pull of the film lies in deciphering the personalities of the hackers themselves. Are they anarchists driven solely by a need to instigate havoc and chaos? Or are they activists with good intentions? The answer could often be a little of both.