Again, USA’s Mr Robot is surprisingly accurate in its depictions of technology. But there are a few areas where it comes up short. My favorite example: Elliot’s computer is always on and never behind so much as a lock screen. This would make sense if he were returning from, say, the bathroom, but it is a bad idea to leave your computer open to all and sundry when you’re out of town for days at a time. The great pains he otherwise takes to protect his data, such as routinely destroying the physical hardware, is for naught if someone is able to just wander in and make a copy of the unencrypted data anytime they want.
But from a storytelling standpoint, it makes sense. It would be too distracting to the narrative flow if we had to watch him type out a hundred-letter password every few minutes. And symbolically, the classic “desktop” look alerts viewers to the nature of the mysterious box; otherwise it could be anything! The last thing USA needs is letters pouring in asking, “Why are Elliot’s ant farms so dark?”
Snark aside, this is a good opportunity for a Data Safety PSA: the user passwords you assign to your phone and computer are not actually protecting the data on those devices at all. Most people don’t realize that. Cops, criminals, children, they can all easily browse through your drives’ file contents without your user password.
If you want your data to not be readable by anyone with basic technical knowhow, you need to encrypt it. Most operating systems support some form of disk encryption, however virtually no OS will enable it by default. Encrypted disk operations are less performant and data is less recoverable when a random byte bites the dust. Still, it is a good idea. You might not think your information is particularly sensitive, but think for a moment about the sorts of things you do on your computer. When was the last time you typed your email password? How many naked photos did you take and reject before you sexted your Congressman? How many years of e-file tax PDFs do you have?
Encrypt your shit.
Oh look, there’s a rabbit hole. Wanna follow?