capitalist activity. Instead it goes for a Smoby Urn) caper plot with a bunch of pesky kids foiling an evil hacker's plan to steal $25 million from an oil company. While the talk may be anti-estab- lishment. the film places these hackers on the

same side as corporate America. Check out one of

the onlinc hacker rnaga/ines like l’lrraek to see how wide of the mark the movie's tone is.

The moment when the American atrthorities. and by extension law enforcement agencies around the world. started getting heavy with hackers was on IS .lantrary l9‘)() Martin Luther King day when the ['S telecoms giant AT&T watched as its phone network came close to coast-to-coast collapse as millions of calls were lost or never connected. The cause was a tiny. but devastating. software fatrlt which AT&T admitted to. albeit quietly. Perhaps through ignorance or possibly because it was the excuse they need to go alter 'subversives'. federal law enforcers convinced themselves the crash was the work of hackers.

Although it wasn‘t. it could have been. lilec- Ironic bulletin boartls and on—line journals. the virtual world where hackers meet using ‘handles' such as l’hiber ()ptik and Dr ('rash. had since the mid—80s been filled with trophies from hackers exploits in telephone systems. Indeed. a close cousin of the hacker is the ‘bhreak' (another motto: never use an ‘f‘ when a ‘ph‘ will do) who specialise in abusing tele- com networks by charging calls to other users or persuading the system to give them free credits.

.\lotive and opportunity were enough to convince federal agents that hackers posed a major threat to American security. and since then the crackdown has been on. According to a message on /’/tr(rr‘k"s lnternet homepage. doors are still being knocked on and computer equip— ment confiscated. .\leanwhile. computer system managers are wising up to the potential threat of

Miller time

In the wake of his Trainspotting success. .lonny Lee Miller is getting his head around the byte—sized world of microchips. Nigel Floyd speaks to the star of Hackers.

hacking with improved security. Despite a hand- frrl of well-publicised cases in the t'K. hacking is a negligible problem compared to software viruses and theft of equipment. according to a recent security survey by the National ('omputer (‘entre in Manchester.

The scare stories about hackers may be less about a real threat than an expression of the

collective unease about the implications of

moving into the digital age. (‘omputer crime is

hen .lonny ice Miller first walked into director

lain Softley‘s office. to audition for the lead

role in Hackers. the young British actor made

no claims to being an expert on the Internet or on-linc

communication. ‘Computers and new technology

interest me.‘ he admits. 'but even afterdoing the film, I don't have a computer. I'm a pen and paper man.’

liven so. reveals Back/rear director Softlcy. the

young actor made all the right moves: ‘1 had never

thought that the actor who played Dade would be

English. but .lonny had just what I had been looking

for. and hadn't found in anybody else an introspection and an intelligence. a

vulnerability and a kind of playfulness. all mixed up together. And we didn’t get a single criticism for the fact that an English actor was playing an Anrerican. simply because Jonny‘s accent was so good.‘

Miller has confirmed his precocious talent. and added another accent to his repertoire. as Edinburgh junkie-turned-pimp Sick Boy in the hugely successful [rains/rolling (filmed six months after Hackers). ln Softley"s film. as legendary hacker Zero (_‘ool treal name Dade). Miller tried to capture the illicit thrill that comes from cracking Open computer security systems and accessing the secret information stored within. However. while Miller concedes that Dade's activities are mildly irresponsible. he doesn‘t see hackers as the vandals they‘re usually portrayed as in the media.

‘l)ade‘s mostly in it for the fun.’ Miller says. 'Most hackers are. It's something that he knows how to do and he gets a kick out of it. Most of the kids I spoke to weren‘t into ripping off loads of money or screwing things up. they were into finding things out. accessing information.‘


‘Most of the kids I spoke to weren’t into ripping off loads of money or screwing things up, they were into finding things out, accessing information.’


r ._~

Storming up the Infobahn: feeling the buzz on Hackers clearly growing but if it ever was. it’s not teenage kids who are siphoning off digital cash into secret bank accounts. The idea of the fifteen-year-old cyber-bandit running digital rings round massive corporations continues to have a romantic charm. however. and that‘s basically what Hackers taps into. Phile under harmless phun.

Thanks I() The [Li/(’(TI'I‘F [frog ("y/)er cafe in [fr/I'll- lmrg/r/or lre/p preparing this article.

Having mastered the American accent and got a handle on his character, Miller had to contend with a potentially tougher challenge imagining the ‘cyberspace‘ world that director Softley and his design team had created in their heads. but which would not be visualised until much later. with sophisticated special effects sequences added during post-production. Hackers blurs the line between heightened reality and hallucinatory fantasy. presenting the virtual world that the hackers imagine, rather than the mundane one they actually inhabit. Here a computer network resembles a dazzling city of light. its skeletal skyscrapers fizzing with information.

Obviously. when you‘re hacking, you just see numbers and gobbledygook on the screen.‘ says Miller. ‘but what they were trying to do was to get a flavour of what that person is imagining. that trippy, psychedelic feeling of being linked in to so many computers. So as an actor, I didn’t worry too much about those images not being there. because they’re more like a psychedelic impression of what‘s going on in someone’s mind.‘

The film‘s techno flavour notwithstanding. its human heart is provided by the spiky romance between Dade and feisty fellow hacker Kate (aka Acid Burn). Nicely played by Miller and fellow newcomer Angelina Jolie daughter of actor Jon Voight Dade and Kate emerge as far less socially dysfunctional than their weirdo hacker pals. Theirs was an on—screen fictional connection that proved difficult to shake off. When filming ended, these virtual sparks were transformed into an off-screen romance between the two young actors, one that led to their marriage last month.

Hackers goes on general release on Friday 3 May.

The List 3-16 May 1996 9