The TOP 10 best documentaries about hacking

The Daily Swig published a list of the best hacker movies of all time in December last year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when people all over the world were staying at home, this collection came in handy.


Now when the world is beginning to come out of lockdown and self-isolation, the website has prepared a sequel to Cash-In, focusing this time on highlighting the best hacker documentaries ever made.


The hacker documentary subgenre is not as vast as its artistic analog, but the authors of The Daily Swig still managed to create a short but varied list of 10 specialties.


After choosing four of the most popular films from this list, the authors in the best traditions of Hollywood organized a mini-Oscar, organized voting on Twitter.


So, without further ado, we present (unofficially) the top 10 best hacker documentary films of all time. Here we go!


10. Hackers in Wonderland, 2000

A documentary film about hackers from Great Britain and the USA. The story based on interviews during which they discuss various motives and exploits (exploits are a subspecies of malware that contains data or executable code that can exploit one or more vulnerabilities in software on a local or remote computer).


A hack is “the best game in the world. It’s better than sex,” says a young hacker. Coldfire, who meets with a film crew in a Manchester laundry room for privacy reasons, admits his interest is an obsession, if not an addiction.


9. The Hacker Wars, 2014

Directed by: Vivien Lesnik Weisman


The film is about hacktivists, members of the Anonymous group, whose hacker attacks scare large companies, banks, and institutions. Hacktivists are ruthless bandits on the one hand who steal money on the Internet. On the other hand, they are a kind of Robin Hood, exposing the machinations of the powerful and punishing them for their dark deeds. In this film, they are fighting with the U.S. government.


The protagonists of “Hacker Wars” are the infamous Andrew Aurynheimer – American gray hacker, hacktivist and recognized troll; Barrett Brown, Jeremy Hammond, and Hector Xavier Monsegur, also known by his online name Sabu.


In March 2013, Aurnheimer was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for hacking into the computer network of the telecommunications giant AT&T and stealing data from 120,000 iPad owners, including senior members of the Pentagon’s DARPA agency, executives from NASA and other U.S. government agencies, as well as top executives from Google, Amazon, Microsoft and AOL and other major companies. That’s not the end of his problems with the law.


Brown was associated with the hacktivist group Anonymous, actually acting as an unofficial representative of the hacker community. He was prosecuted for crimes related to the 2012 Stratfor mail leak.


Hammond was sentenced to 10 years for hacking into Strategic Forecasting’s security systems. The stolen data was made publicly available. Besides, the activist also has stolen 5 million private e-mails, which were later shared with WikiLeaks.


8. The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, 2014

It is a biographical documentary that tells the tragic story of Aaron Schwartz, a programmer, internet activist, IT-Visionqry, writer, and generally a talented person.


The co-founder of the Reddit project was the object of a controversial accusation of a cybercrime. On January 6, 2011, he was arrested by MIT police for using the institute network through an illegal guest account created to access academic journals from the JSTOR online library database.


A lawsuit was filed against Schwartz for downloading millions of entries from JSTOR to make them freely available. Schwartz’s actions were motivated by his conviction that access to scientific research should be free, not for a fee.


According to the prosecution, he downloaded the data, leaving his laptop on the MIT campus, whose visitors had access to the library through a local network. There was information that two laptops had been used for some time, which were downloaded at such a high speed that three JSTOR servers were overloaded, and JSTOR blocked access to its archives for a few days.


Although JSTOR dropped the lawsuit against Schwartz, the U.S. attorney Carmen Ortiz did not close the case and stated:

“Stealing is stealing, whether you used a computer or a crowbar, stole documents, data, or dollars.”

Schwartz was facing more than 35 years in prison and a fine of up to a million dollars. He could not accept the prospect of imprisonment and committed suicide.


7. Spying on the Scammers, 2020

Journalist and online activist Jim Browning has announced a “vendetta” to call-center fraudsters in India, working under the guise of technical support from well-known IT corporations. After gaining unprecedented access to their computers, he monitored them through their webcams. The pseudo call center video was posted on YouTube, and since its publication in May 2019 has already gathered over 5 million views, hundreds of thousands of positive comments, and likes.


The video footage shot by Browning was also the subject of a BBC television program Panorama.


6. We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, 2012

Directed by Brian Knappenberger.


It is a sharp look at the inner workings and beliefs of the hacker group Anonymous, whose members brought civil disobedience to the digital level.


“We Are Legion” covers various operations carried out by a group of hacktivists as a demonstration of their civic position, including attacks on the Church of Scientology and subsequent DDoS attacks on payment providers who refused to service WikiLeaks.


5. Zero Days Vulnerability, 2016

A documentary thriller on the roots, consequences, and scale of a new generation of wars – cyberwar. It is about the impact of Stuxnet, a malware that was used to sabotage Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges.


The Stuxnet virus has opened up a new area where cyberspace has become a Warfield, and industrial control systems have been brought to the forefront of a potential attack. Behind Stuxnet are the main political forces, and its destructive power is comparable to a nuclear bomb.


4. WannaCry: The Marcus Hutchins Story, 2019

At the age of 22, Markus Hutchins alone stopped the world’s biggest cyberattack, WannaCry, a few hours after blackmailers had infiltrated thousands of systems globally. Three months later, after a week of partying at DEFCON, he was arrested by the FBI. It is the unknown story of Marcus Hutchins, the hacker who saved the Internet.


3. Citizenfour: The Truth Snowden, 2014

The movie “Citizenfour” received a considerable amount of critics. It is the story of former NSA (National Security Agency) contractor Edward Snowden and his exposure to mass surveillance citizens by the U.S. government. He claimed he had evidence of illegal covert surveillance programs conducted by the NSA in cooperation with other intelligence agencies around the world.


The documentary by Laura Poitras unfolds like a thriller scenario. The events develop step by step, day by day Snowden reveals new facts in conversation with journalists in anticipation of the publication of his explosive revelations.


DEF CON: The Documentary, 2013

Directed by Jason Sadofsky.


It is a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s largest hacker conference, which is approaching its 20th anniversary.


Drink all the beer. Pwn all the things.


1. The Great Hack, 2019

Curiously, a hacker documentary with the highest rating of all time is not even about hacking technologies, but about how social networking data is used for political profit.


The Great Hack is a film directed by Jehan Nujam and produced by Karim Amer, released on Netflix. It is the story of a scandal involving the leak of personal data to 87 million Facebook users and its use by Cambridge Analytica to influence voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Brexit voting.


The documentary focuses on Brittany Kaiser, former director of business development for SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, and Carol Cadwallader, a British investigative journalist.

The film is available on Netflix.


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