Andrew Pollack's Blog

Technology, Family, Entertainment, Politics, and Random Noise

Geek move review! "Untraceable" -- Does it pass the geek test?

By Andrew Pollack on 07/04/2008 at 10:25 PM EDT

I watched this one while doing some other things, but what caught my attention was the effort they went to in making the tech stuff at least close to plausible. They actually went overboard a bit explaining that right near the beginning.

The idea is that this serial killer uses a website to stream live video of captured people being slowly killed. The gimmick is that the more people who watch the video the faster the death. The site can't be traced because (and they go to great lengths to explain this) the stream is being relayed through a series of potentially tens of thousands of compromised servers. Shutting down one doesn't do any good. The DNS name is registered with a Russian top level domain, and the dns server uses an extremely low TTL so the actual IP is never cached. Take down a server and within seconds a new server is referenced.

Ok, so the Internet address untraceable part isn't bad. Off hand it sounds good.

Then it fails. Almost immediately every knows the originating site of the live stream is local to the city they're in. Even if you can't trace the net connection, there is at least one or two things you can do pretty quickly to both isolate the location of the setup and possibly stop the progress of the torture.

Rolling Blackout would be the first. The power company can, from their central office, dump the grid on large areas all at once. They don't like to do it, but when a life is at stake they will not hesitate. I've seen it done once at a car accident when power lines were down across gas pumps at a station while an occupant will still trapped in the car. A radio request to dispatch, a quick call to the power company, and a large area was immediately dropped off the grid. The methods used in the killings were very heavy on power consumption. A generator could suffice, but not just batteries. It would have to be an outside the building unit and would be fairly easy to spot from air with a thermal camera.

The second is slower but maybe simpler, and possibly more subtle. Simply use a low flying police helicopter to make noise as it crosses neighborhoods. The internet stream is live and includes audio.

Here's a link to the Movie Trailer

The movie wasn't terrible and I give it high marks for at least attempting to make a plausible technical scenario. They just failed on the municipal services side. Then of course, they gave in to the movie hacker-myth and they gave the bad guy too much super-kung-fu at hacking (her car, her Blackberry, etc. -- not likely).

There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Geek move review! "Untraceable" -- Does it pass the geek test?By Nathan T. Freeman on 07/05/2008 at 12:24 AM EDT
My problem was with the idea of the rolling compromised servers. a) that
wouldn't work for streaming video, which would be pulling from an IP stream,
not a DNS address; b) even if it did, would it be terribly hard to get into the
routing for one of those servers and look to see who was FEEDING massive
amounts of packets instead of CONSUMING them? Not at all. Upstream vs.
downstream is pretty easy to determine.

What would have been cool is if they rolling servers had just been a seed
address in a giant P2P streamed network. Then I would have bought it hook,
line and sinker.

The real failure of the film was that she got back in the car. No security
conscious person in their semi-right mind would have done that in a million
Naw, the stream would be fine....By Andrew Pollack on 07/05/2008 at 10:32 AM EDT
...remember, in the movie when she took down the server she was streaming from,
the page failed. She had her boss wait a few seconds, then reload the page.
In that case, assuming a few things about local caching, the DNS lookup would
happen again (unless they were using firefox which fails at this sometimes) and
the new returned IP address would load the same page from another server so the
stream would re-start.

I agree about her getting back in the car, but if you're going to that level of
critical examination you have other questions to ask, like:

What was she doing browsing known bad sites from her home computer?

What was she doing allowing a 9 year old unattended access to a machine she
uses to connect to highly sensitive data?

Both of these violate very well established security practices. I could go on
of course.
re: Geek move review! "Untraceable" -- Does it pass the geek test?By Carl Tyler on 07/05/2008 at 12:35 PM EDT
My respect level just went down for you :-) Forget the IT stuff, this was just
a crap film. It was bad on so many levels. I would highly recommend to not
see this film. Unfortunately I paid to see this at the cinema, I will never
get that time back in my life.

Other Recent Stories...

  1. 09/04/2018With two big projects on hold, I suddenly find myself very available for new short and long term projects. In twenty five years, I don't think I've ever written an entry like this, but if you need the kind of work I do now would be a great time to get in touch. Both of the big projects I had lined up for late summer and early fall have been placed on hold and will be that way for a while. With the kids now all off at college and careers, I'm open to more travel than such than I have been in decades, but unless something else comes along, I'll be here working on updates to Second Signal and other things that ...... 
  2. 07/13/2018Who is HCL and why is it a good thing that they are now the ones behind Notes and Domino?We need to address some biases here. IBM has made a deal under which the Notes & Domino software and intellectual property is now being developed and maintained by HCL America. HCL America is part of the very large "HCL Technologies" company that has grown from its roots in India to become an 8 Billion Dollar company with a global presence in the IT Industry. You could be excused for initially believing, as many people do when they hear this, that "they've outsourced the code to India where they'll milk it ...... 
  3. 03/21/2018Domino Apps on IOS is a Game Changer. Quit holding back.BOOM. This will be as important for the platform as Traveler. If your company has ditched Notes and Domino, I feel sorry for you. For companies that do use Notes/Domino this is a game changer and Apple should be paying attention. Here's why: There are hundreds of little Notes client applications you'd never spend the time and money to build and deploy for your internal user base on IOS that we use Notes for all the time (those of us still using it). Now, those are suddenly ALL available on the iPad. ...... 
  4. 02/15/2018Andrew’s Proposed Gun Laws 
  5. 05/05/2016Is the growing social-sourced economy the modern back door into socialism? 
  6. 04/20/2016Want to be whitelisted? Here are some sensible rules for web site advertising 
  7. 12/30/2015Fantastic new series on Syfy called “The Expanse” – for people who love traditional science fiction 
  8. 10/20/2015My suggestion is to stay away from PayAnywhere(dot)com  
  9. 08/07/2015Here is one for you VMWARE gurus - particularly if you run ESXi without fancy drive arrays 
  10. 08/06/2015The Killer of Orphans (Orphan Documents) 
Click here for more articles.....

pen icon Comment Entry
Your Name
*Your Email
* Your email address is required, but not displayed.
Your thoughts....
Remember Me  

Please wait while your document is saved.