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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
years.
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.


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