RTL-SDR and HackRF Used in Mr. Robot – A TV Drama About Hacking

A few readers have written in to let us know the role SDRs played in the last season of "Mr. Robot". The show which is available on Amazon Prime is about "Mr. Robot", a young cyber-security engineer by day and a vigilante hacker by night. The show has actual cyber security experts on the team, so whilst still embellished for drama, the hacks performed in the show are fairly accurate, at least when compared to other TV shows.

Spoilers of the technical SDR hacks performed in the show are described below, but no story is revealed.

In the recently aired season 4 episode 9, a character uses a smartphone running an SSH connection to connect to a HackRF running on a Raspberry Pi. The HackRF is then used to jam a garage door keyfob operating at 315 MHz, thus preventing people from leaving a parking lot. 

Shortly after she can be seen using the HackRF again with Simple IMSI Catcher. Presumably they were running a fake cellphone basestation as they use the IMSI information to try and determine someones phone number which leads to being able to hack their text messages. The SDR used in the fake basestation appears to have been a bladeRF.

HackRF Used on Mr Robot
HackRF Used on Mr Robot

In season 4 episode 4 GQRX and Audacity can be seen on screen being used to monitor a wiretap via rtl_tcp and an E4000 RTL-SDR dongle.

E4000 RTL-SDR Being used for Wiretap Monitoring
E4000 RTL-SDR Being used for Wiretap Monitoring

Did we miss any other instances of SDRs being used in the show? Or have you seen SDRs in use on other TV shows? Let us know in the comments.

2 comments

  1. targetdrone

    In one of the earlier episodes of Season 1, a small transceiver was used with a Rolljam attack to unlock a car. It looked like a typical CC1101 based card, but I didn’t get a good enough look to be sure.

    And they’ve used btscanner and bluesniff to get info from phones.

    By the way, almost every hack you see on screen was actually executed on camera. The show’s technical staff would get everything staged for the actors, who would then execute the hack. The show’s creator, Sam Esmail, was insistent that the audience see what is actually taking place in the real world.

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