It took a police raid in 1987 to finally scare Dave Buchwald straight. Well, mostly straight. He wouldn't claim after to have completely reformed after the incident – remaining hatless, his words – but he certainly wasn't interested in ever going to jail.
As a member of the hacker group Legion of Doom in his late teens, the raid was meant to scare him. It was a warning, a slap on the wrist. But while Buchwald was never actually charged, others weren't so lucky. The Chicago Tribune the following year reported on a hacker named Shadow Hawk who was alleged to have stolen "an artificial intelligence program that had not even hit the market." It reads today like something out of a William Gibson novel.
Shadow Hawk pleaded guilty. He was fined and served his time. Being a hacker in the eyes of the government, especially as the 1980s drew to a close, wasn't exactly something that earned you a gold star. But for a young screenwriter named Rafael Moreu, that animosity was exactly what made the misunderstood community that Buchwald and others were a part of a story he wanted to tell.
By the early 1990s, Buchwald was working for a private investigator, using the skills he picked up hacking in a more, let’s say, constructive way. He was attending monthly hacker meetings, organized by Emmanuel Goldstein, co-founder of a hacker quarterly magazine called 2600. And it was there that Buchwald met Moreu. Buchwald, it just so happened, was looking for consulting gigs, and Moreu happened to have some work.
When the film Hackers was released in 1995 – an oddball tale of a still-nascent net, starring a then-unknown Angelina Jolie in one of her first Hollywood films – Hacking Consultant was Buchwald's credit on the film.
Contrary to what the quality of popular film and television might have you think, yes, these people do exist. They are people, like Buchwald, who have worked behind the scenes to ensure that Hollywood gets its depiction of hackers, computers and cybersecurity mostly right – to translate the technical complexity of science and technology into something that casual audiences can understand.
And it's a good thing, too, because there are countless memorable cases where film and television get things so terribly wrong.