It’s funny watching this 18 years later. The pervasive mainstream use of nomenclature alone would be worth a thesis.
Nowadays they would be snatched up by the NSA for a contract at the very least, pensions and 401K’s more likely. These days people think intelligence and national security and they think hackers (or Wikileaks!). The spawn of 4chan has helped that but recent articles about Sabu’s efforts and Sup_g are clouding some already murky water.
The analogy between cryptology and computer security is apt. Years ago, someone used to filling out cryptoquotes on the bus could end up working in intelligence because analog systems are easier to intuitively grasp. Now you need either degrees in mathematics and computer science and the good sense to work for a government or private corporation. Years ago, phreaking could be done with a whistle and although it was a great plot device, hacking was less attack and more exploitation of common systems administrator tools. Now you need the same degrees in mathematics and computer science and are 95% more likely to be working for a government or pseudo private sector consulting firm. The point is that hacking is the equivalent of a weapon and just like any weapon – most likely the best available is in the hands of government entities and the better, more funded the government then the better the ability to compromise a target.
In this movie, hacking is presented as an anarchists wetdream of cybernetic bombs to be thrown to bring down the system. The Tron-like visualizations of the server help fictionalize the hacking efforts into something more dynamic than a LAN party. The use of twenty-something actors to play high school kids was a little off-putting at times but the young vs. a corrupt and self-serving system is a never ending storyline for every generation. The ironic thing is that each decade’s firebrands become the establishment fought by their children.
Most people probably just watch it for the end.