Inception Movie Review from a Data Security Perspective

This is part of my ongoing series of extremely limited perspective movie reviews:

Previous Reviews:

Like the previous ones: SPOILER ALERT. Inception is the kind of movie where you might not want to know anything going in. So, please don’t read further if you don’t want any part of the plot spoiled.

In Inception there’s an elite team that can infiltrate your subconscious while you’re dreaming and extract secret information while your defenses are down. The plot of the movie is set up when someone asks them if they can do an “inception” where they plant an idea into a victim’s subconscious. Since the idea is detrimental to the victim, they must somehow convince him that it is his, and that it will be good for him to follow through with it.

Obviously, extraction directly relates to data security, and the attacks and defenses that are discussed in the movie have analogous ones in the security world. An obvious one is a honeypot and how it relates to the labyrinths that the dream architects construct.

[Honeypots] computers run special software, designed to appear to an intruder as being important and worth looking into. In reality, these programs are dummies, and their patterns are constructed specifically to foster interest in attackers.

Creating a honeypot is like “taking two minutes to create a maze that takes a minute to solve.”

Things like a “militarized subconscious”, “totems”, and “forgers” have counterparts in the network security world.

But, what about “inception”? After thinking about it for a few minutes, I remembered this story from WWII. In 1943, the Allies wanted to convince the Germans that they would attack through Sardinia, not Sicily, so:

The idea, very simply, was to get a dead body, equip the dead body with false papers, and then drop it somewhere the Germans would find it

[…] And it was an elaborate creation: the fictitious Major Martin was equipped with ticket stubs, keys, a religious medal, letters from an imaginary father and fiancee, and unpaid bills. Cholmondeley and Montagu thought that the more convincing his personal story was, the more likely the Germans would be to believe the ruse. And along with the personal items, he carried carefully faked letters hinting that the Allies were planning to invade Greece and Sardinia, not Sicily.

But, this is not a computer attack. While the idea of data tampering is nothing new, I haven’t heard of a tampering attack with the intent to mislead someone into making a bad decision. Data tampering is often used to gain access for another purpose or to cover up tracks (e.g. log tampering).

But, I suspect that this is a real threat as well. One so good, that it  often goes undetected.