Every week, a roundtable of hackers discusses the latest episode of Mr. Robot. Episode 10 of Mr. Robot’s final season was kind of weird and slow and had very little hacking, so we discussed [SPOILERS, obvs] post-doxing, OPR investigations, eCoin, getaway plans, and why we think Darlene would or would not work for Cyber Ops (The chat transcript has been edited for brevity, clarity, and chronology.)
This week’s team of experts includes:
- Em Best: a former hacker and current journalist and transparency advocate with a specialty in counterintelligence and national security.
- Bill Budington: a long-time activist, security trainer, and a Senior Staff Technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
- Harlo Holmes: Director of Digital Security at Freedom of the Press Foundation.
- Yael Grauer (moderator): an investigative tech reporter covering online privacy and security, digital freedom, mass surveillance and hacking.
Yael: I thought the doxing aftermath was kind of realistic—the breathless news reports, “OMG, this might actually be legit.”
Harlo: Loved that they spelled it with two x'es.
Em: The reporter's confusion about leaked data was horribly familiar.
Bill: I'm curious where the show will go from here. Now that they've accomplished what they set out to do, what now?
Em: The machine. Elliot's going back to Washington Township to take care of that, and presumably, the final confrontation with Whiterose.
Yael: OH! Explain! I wasn’t sure what was happening at WA Township
Em: I'm not either, but I think that's where an initial version of the machine or prep for it was being done, under or nearby the power plant. Elliot was looking at the drive Price gave him with the plans on it, and said he had to go back. So I figure he's going back there to hack/destroy it or mess up shipping it to the Congo. I'm not sure what's going on there. We saw a few close-ups of the text on the drive as Elliot reviewed it, but they didn't reveal much. Something about particle collisions or interactions, protons or photons, I forget which.
Yael: I hope not more Protonmail.
Dom in the Hospital
Yael: So even Dom, a trusty FBI agent, is getting questioned on her fucking hospital bed.
Bill: I mean, the FBI had just discovered that Dom had been working for the Dark Army, so It's hardly a surprise.
Em: In the FBI's eyes, not so trusty. She committed a lot of crimes and violated protocol on how to handle that.
Yael: I'm not entirely sure what she told them, though?
Em: They didn't tell us, but the impression was that the FBI agent thought she'd told the Bureau everything.
Bill: I assume she told them the whole story, other than that she was working with Darlene at the end?
Em: Oh yeah, Darlene was probably left out.
Yael: OH okay, then it would make sense that they were investigating her, I guess?
Em: Yeah. Checking out her story, making sure there wasn't more to it, investigating other crimes, etc.
Bill: The only reason she wasn't a loyal employee was that she was forced into the DA deal, so it makes sense that after her handler was killed and the DA hierarchy collapsed, she'd go back to being a loyal FBI employee.
Em: Even if OPR "clears" her, she's probably done in the Bureau. She was compromised. It's not her fault, but that's the situation and that's how the FBI would likely handle it. OPR = Office of Professional Responsibility, DOJ's office that reviews wrongful conduct.
Bill: Ah, maybe you're right there.
Yael: So she never gets to see her family again?
Bill: I think she will, once the FBI clears her as not a threat.
Yael: Well, if she's not an FBI agent, she doesn't get access to those locations, does she? Unclear, I guess?
Em: That's a bit of a stretch. She supposedly would. Once they review things, her family will supposedly be released from the safe house, though they may be in or going into a witness protection program now.
Yael: I figured only agents would get safehouse location data.
Yael: Looks like they explained what they did with tumblers, shell accounts, redistribution… Y'all happy with the explanation?
Bill: I'm not sure about how one would evenly distribute a lump sum into all accounts on a cryptocurrency, but I'm chalking it up to Movie Magic ™️
Em: eCoin works really differently from everything else, apparently. eCorp had access to everyone's wallets and could see inside them, so to speak, so it's possible fSociety was able to get a list of the active wallets and split the money between them. If transfer speeds were fast enough and required little enough energy, an algorithm to do the transfer kind of makes sense.
The Escape Plan
Yael: What did you think of the Darlene/Dom getaway plan?
Bill: The passports looked like they were way too big.
Em: Do we know what airport they were flying out of? Because if they were still in the U.S., then it was a bad plan.
Harlo: Logan. In Boston.
Em: Yeah, then it was a bad plan. Especially so close to the U.S.-Canada border. They should've crossed it before getting on a plane, I think.
Bill: Logan has extra tight security. It's not a small Airport. It's the one that one of the planes left from on 9/11.
Em: Yeah. And Boston security in general got beefed up again after the Marathon (even though it's disconnected and unrelated, people don't do security logically).
Harlo: I don't have much to add to this episode recap, but I just want to say Joey Bada$$ should call me.
Em: SAME. Also, I need the Darlene/Leon spin-off to happen.
Yael: Maybe he will call you next episode. Darlene can call me. I will fly with her wherever.
Em: His last lines in the episode were even, "I'll see you next episode"
Yael: Yes, he's gonna call Harlo next episode.
Yael: lol at Dom running into Irving at the airport. And he wrote some kind of beach thriller.
Em: That was so weird, too. Not realistic unless it was staged. Also, no way the airport would dedicate an entire stand to his book. No way.
Yael: Did anybody else think it was weird that Dom took what he said at face value?
Yael: Like suddenly machete dude is a reliable narrator? "Oh I guess my life isn't in danger anymore. Got it."
Em: Him not attacking her—inside an airport!—doesn't mean she's free and clear.
After running into him, they should have left the airport. Dark Army would know where they were flying out of, could review camera footage, see the flight, and know where to start tracking them down if they were so inclined.
Yael: And go where?
Em: Any other airport or train station, or preferably outside the U.S.
Yael: I'm trying to think of the most successful high profile runaway plan, and I think it's Tre Arrow. He evaded police for a long time.
Bill: Well, I figure that if they knew they were headed for Logan the Dark Army would have gotten them before that. Think about it: why confront them at Logan?
Em: Oh, agreed. But assuming arguendo it was a random encounter, it was still a bad call to get on the plane because why wouldn't he report that? Dark Army not wanting to kill them actively at the moment, assuming that was true, doesn't mean at all that they wouldn't want the intel about where they were going. Like if you're gonna be paranoid go all the way, lol.
Yael: It also seemed like Dom was totally unprepared for both Leon and Irving.
It seemed a little out of character, though she was pretty shell-shocked. But if she wasn't evading the feds, she could've just reported the run-in to them?
Em: Very shell-shocked, and did she even sleep before the end of the episode?
Yael: You aren't really supposed to fly right after surgery either, I don't think. But I guess it depends on the surgery.
Bill: Apparently as long as she didn't disturb the stitching she would be fine. But you know, people heal quick in TV shows.
Em: I wouldn't think that a long flight would be okay (not that I'm a medic). Air pressure changes, lack of mobility and no chance for medical care if something goes wrong.
Yael: She also left the hospital right away. Not advisable.
Em: Right, yeah. And hadn't slept or taken proper care of herself, as far as I can tell.
Yael: Plus, Darlene destroyed Alexa, so she's all alone.
Em: Highlight of the episode
Bill: Poor Alexa. What did Alexa do to deserve this? (Oh yeah, siphon off everyone's info to Amazon.)
Yael: Alexa was cockblocking Darlene.
Harlo: Alexa knows what she did.
Dom the Recruiter
Yael: lol Darlene working for Cyber Command
Harlo: It's obvious that intelligence is taking a cooler approach to hackers nowadays. I once thought of joining the FBI when I first graduated college (waaaaaaaay back in the day). I filled out the application online, and the last question was, "have you done marijuana in the past three months" (or something similar) and I was LITERALLY smoking a joint at the time. And i answered honestly, because "America" and the form replied, "Try again in seven years.” (Or similar, I forget the actual times.)
Em: I had that issue with a recruiter once, in my former life.
"How much marijuana have you smoked?"
"I can give you a ballpark."
"No I need a number."
"How many joints?"
"That's… that's not how it works. And I don't remember. Everyday for years. It's pain management."
"Okay but how many times?"
"I can't give you an honest answer. Any specific number I give you will be inaccurate."
"No I need a number."
"Okay, grey line it is." lmao
And then I did that and started leaking things, then I left corporate/contractor intel shit and kept on leaking things lol
Harlo: Curious to hear your recruiter story! I had one, but I slept on them. And then they poached my really good friend, and I had to be interviewed (and fucking vetted!) to serve as a reference for the person they ended up hiring.
Em: First recruiter was when I was 17. They basically wanted me to stay at a certain school and then go to the NSA. They offered to make exceptions and let me have a private room, play with Beowulf cluster, all sorts of goodies. But, uh, it was a Christian evangelical university in Texas and TL;DR, they did not like The Queers™️. So I got out of Dodge. The one above was Marines, I think. Which was funny because my roommate was a Marine and he gave my room to his commanding officer while I was out one day.
Harlo: This is interesting! Because their talent pool is sooooooo limited because they're ultimately shitheads, but whatevs. You can be queer, you can do a fuckton of drugs (within reason), you can (insert stuff here).
Em: ..with consent.
Harlo: And you can fucking hack or do OSINT or otherwise be useful.
Yael: lol at Dom thinking Darlene would ever work for Cyber Command. I mean, honestly.
Harlo: Hmmmm. Maybe. I can kinda see it.
Yael: IRL all of FSociety would quit talking to Darlene for being into Dom and call her a snitch and put her on all those "snitches get stitches" web pages. If she went to jail they would cut jail support. She'd get egged in public, etc.
Bill: Yeah running from the feds and then joining them is such a Catch Me if You Can move. Thanks, Frank Abignale.
Yael: But even if she didn't join them, I think Darlene associating with Dom might make her persona non grata.
Em: Could be. A lotta folks in the hacker community still haven't forgiven me for my old life, even though I never acted against any hackers or activists. Tainted for life and constantly snitch jacketed now. Sad, lol.
Harlo: I have been very wrong so far, but I STILL think that Darlene has a snitch streak. I just think she'd be a perfect fed.
Em: I could see her thinking what I did once upon a time (not that I was a fed, I never worked directly for any government agency in any country), that she could be the change she wanted to see.
Yael: The feds wouldn't be able to handle her, though.
Em: Probably not, no.
Yael: Policy is the only government job I can see someone like Darlene working.
Yael: Should we fast forward to the airplane scene? I kind of want to talk about anxiety in general. There was a “hacking your anxiety” talk at CactusCon that I missed but it looked interesting.
Bill: Anxiety can definitely interrupt normal sleep cycles. It doesn't surprise me that's what Darlene is going through, after all she's been through.
Yael: I guess it seemed a little odd to me that she wasn't shown having anxiety attacks sooner.
Em: There was the one anxiety attack we saw in the recap, and mentions of it, but I think we should've seen smaller bouts of anxiety throughout or stuff creeping up on her. I get that after a big op she's more likely to have the breakdown because she's letting go of everything, but…
Yael: Yeah, IDK, maybe it was the final straw for her, but she'd been through way worse before. Angela died, Cisco died, she picked up Elliot from a burning van, etc. IDK. And then the plane thing was so Gift of the Magi. The whole tone of this episode just felt off for the show.
Bill: Yeah, I agree. Very downtempo.