Watching the Watch Dogs: the ethical hackers protecting our smart cities

3. Zoz Brooks

Occupation: Robotics interface designer and rapid prototyping specialist. Co-founder of Cannytrophic Design in Boston and CTO of BlueSky in San Francisco

Watch Dogs skill: Hacking vehicles

Zoz Brooks

Go home autonomous vehicle, you're drunk

Image credit: DEFCONConference / YouTube

The idea of hacking cars and other vehicles has gained considerable ground in recent years as the number of lines of software code they run on has spiraled into the hundreds of millions.

However, unlike in Watch Dogs where regular cars and trains can be easily hacked and controlled to help Aiden make his escape, a more immediate real-life threat stems from another concept to have gained traction in recent years: autonomous vehicles.

Google has voiced its support for self-driving car technology and wants to get fully-autonomous cars on the road by 2018. In the UK, plans to roll out two seater 'pods' that ferry people around the city centre are planned to be operational in Milton Keynes by 2015.

According to Australian robotics interface designer Zoz, we could be driving around in circles in our attempts to make autonomous vehicles secure - for a number of reasons. Most revolve around the unpredictable nature of the sensors that help such vehicles navigate - from GPS that can be can be jammed, causing vehicles to veer off course - to compasses that can be rendered inaccurate using strong electromagnetic currents.

4. Craig Hefner

Occupation: Security specialist, professional hacker

Watch Dogs skill: Hacking surveillance cameras

Craig Hefner

Craig Hefner: literally watching the Watch Dogs

Image credit: Security Weekly / YouTube

Along with hacking and privacy, surveillance is one of the main themes in Watch Dogs. By tapping into the city's network, you can spy on certain areas of the city, and personal data can be dug up on its citizens allowing you to decide how to approach different missions.

It's no huge surprise to find out that this is already going on in the real world. Earlier this year, ex-National Security Agency employee Craig Hefner uncovered a security vulnerability found in cameras made by D-Link, TrendNet, Cisco and other manufactures that allows attackers to hack into and control them.

By changing a user string (a line in the camera's settings URL code used to access its settings), Hefner was able to gain access without a password.

Like something out of a Hollywood-style plot, the "zero day" vulnerabilities applied to cameras found in banks, businesses, hotels and casinos. Hefner revealed his findings at the Black Hat Security Conference in Las Vegas, inspiring several Oceans Eleven-style heists in the process (probably).

5. Ralph Langer

Occupation: Security expert

Watch Dogs skill: Hacking public infrastructure

Ralph Langer

Stuxnet was a deadly cyber attack that has been described by some as the "blockbuster of malware".

Launched in 2011, it targeted Windows machines running a certain type of Siemens software found in Iranian nuclear power centres. Because the attack exploited four separate zero-day vulnerabilities (ones with no known fix), it was able to cause centrifuges used to enrich uranium to spin rapidly to the point of destruction.

In Watch Dogs, Aiden doesn't quite possess such devastating abilities to disrupt nuclear operations, but he can rupture steam pipes connected to the city's network by overloading them with pressure, causing them to squirt hot water at his enemies. Ouch.

Concerns around hacking public infrastructure are growing every day, and it's down to security researchers such as Ralph Langer to make sure the world's biggest water systems and other public infrastructure are safe from hackers.

Langer has written the most in-depth analysis of Stuxnet that's available today, delving into the attack in incredible detail. If we ever needed a go-to guy to stop Aiden Pearce hacking our water pipes, Langer would be it.

Kane Fulton
Kane has been fascinated by the endless possibilities of computers since first getting his hands on an Amiga 500+ back in 1991. These days he mostly lives in realm of VR, where he's working his way into the world Paddleball rankings in Rec Room.