Beyond Fiction: ‘Leave The World Behind’ And The Urgent Call For Cybersecurity Vigilance

In late 2023, a fascinating film titled ‘Leave the World Behind’ emerged on Netflix, creating considerable buzz with its cybersecurity-related themes. The film boasts major stars such as Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Kevin Bacon. Former U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama served as executive producers of the film, which was based upon a novel Obama included on his 2021 summer reading list.

Mainstream films often reflect our society and the issues we face, a topic I’ve explored with a past post on cyber movie favorites. One of the standout aspects of this latest film is its technology-themed transitions from paranoia and Big Brother scenarios to cyber fantasy and cyberattack plotlines. Paranoia, uncertainty, and isolation form the core of this movie, but it all begins with a debilitating, existential cyberattack on the US. In today’s cyber age where we frequently hear about cyber failures and incidents, this fictional attack represents a total impact event that exposes interdependent fragilities that may not have a foundation in reality.

A “What If?” Scenario

Those expecting precise depictions of cybersecurity events may find themselves underwhelmed by the film’s superficial treatment of technical details, and enthusiasts eager for even a rudimentary understanding of the technology involved might feel the film falls short. It’s important to recognize, though, that the general populace, often the victims of significant cyber incidents, typically do not delve into the complexities behind these attacks.

The movie prompts us to consider a range of ‘what if’ and ‘is that realistic?’ questions. A theme previously broached is the potential for a cyberattack to escalate into an actual kinetic conflict. The narrative explores this scenario, depicting a multinational cyber onslaught against the US, a nod to the nation’s intricate and sometimes contentious international engagements. While state-sponsored cyber activities aimed at financial gain, leverage, and strategic advantage are rampant, full-scale existential digital attacks as the film suggests are simply overstated. The global interdependence of economies, investment flows, supply chains, and the looming threat of significant US retaliation make such an all-out digital assault less likely.

Stirring the Pot of Paranoia

The film utilizes paranoia as a crucial element of its emotional allure, underscoring the critical importance of security across all aspects of our lives, from essential utilities to the digital realms we frequent. Echoing the insights from the Colonial Pipeline attack, it highlights how the infrastructure of power stations and water facilities is meticulously designed to deter unauthorized access, along with the rigorous protocols in place at core facilities aimed at thwarting actions that could have a profound impact on society.

‘Leave the World Behind’ serves as a broad appeal, what if scenario that reignites our collective memory of the nuclear age’s fascination with potential apocalyptic events. This movie sidesteps logistical and technical specifics, diving straight into societal fears and reflections on technology. While it may not be a landmark cybersecurity film, it provides a decent measure of entertainment through painting a picture of a hypothetical disaster. In reality security is multifaceted, covering everything from human factors and identity protection to redundancy strategies and political measures. Comprehensive security was a missing factor from this film, and for good reason; without it, it was possible to build the unimaginable scenario depicted.

A Poignant Reminder for Comprehensive Security

‘Leave the World Behind’ not only serves as a thrilling exploration of societal collapse in the face of a catastrophic cyberattack, but also a poignant reminder of the vulnerabilities that pervade our interconnected digital world. While the film delves into the realm of the speculative and pushes the boundaries of what might be technically plausible, it inadvertently underscores the critical necessity for robust, comprehensive cybersecurity measures. The scenarios depicted, though dramatized, highlight the potential consequences of neglecting cybersecurity and in doing so make a compelling case for the importance of concerted efforts to strengthen our defenses against cyber threats. Although an attack of the magnitude portrayed in the movie is unlikely, the underlying message is clear: the need for vigilance, innovation, and collaboration in cybersecurity is more pressing than ever to safeguard our society.

This article was originally published in Forbes, please follow me on LinkedIn.