Untraceable was Quite Traceable

I a am sucker for techno-trillers so the plot for Untraceable intrigued me. It was not enough to get me to go to the theater to see it but I did rent it from NetFlix when it came out on DVD. From the advertisements I knew that it was a cross between Saw and Seven. I liked Diane Lane in her FBI character. I’m not sure why we had to see her three times in the shower. Was there some symbolism there that I missed? Perhaps it was her character’s way to feel clean? The bad guy who we do not get to meet until the end of the move was broadcasting live video on his web site to an ever-increasing number of viewers. The characters go into a description early on in the film as to why the web site is untraceable. The FBI agent receiving this explanation responds “I have no idea what you just said’. The description was relatively plausible.

What they claim is that the bad guy has control over a botnet. This bot net has infiltrated many unsuspecting computers via a freely downloadable game that even our hero’s kid was enticed into downloading. Do not you have a very large botnet that even a cyber-crime FBI agent does not know how to spot.

Next they say that the bad guy has set his TTL very low. They never say how low. My experience is that some DNS servers reject really low TTL value (Microsoft DNS for example). Lets assume just a few seconds. If DNS server would allow it that would mean that every DNS query would be thrown away almost as soon as the connection was made.

They also tell us that the DNS servers are in Russia and of course our FBI agents have no jurisdiction. Since the bad guy is intentionally blocking international viewer to his web site the NSA claims they cannot get involved. Did anyone call the Russian ISP? I would think they would want to not be on the international stage. Also it would seem to me that a call to ICANN would disable the .com and take the DNS out of the loop.

So let’s pretend that the DNS is updating every second. So now we need a video client that can dynamically switch data sources. This could be accomplished if every viewer was also a transmitter of that data. Security aside this is the only way that there would be enough bandwidth to maintain.

Technology aside the plot was very predictable. There were no twists. You have bad thing happen after bad thing. The FBI plods through the evidence. There was very little originality. For instance at one point the bad guy is using heat lamps as a deadly weapon. They thought they new where the bad guy was and were rushing to get there. Why not cut power to that whole neighborhood. That’s what Luke Skywalker would have done – “shut them all down”.

Diane Lane’s character did do something that I wish we would see other thrillers – send her family away. You know the bad guy is coming after you, you make sure your family is safe. Her boss tried to do that with her.

In the end the movie was pretty good. If you like thrillers like Seven then you’ll like this one. Don’t worry about the technology too much but at least it got the basic technology right — better than Die Hard IV or Swordfish for example. Enjoy it as a rental.

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