Security 'Geek' Advised New Harrison Ford Movie

The founder of a managed security services firm was on-set for three weeks, acting as technical adviser for Ford's new movie, "Firewall," which opened Friday and involves a high-tech bank heist.

Gregg Keizer, Contributor

February 9, 2006

3 Min Read

Self-professed "geek" Lawrence Levine was in hog heaven for the three weeks he worked on the set of the Harrison Ford thriller "Firewall," which opens Friday.

"I mean, how often does a security geek get to hang out with Harrison Ford? He's Han Solo and Indiana Jones!" said Levine, co-founder and current chairman of SecurePipe, an Illinois-based managed security services firm that specializes in working with financial organizations.

Levine took the job of technical advisor to the production after a freelance writer who had interviewed him a year earlier called and said she was working on a script for a thriller that involved a sophisticated hack attack on a bank's millions.

In "Firewall," Ford plays Jack Stanfield, security chief for a Seattle-based bank who is forced to topple his own security safeguards and steal $100 million after his family is kidnapped by vicious robbers.

Levine read through the script numerous times, made suggestions, recommended changes, spent more than three weeks on the Vancouver, British Columbia set, and even made a quick cameo-style appearance in the film.

"They said it was going to be about a computer-based bank robbery, and I said, whatever it is you want, I'm there," said Levine.

So how accurately does Firewall portray security systems, hackers, and electronic criminals?

Levine sidestepped the question. "It makes for a great movie.

"They don't say 'take liberties' in Hollywood. I learned a new word there. 'Conceit.' I thought I knew what Hollywood meant when it said 'conceit,' but I was wrong."

Conceit is the term sometimes used by writers to refer to a story device that stretches reality to the point where it -- ironically enough -- is believed by the reader or movie audience.

"This isn't a documentary, you know," acknowledged Levine. But he tried.

"I tried to help them get things that were pretty far-fetched as close to reality as possible while still making a good movie," he said. He's particularly proud of one scene, in which Ford looks over the shoulder of a young security associate who is peering at a computer screen looking at intrusion detection system (IDS) alerts. "This young fellow recognizes that there's an attempted hack of the bank's defenses going on, a pretty sophisticated hack. Ford pushes him out of the way, sits down, and eventually writes what looks like a Snort rule.

"I knew that my peers would be looking at it, and I tried to help [the filmmakers] make it as realistic as they could," said Levine.

The film's timing couldn’t be better -- coming off a 2005 packed with news of identity theft, the growing criminalization of hacking, and massive data thefts -- but Levine's convinced it wasn't coincidence.

"Even though the production started in 2004, the producers saw the wave of identity theft coming hard and strong then. It's not just coincidence that ["Firewall"] plays off a topical subject."

What was most interesting -- and ultimately realistic -- Levine concluded, was the portrayal of modern banks and the shifting image of bank robbers. "This movie sends a message that crime is changing. It's the first to truly blend electronic crime and bank robbery."

In the end, however, Levine walked away from his time on the picture with a feeling more in tune with a star-struck fan than a nationally-known security expert.

"The experience was…surreal," he said.

But in a good way.

See a humorous video review of "Firewall."

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