16 December is important in the “annals” of Hindi movie history, particularly in its depiction of cybersecurity and technology.
Directed by the legendary “Mani Shankar”, not to be confused with the more legendary “Mani Shankar Aiyar-gapped”, 16 December is a techno-thriller in the genre of “Waqt Humara Hai” (of Krypton bombs and fuse conductors), but with a focus on cybersecurity.Now cybersecurity would go on to become a staple of Hindi movies in a few years, be it Neil Nitin Mukesh in Players escalating his privilege on trusted assets with breathy moans of “Open the Web, Baibaah” or Bobby Deol cracking bank passwords (the password being “everything is planned”, the motto of the 2nd Planning Commission) in Ajnabee. However, 16 December was the among the first ones (along with Captain Vijaykanth using Windows Media Player to hack into secure systems) to seriously look at the interplay between a digital future and cyber-warfare. Or as its Wikipedia entry says “The team is equipped with hi-tech equipment such as mini spy cameras, computers, internet and other communication devices.”
For those who have not seen 16 December, and honestly I don’t know why not, a brief overview. Dost Khan, the dreaded Pakistani terrorist of the organization “Kala Khanjaar” has hatched an evil plan to decimate India. Arrayed against him are a team of Indian techno-military operatives, whose military chops are attested to by their use of militarese throughout like “Alpha one to Romeo three” and their technology expertise established by them being equipped with the internet, a military team led by Danny-playing-a-good-guy and Milind-Soman-with-his-clothes-on.
In the climax, Dost Khan is captured but he has kept a missile which will helpfully launch itself if it is not deactivated by a secret password. Milind Soman takes help of a precocious little boy with a laptop, the “Wolf Gupta” of his times for whom venture capitalists fight in the mohalla, a boy with rad hacking skills. He connects his laptop to the missile by what seems to be a VGA cable (nuclear missiles presumably come standard with VGA, because otherwise how can you share the screen in a conference room), and immediately the hacking is done. The code comes on-screen and it helpfully declares its provenance (the USSR), and then tells us that the code is implemented in FORTRAN and machine language. Note if this was an Indian missile, this would have been implemented in COBOL, so the attention to detail is commendable. But the FORTRAN declaration is a trap, because when you scroll down, the code is actually HTML. One would have expected Dost Khan to use C++ friend (Dost is friend after all) functions, but then that would have been too predictable.
The code to control a missile being in HTML is nefarious agreed, but the Russians don’t know how to hash their passwords (they are too busy doing exploits on Solarwinds to care for such trivialities), which is why the boy wonder immediately stumbles upon the secret code.
It is “dulhan ki bidaai ka waqt badalna hai”, not to be confused with the password in Dhadkan “dulhan ka toh dil deewana lagta hai”. Note the modern practice of using a pass-phrase as opposed to a password like “badman123” or the more obvious “dil garden garden ho gya” and if you thought the password can be typed in and the missile de-activated, then obviously you have been spoiled by watching James Bond movies.
In real life missile control situations, there needs to be multiple factors of authentication–not just “something you know” but also “something you are”. Wolf Gupta figures out that the password needs to be said in Dost Khan’s voice, perhaps (and this is my conjecture) because the HTML tag said <voice main bolo>.
So, with the clock ticking away, Danny uses mind games to make the baddy say the pass-words out loud, and one may wonder why would the guy, otherwise an evil genius, fall for this transparent ruse knowing fully well that they are trying to make him say the password, but no one really knows these things: why no one doesn’t just shoot James Bond in the head or why Pakistanis selected Imam ul Haque to open against India in the World Cup. Dost Khan says the words, and the Wolf Gupta boy pulls up audio editing software (after all all hacking distros have them), puts the words together and sends the audio back over the VGA connection to the missile, thus once again, spoiling the sinister plot of techno-terrorists.
December 16 comes every year, but they don’t make em like 16 December any more