Updated: January 31, 2009
In the late 80s and early 90s, lots of sci-fi movies have been made, all trying to entertain us with the dark portrayal of the uncertain future. In those days, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the apocalyptic appeal of year 2000 certainly had their weight on the tone of movies created.
However, there's one movie that outshines all others in its sci-fi quality, a not well known or seen-twice movie called Wedlock. There's nothing phenomenal about this movie that should merit either a praise or a ridicule, except one thing: the futuristic prison concept introduced.
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In Wedlock, the prisons are no longer buildings enclosed in barbed wire and closely watched by armed guards. Instead, the security is maintained by placing explosive collars on each inmate and paired them to a second device worn by another prisoner. The devices are activated by a proximity fuse - or rather un-proximity fuse. If the two paired prisoners get apart more than 100 yards, the devices get armed and detonate, killing the persons wearing them. And so, the collars - called wedlocks - effectively keep the inmates in place.
There are many, many flaws in this concept, making a potentially OK movie into a sludge. Let's review just a few.
The two devices must communicate in some way - most likely radio or another form of EM radiation. Which brings about the question of the strength and quality of signal, as succinctly explained by Shannon in 1948. The EM radiation transmitters and receivers can be easily jammed, allowing prisoners to get away - or simply blow everyone up. In fact, this is not much unlike the Wi-Fi security for laptops or routers, when you think about it.
For every lock, there's a locksmith, enough said. And since the futuristic devices have a fancy digital lock with flashing LEDs, it only beckons that a hacker should try to SSH (or something of the sort) into this little thingie and try to bring it down with brute force attacks. Or even simply exploit vulnerabilities in firmware. Let's face it. They are not bringing the inmates in for monthly updates, are they?
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In the movie, all the prisoners huddle together, in fear of getting too far apart and blowing themselves up. This is because they do not know who their lucky counterpart is. But this is such a simple experiment. Especially since the collars start beeping whenever the dangerous distance threshold is being (sic) approached. Therefore, all the inmates need to do is a simple elimination test. One at a time, they should walk away from the group. One of the people in the group should have his collar flashing and beeping soon. Since the devices are uniquely paired, the identification is simple.
If I were the designer of the collar, I would make sure the pairs changed randomly, just like transaction IDs are randomized in many modern applications (DNS, secure Web) to prevent prediction and birthday attacks. But that's just me.
Furthermore, we have seen that the inmates are safe while they're together. So why not stay together? All the prisoners need to do is keep in a tight group - and walk away from the prison. Then, once they get away to a safehouse or something of the sort, they can start picking at the devices in their free time.
I'm sure that many people were impressed by this concept - and so was I, at the time. Today, the doomsday of the year 2000 is behind us and so is the menace of apocalyptic future. If there's anything we should worry about, it's getting stupid - not collared with digital Claymores.