Given that the dude spends plenty of time jacked into the Matrix, at risk of being captured by the Agents, why does he have access codes to Zion mainframe in his head?

Why aren't they on some flash drive activated by his brainwaves/voice print/iris scan etc... safely offline from the matrix?

  • 1
    The agents should have given Cobb a ring, and saved themselves two painful sequels.
    – Jared
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 22:22
  • 3
    lol, I don't think the Wachowskis brothers did much work in actual IT security. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 23:25
  • He could just as easily be taken outside the matrix, either way they have to torture him for the information. A fact that's illustrated in the first movie.
    – user4963
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 0:35
  • 6
    @MarkRogers is close. I don't think the Wachowski Brothers really knew a thing about computers or any science that would effect believability of this movie.
    – Tango
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 1:11
  • 1
    Considering that the machines had got very good at destroying Zion (according to The Architect), why did they need the codes at all?
    – Jaydee
    Commented Jan 27, 2015 at 14:39

7 Answers 7


The first movie made a point of showing that the machines couldn't just hack some poor slob's brain. Smith spends considerable time and energy trying to torture the information out of Morpheus.

A hard-copy can be accessed with enough time and energy. It's a physical device the Machines could work on. As is, if Morpheus dies, the codes die with him. That's pretty secure.

But in the end it was all moot, since they just knocked down a wall.

  • 2
    Also consider that a physical device would be much more easily accessible by malicious insiders like Cypher. Think of what might have happened after Dozer was killed and while Tank was disabled. (Or, for that matter, during just about any time when most of the other crew was asleep.) Cypher could have stolen the physical media and uploaded it into the Matrix, and it would have been game over right then.
    – Iszi
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 3:46
  • Great point. Cypher is also another example of needing to coerce info out of the humans, since they had to wine and dine him to get his help.
    – user4963
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 14:34
  • That's more of a behavioral coercion, not informational.
    – Iszi
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 14:53

Given the example of Cypher, I would argue that physical stored access codes would not be necessarily more secure. A biometrically protected device is only as good as no one's using physical force to show your eye, finger, etc, to the scanner, and a safe itself can still be stolen and broken into manually. Keep the codes in his head means he is at the same risk of being captured, but the device itself cannot be stolen.

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    The codes could have been stored on a drive encrypted with a passphrase Morpheus had memorized. Then you'd need both the encrypted drive and the passphrase.
    – cjm
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 22:47
  • 1
    @cjm a passphrase is just a password, which isn't anymore secure than your gmail. As for the drive, way easier to steal that than kidnap a person, and what happens if the ship gets shot down? Like it did. If he dies at least it dies with him.
    – user4963
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 0:37

Always remember that the Matrix is a visualization only - it's not real. When Smith tortures Morpheus, we see Morpheus sweat but he doesn't sweat on board of his ship. It's just a visualization of him struggling against the attack.

So when they say "codes", that doesn't necessarily mean a pin code. It can mean an idea or an image which Morpheus has to think in his real brain which the "mainframe" (which probably doesn't look like anything we'd recognize) accepts. It could be a blue elephant. In this scenario, Smith tells Morpheus "think of a blue elephant" so his probes can copy the "code" and Morpheus tries to avoid just that.

Maybe the agents try to copy important memories from Morpheus which the mainframe will recognize. That could be a couple of sentences which they told each other or some event they shared.

That said, the "reality" in which Zion "exists" might be just another level of the Matrix. I don't know whether Morpheus is aware of this (in the theory, Neo is but only when the Architect tells him). In this scenario, the access codes are purely virtual as is Zion, the ship, the farm in which Neo wakes up, the devastated surface of the earth, everything - the actors never really wake up.

If you think about it from this angle, then all the information which we have is pretty shaky: If a body can never be removed from the real Matrix, then the connectors could be looking completely different. Maybe Neo and the others are just brains floating in jars.

The more interesting question here is probably: If Morpheus never really left the Matrix, why do the machines have to bother to get the codes from him?

If this is true, the "codes" are just a hoax to keep the humans in Zion occupied.

  • This answer should be split in two so debatable interpretations or theories about the outer matrices are not incorporated into an otherwise interesting and actually unrelated concept.
    – n611x007
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 7:01
  • Improved my answer. Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 7:08

Because its the most secure and reliable way to store the codes

Here's why:

  • A pen drive could be copied and given to the machines, nobody would know that Zion needs to change the code. (Very bad).
  • Any physical storage like a safe can be forced open (Bad, but at least someone may notice: unless they are all dead, and the ships been shot down)
  • The codes might be salvageable by the machines if the ship is shot down (Again bad, as nobody would know the machines have the code).
  • Any spies could coerce Morpheus into giving them access. (Same problem as captured, just that it happens in the real world, at this point the crew is probably dead, so again nobody can warn Zion).
  • Any bio-metric security would be useless in a world where machines can create a 3D world, and full digital being down to every cell in the body. If they can make the matrix, copying a iris, voice-print, brainwave pattern, fingerprints, ect would be easy to do (even in the real world, for the machines this is child-play for them)

All very good reasons not to physically store the code: And here's why its a very good idea to memorize it instead. If captured in the matrix the crew has options

  • Disconnect him: kills him and gets rid of the code.
  • Send message to Zion to change that code (Which would kill him as they would have to descend to be in range of Zion, so his connection to the matrix would be severed anyway). Again this kills Morpheus. Read here for more info on this
  • At least the crew knows the codes are at risk the moment hes captured. (Its not like you could just copy it without anyone knowing).

So in conclusion, its is the best and safest way. This assumes that there must be a reason why a ships captain has to know the code. The only reason this scene makes it look like a huge security weakness is because of the dilemma, the crew don't want to kill him. Other than that it isn't a problem and is very secure. If he did reveal the codes the crew could still unplug him, fly FAST to get in range of Zion and warn them. Any other method of storage could allow the machines to get the code without anyone noticing!

Also one last thing. The machines don't want to destroy Zion yet anyway, so they don't need the code. Its more likely the Agents weren't aware of the Architect plans, or were working towards it by their actions somehow. Read this for more on this plan


Suppose they keep it on a pendrive instead... How long would it take for a traitor to copy the pendrive image, give it to the agents and wait until the Machine Mainframe cracks the encryption?


I'm a bit late to this party, but interesting to read the responses to this.

The codes did not matter, they are merely the Maguffin that propels the story (agents chase Morpheous etc, agents capture Morpheous, Neo comes to rescue etc).

The machines had no need of codes, they are merely playing their part in the program to bring about THE ONE so they can start their attack on Zion (as they have done 5 times previously).

When Neo becomes THE ONE, the machines don't follow the people back to Zion to locate it, they launch an army of big digging machines to drill straight down and past Zion's defences (implying they knew where it was all along and how to bypass the defences). As the architect says they have attacked Zion and the ONE 5 times before and are efficient at it.

The old tech driving Zion shows that it remains between "rounds" of the resistance/ONE game. Once attacked the ONE and the 7 men/16 women go to the source, no doubt to return later (probably years) as part of the program of control.

The codes are there to give the agents/rebels something to do whilst they await the discovery of THE ONE.


This is, in my opinion the biggest plot hole in the whole movie. Not only was it unnecessary for him to have the codes memorised, I take this a step further.

When Morpheus is captured the rest of the crew gets ready to unplug him before he could reveal the codes. But think about it... does it really matter if the agents get access to the codes? If the code is leaked to the machines, simply change them on the mainframe.

Unless the access codes are somehow "hardcoded" into the mainframe (which would be an incredibly stupid design) you can simply change them as necessary.

  • Would you mind to elaborate further? Assuming they really do use one time pads, Morpheus would need to use a new one each time the ship enters Zion. This means he would need to memorize quite a few one time pads which is very unlikely.
    – cen
    Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 20:29
  • that's the point. It's easy to have a set of rotating passwords. Having a set of rotating one time pads for repmotely operated units away from home base is a bigger deal. This is from real world, not in-universe. Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 22:14

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