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Robert G. Ferrell Originally published in serial format, 9/2000 - 2/2002 Episode One: No Place to Hide After six tedious hours in Human Resources, filling out more forms than it took to draft the Treaty of Versailles, Jake was finally sitting in the computer room at the console of his new Sun Ultra 10 workstation. He was the systems administrator and monarch of all he surveyed. The room thrummed with the activity of packets fluttering to and fro like little digital moths around a digital streetlight. He could feel in this room the very electronic heartbeat of Acme Ailerons, his new employer. Every byte of data generated by the company was stored here, and he was the caretaker. He took a minute just to sit back, close his eyes, and feel the power surging though his veins. Life was good. Jake was not exactly new to systems administration. He'd been doing similar work for several years at other companies, usually because he was the only person with enough computer aptitude to survive sysadmin training. But this time things were different: he was officially the Systems Administrator, with an office and everything. He was legit. He had several flavors of *NIX, an NT server farm, and a fair collection of networking and remote access equipment. It was all his to rule. To top it all off, they actually paid him to rule it. How much happier could he get? * * * * *
Halfway across the country, Ian sat and stared at the keyboard of his recently cobbled-together Linux machine. He'd built it of parts scavenged, scrounged, and begged from friends. The monitor was an old 14 inch CRT that had an annoying tendency to quiver around the edges until it got good and warmed up. Sometimes, just for variety, it would get out of sync with itself and flash like a strobe, only without any discernible sense of rhythm. This made Ian a little surly. He had recently turned 15, and he felt it was high time he established himself as a hacker. Most of his friends spent their free hours defacing each other's Web sites and playing Quake over the Internet; Ian had higher aspirations. He longed to be a member of the elite hacker club "The BroadBandits." The trouble was, the Bandits wouldn't give him the time of day until he proved himself worthy. Armed with several root kits and a port scanner his best friend had hacked from nmap, bolstered by a six pack of heavily caffeinated sodas and a dozen gooey candy bars, Ian set out to find an unlocked door. * * * * *
The first thing I need to do, thought Jake, is to figure out just what I've got here and how I can best monitor it all from a central console. He was primarily a UNIX kind of guy, so he dug around and found a copy of some software that would let him connect to and monitor the NT boxen from his Sun station. After a couple of hours of mapping IP addresses and hostnames, setting permissions, and banging around on the interface,
he finally succeeded in coming up with a display he could live with. He hummed a happy little sysadmin tune. Next he decided to do an audit of the applications and services running on each box, as well as establish what sort of file sharing architecture was in place. "Looks like NFS and some Novell," Jake mumbled as he crawled through the directory services trees. A few leaves fluttered to the floor as he did; he pushed them under his desk with one foot. By the time he was relatively confident that he understood the directory services on his systems, it was after 5 PM. Jake decided not to overdo it on his first day, so he threw some policy manuals in his briefcase, gave his loyal cybersubjects one final adoring, yet nobly commanding, glance, and headed out the door. There was a new first person action game he couldn't wait to dig into on his PC at home. * * * * *
It was about 4:30 PM by the cheap digital alarm clock that glowed redly in Ian's darkened bedroom. He had just come back from eating something that probably would have seemed to an outside observer to be lunch, although Ian himself considered it breakfast. During the summer his internal clock went on its own schedule, rendering references to traditional mealtimes (and, it must be said, menus) approximations at best. He sat at his Linux terminal and stared fixedly at the monitor. He was feeling a little sleepy, despite the fact that he had only been up for 45 minutes, and a nap was surely in the offing. But first, time to pick a new subnet and let sniff the dogs of war. He glanced over an alphabetical list of possible targets. Discarding several of the "A's" as being either too boring or too potentially problematic, he settled on "Acme Ailerons." "Sounds like a wiener," he mumbled as he typed in the IP range. "Let's see what they've got under the hood." Ian stayed long enough to watch the initial connection being made, the trudged across the room and flopped down bonelessly on his mind-bogglingly disarrayed bed. As Ian snored softly, back in CPU-land the scanner was churning away like a madman. # Found clueless box! # Starting nmap_hack script... # nmap_hack sS flaps.acmeailerons.com o scan_txt m scan_delim D ./decoys1,ME,./decoys2 # Interesting ports on flaps.acmeailerons.com Port 21 23 25 State Protocol open open open tcp tcp tcp Service ftp telnet smtp
110 135 139
open open open
tcp tcp tcp
pop3 locsrv netbiosssn
Awake from his nap but still a little groggy, Ian ambled back over to da box and popped up the scanner log file. He whistled hoarsely through his teeth as he glanced over the data, then stopped short, with a sharp intake of breath. "Houston, we've got a possible luser here," he chuckled. A few minutes later he started a null session with the remote NT box, and a few minutes after that he had a nice list of user IDs to play with. He plugged this intelligence into his favorite brute force password cracker and was rewarded in less than half an hour with the admin account. "Mmmmmm," he purred, "Just like candy from a baby." Ian bopped around in the directory tree of the owned NT box for a while. He didn't have any real objectives, other than to document his victory for the sake of the Bandits. He suddenly had an urge to scope some mail. After a couple of hours of reading employee gossip, messages to stock brokers, and even a few technical communications about ailerons that he didn't really understand, Ian had a mischievous thought. He took an email sent by one of the auditing assistants to a friend which spelled out in the clearest possible terms the secret crush she had on a metallurgist and put it in the inbox of the object of her clandestine affections. It then occurred to Ian to slap a "blind cc" in the header of the message, so that it would look as though the author had sent the message herself, by accident. Giggling with evil joy at the mental image of the brouhaha that would undoubtedly ensue the next morning, Ian grabbed a few system files to prove he'd been there, left a hidden but not too hidden calling card (U w3r3 0wN3d by iR8 d0g), and cleaned up after himself. It was, after all, time for "Doctor Who." * * * * *
The next morning dawned bright and clear. By 7:00 AM Jake was comfortably ensconced in his 'command chair' in the computer room. He scanned logs and diagnostics from the previous night, but saw nothing particularly noteworthy. Yes, the /var partition on one of the Unix boxes was almost full from a messages log that hadn't been trimmed, as far as he could tell, during the last two presidential administrations. There was also a rather substantial error log on one of the NT boxes generated by an unruly piece of code that slipped out of a development environment and flopped around for a while loose on the intranet, but otherwise things looked fairly peachy. It wasn't until early afternoon that the first hint that something wasn't right reared its ravenous beak. By this time the fallout from the previous evening's musical emails had begun to spread hoary little tendrils of chaos throughout the highly organized Gossip Distribution System (GDS) in place at A.A. Half of the Materials Engineering group
wasn't speaking to the other half, Accounting & Auditing had barricaded themselves in their offices and were lobbing cream cheese Danishes at anyone who came too close, and the Vice President for Human Resources had developed a noticeable nervous tic just below her left eye. It was only a matter of time before the IT department became involved. It happened at 2:17 PM. Bob, the CIO, got a terse phone call from the Accounting Department Manager (with whom he had never really clicked), who stated rather flatly that she thought that someone in IT had been deliberately tampering with the internal email system. Bob took a deep breath and leaned as far back in his chair as he could without actually falling over. "Now, why would anyone want to mess around with your email, Doris?" he asked, in his most innocent voice. "Don't you patronize me, you overpaid geek," Doris shot back, "It wasn't my email, it was one of my people's. A person who shouldn't have gotten a personal email she sent to someone else got it anyway and read it, and now both of them have gone home sick." Bob thought about this for a moment. "Maybe they're just sick of being at work," he started, but Doris cut him off, "Can the comedy and fix the problem." "All right, all right," answered Bob, in a hurt tone, "How do you know she didn't send this email out herself, accidentally?" There was a palpably exasperated pause at the other end of the line. "Honey, you don't make mistakes with the kind of email I'm talking about." Bob made a little smacking noise with his lips. "I see. I suppose raising the issue of whether or not sending that sort of email is a proper use of company resources in the first place would be futile at this point." "I'll worry about that. You worry about which one of your geeky little robots has been playing with the mail." "I'll look into it." "Damn right you will. I've already called Mr. Averson." The phone went silent. Bob sighed. Averson was the Executive Vice President for Operations. "Goodbye, Doris," he said to the handset, "Hope your AC shuts down." His other line lit up as he was putting down the receiver. The LCD panel read "Averson, Nathaniel." Bob sighed again and picked up the phone. "Hello, Mr. Averson," he said brightly. "What can I do for you?"
Lunch had gone surprisingly well. Jake didn't make a habit of leaving the building for lunch; in fact, he usually never even left his computer. Today, however, some of the IT folks had decided to go check out a new restaurant and had invited him along. He felt that he should mingle at least enough to get to know his new co-workers, so he pried himself away from the console and went with them. The food was good, the company cordial, and all in all he was feeling pretty mellow as he logged back into his console. He noticed a few messages in his inbox with some rather disturbing subject lines, but before he could open one, he felt someone looking at him. Jake swivelled around in his chair to see Bob standing there. "Hi Jake," said Bob, "We need to talk." The postmortem wasn't pretty. It didn't take Jake too long to find Ian's 'calling card' once he had reason to suspect a breakin. The damage done to files and data was minimal; a quick reload of some things from tape and a little testing and Jake felt fairly confident that the status quo had been restored, systems-wise. No, the real complications stemmed from the social aspects of the assault. People were, for the first time, doubting the security of their mail and, by extension, their data. Once congenial pairs of eyes now squinted and frowned at one another in passing. Someone in the company was a spy, a voyeur with sadistic tendencies. It could be anyone. No one could be trusted. All because some snot-nosed kid had broken into their mail server and pulled a childish prank. It was obvious that some serious securing of servers was needed here, and this was one area where Jake quite frankly didn't have a lot of experience. He sat down heavily at his desk and stared dully at the pile of books with words like "Security" and "Firewall" in their titles he had brought back from the local computer bookstore. He chose one at random and opened it. "A fundamental tenet of information security is controlling access to the critical resources that require protection from unauthorized modifications or disclosure." It was going to be a long night.
Episode Two: Raising the Stakes Douglas sat at a test bench overflowing with wires, probes, and electronic components and stared fixedly at an oscilloscope tracing. He was a model of intense concentration; every nerve fiber dedicated to the task at hand. He swiveled in his chair and reached to his right for a waiting mouse. Moving the mouse slightly and typing with two fingers of his left hand, he brought up a new screen. A couple of clicks later, he watched as the computer painted a complex wire frame image of the flight system he was modeling. He swung around even further to the right and typed a few characters on a second keyboard. There was a pause of perhaps five seconds, at the end of which Douglas winced as though he had stepped on a thumbtack on the way to the bathroom at night. The screen of the second computer went solid blue. He pounded on the desk in consternation and briefly considered attacking the offending machine with an eight ounce ball peen hammer. Realizing the utter futility of this gesture (eight ounce wasn't the right sized hammer for this job), he sat back and exhaled sharply. Suddenly a phone list posted on the wall near his workstation caught his eye. "Network Operations, Jake speaking," said Jake mechanically into the receiver. He was involved in reading a book about firewalls and not really paying much attention to anything else. "Hey dude," came a husky voice from the earpiece, "This is Douglas in Systems Engineering. Dude, my NT machine locked up in the middle of a sim run. Can you scoot up here and give it mouth-to-mouth?" "Oh, sure. Be there in a minute," Jake replied absently. "Cool. I'm in 6D34. Thanks." A little mental termite set up housekeeping in one corner of Jake's brain and began to gnaw at his gray matter, until he gave up trying to ignore it and jerked himself away from IP chains. He suddenly realized that he had promised to go help someone with something. Someone in the SE Group. On the sixth floor somewhere, he seemed to remember. He tried to replay the conversation in his mind, but mostly all he got was static and stuff about packet filtering. Oh well, Jake thought, at least I know what floor he was on. I think... After a few minutes of popping into random offices and bewildering people with questions about their computer problems (most of them replied with some variant of "Yes, I am having trouble. How did you know?" His stock answer to this question was, "It's my job to know"), Jake finally stumbled into Douglas coming back from the restroom. "Dude, you made it," said Douglas brightly. "Uh, yeah, piece o'cake. What's your problem?"
"Blue screen of death," Douglas replied wryly, "Revenge of the nerd." Jake rolled his eyes, "Yeah, you probably asked it to divide by something that wasn't an integer. I'll take a look." * * * * *
Bob put down Jake's report on the security incident and sighed. He was visualizing the fight he was going to get from the other area managers when he asked for an increase in the IT budget to cover computer security measures. Ed in Facilities would bring up his tired and basically irrelevant argument that computers were just furniture and should be under his department. Brigid in Engineering Ops would argue that new workstations for her engineers were more important than "network band-aids." Doris in Accounting would no doubt try to cloud the issue with her overdramatized rendition of the recent security faux pas and its effect on email integrity (although Bob thought he might be able to engineer a little favorable spin doctoring on that one). He wasn't sure how Vijay in Assets Protection would figure into the picture. Physical security folks tended to be a little too hard-nosed about limiting access to computers, in Bob's experience, but past encounters had hinted that Vijay was fairly enlightened in this respect. * * * * *
Ian slammed the door to his room shut, threw the deadbolt, and tossed his backpack onto the rumpled bed. Today hadn't been a good day, by any standard. Not only had he barely passed an algebra test he thought he was going to ace, but the girl who had seemed interested in him for the past couple of weeks suddenly and mysteriously blew him off for an asinine baseball jock. To top it all off, his acne was now officially worse than ever. He felt rejected and belittled at every turn. Ah, but he was home now. The world played by his rules here in this room. He flipped several switches and watched as his computer system, the electronic scepter and diadem with which he ruled his empire, scrolled and flashed its way into life. TO: firstname.lastname@example.org FROM: email@example.com SUBJECT: Re: AA Hack >Herez the password file to pr0ve I g0t in. >How ab0ut it? I'd like t0 be a Bbandit cauz I think u >dudez rul3. S0rry, d0g. It takes more than a luser m$ hack to be 31337. The Bandits rul3 cause we're smarter than the f3dz or the so-called security 3xp3rtz. Mayb3 when u gr0w up someday. dEatHdR0id Ian sat slack jawed at his computer, stunned and outraged and crushed all at the same instant. Someone was going to pay for this insult, and pay dearly. He was through
playing around. * * * * *
Jake wandered around the engineering lab while Douglas ran a few test simulations on the newly resurrected NT box. No point in trotting off too soon and having to come all the way back up here to do it again. He felt pretty confident that the service pack he had downloaded and installed would solve the problem, but better safe than sorry. In one corner of the lab Jake discovered a large white sealed box with windows and a console with two joysticks and the odd switch or two on the front. Peering through the darkened windows, Jake saw two mechanical arms, each with two fully articulated fingers. He fiddled with one of the joysticks and watched the arm inside move correspondingly. A few minutes later he was completely engrossed in moving the little claws back and forth when suddenly Douglas' voice spoke just behind his right ear. "Having fun?" Jake was so startled that he almost broke off one of the joysticks. "Jeez, man, where'd you learn to sneak up on people like that?" "Dunno. Guess it's my Native American blood. Like my clean box?" "Is that what this is?" Jake was still breathing a little heavily, but he wasn't shaking quite so much now. "What do you use it for?" "Here, I'll show you." Douglas flipped a couple of switches; a fan roared to life and bright light flooded the box. He operated the joysticks deftly and opened a little metal container. Inside was a small semiconductor chip embedded in a complex framework of wire supports and miniature tubing that fed down into the base of the container. Directly above the box was a sort of turret with several cylinders of different diameters and lengths protruding from it. It resembled the objective lens part of a microscope. Douglas reached up and pulled down what looked like the front half of a pair of binoculars that had been nestling unseen in a sheltered alcove above the windows. These were attached to an arm that could pivot freely on several axes. Douglas brought them down in front of his eyes and peered into them while he manipulated the mechanical arms with very fine movements of the joysticks. "Here," he said after about a minute, "Take a look at this." Jake raised the eyepieces just a bit (he was slightly taller than Douglas) and brought them to his face. He saw a greatly enlarged image of the chip. A protective covering of some sort was peeled back to reveal what looked like a regularly spaced array of bubbles on the chip's surface. Each of the bubbles seemed to contain a tiny drop of water with things swimming around in it. "This is wild!" Jake exclaimed, "Looks like little fish ponds or something." "That's a project I'm working on with NeoBiologica. It's a controller chip with special
genetically engineered embedded bacteria." "Cool. What are these bacteria supposed to do?" "They act as environmental sensors, in this case. Temperature, salinity, and oxygen content. When those parameters change, the bacteria adjust their microenvironment and that affects the resistivity of the surrounding matrix. Sort of a reactive variable semiconductor." "Freaky stuff. What good is it?" "Well, at this point it's just sort of proof-of-concept," said Douglas, "But eventually it's supposed to have lots of applications in medical implants, control systems, and who knows what else." "Wow," Jake whistled through his teeth, " I didn't even know we did stuff like that." "It's because of a new research consortium we recently formed with seven or eight other companies," Douglas answered, "Kind of hush-hush, if you know what I mean." "Gotcha," nodded Jake, "I didn't see a thing." * * * * *
At 3:28 AM the following morning, Ian made his next move. In his previous intrusion into the Acme Ailerons network, he had made note of a number of other boxes which he decided were running NT, based on the fact that ports 135 and 139 were listening for traffic. A quick revisit using queso confirmed his suspicions. He was more focused this time around. The stakes, at least from his point of view, had increased dramatically. Tonight he was going to prove himself beyond any shadow of a doubt. At first it seemed that nothing had changed on his target network. Ian chuckled; maybe this wouldn't be as hard as he'd imagined. The initial telnet attempts were refused, but that had happened before. Eventually he'd stumble across a box that would accept his connection. This time, however, the couple of hosts that didn't refuse the connection attempts outright simply timed out. After half an hour he still hadn't gotten in anywhere. He gritted his teeth and settled in for a long, tedious session of enumeration. By 6:00 AM he hadn't found anything he could really use, and by this time it had become obvious to Ian that some serious firewalling had gone on at his previously wide-open victim's site. Rather than being discouraged, Ian was more determined than ever to crack this nut. His status depended on it. He spent the rest of the day surfing anonymously, looking for suitable backdoor trojans. * * * * *
The senior staff meeting went more or less the way Bob had expected. He felt he had managed to deflect most of the flak directed at his request for a funding increase. He was pleasantly surprised by Vijay, who turned out to be a largely unanticipated ally.
Vijay fully supported his request, and went further, suggesting that in addition to the inhouse measures a security consulting firm be hired to do a full risk analysis and provide recommendations for a sound information security architecture. Bob was gratified and impressed. Vijay was a quiet man, whose words were carefully chosen and always to the point. With his assistance, Bob got virtually the entire funding package he had asked for. This didn't endear either of them to some of the other managers, but Bob's philosophy had always been that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette. Now that he had substantial financial resources at his disposal, breakfast was about to be served. * * * * *
Ian sat back in what he liked to think of as his 'command chair' and smiled a tight little smile. He had sent the email with the trojan to so many people at Acme Ailerons, at least one of them was bound to open it. One was all he would need. He had only to sit back and wait for the trojan to notify him that the network sniffer it carried had been activated. Life was looking up. It took three levels of his favorite computer game before he got any response, but finally that little mailbox icon popped up. He opened it and was rewarded with a user ID, password, and some other interesting and useful tidbits. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the right moment to strike...
Episode Three: From Out of the Blue It was just after two o'clock in the morning, local time, when the logging daemon of the facilities department workstation recorded a remote login from a dialup account over two thousand miles away across a sleeping nation. The connection was made using a legitimate user ID and password, so there wasn't much to be done but to allow it and get on with business. The firewall didn't even blink; it was an unfiltered port. Ian was taking no chances. He had made a checklist this time, just to make sure that in the excitement of the kill he didn't forget one of the critical concealment steps. He followed it to the letter. The last part of it looked something like this: 1.Disable auditing (auditpol /disable) 2.Clear event logs (elsave -s \\facwks01 -l logname -C) 3.Check logs with event viewer to make sure * * * * *
Jake was wandering along a path in a campground he visited often as a young boy. The woods were familiar, as was the gurgling of the nearby brook, but something was a little...odd. The trees seemed to be moving around, some of them even pacing him as he walked. Also, there were things in the branches that he couldn't identify; they, too seemed to be moving with him. Jake was a little disturbed by this, but somehow it didn't seem to be particularly out of the ordinary. He rounded a corner and was surprised by a small gazebo in a clearing he didn't remember seeing before. As he approached, the gazebo suddenly disgorged a brass band, complete with brightly colored uniforms. They marched up to him in neat ranks and began to play. Rather than a big, bold marching tune, however, what blared forth from their shiny bells was an incongruous Bach minuet. Stranger still was the fact that the music sounded not at all as though it came from brass instruments. No, it had a simpler, more mechanical quality to it. Almost electronic... Jake snapped awake in his darkened bedroom and was instantly disoriented. Things weren't where they were supposed to be. What was that over his face? And what was that weird piercing music he could hear drifting through the air? It took a few moments of thrashing for him to realize that he had pulled the comforter up over his head and piled pillows on both sides of himself to build a sort of bunker. Once free of this impediment, he could finally reach over to the night table and grope for the thing that had awakened him. It was his pager. He struggled to a sitting position and stared through blurred eyes at the backlit display. It read: 8 NOV 02:28:34 [TRIPWIRE] CHECKSUM MISMATCH DETECTED ON FACWKS01
Jake blinked uncomprehendingly for a couple of seconds. His brain flipped through a few million mental database records looking for something that would make sense of this message. Finally it clicked: one of the files he had marked for monitoring by Tripwire had changed. He remembered writing a Perl script that would send this
message to his pager in the event of an unauthorized system file modification. There is absolutely nothing more inconvenient, Jake thought bitterly, than a warning system that works. He swung his feet over the side of the bed and growled to one of his cats, "This had better not be a false alarm." The cat remained noncommittal, in the immemorial manner of things feline. * * * * *
Ian started dumping directory listings and mapping the network. He was determined to find a spectacular and newsworthy hack buried somewhere in the electronic jungles of Acme Ailerons. He zipped up all the gathered intelligence data and pulled it over to his Linux box. Moving slowly and carefully, following his checklist, he erased his tracks one by one until, at last, he started the program that would delete the final log entries, restore the original binaries, and then destroy itself. He did leave one small back door though; he knew that eventually someone would forward the trojaned email to the IT department, whose natural response would be to change everyone's passwords, thus cutting off his future access. Ian had far too much left to do at AA to allow that to happen. cp nc.exe hidparse.sys:nc.exe He also left a red herring in the system registry, just to throw off any pursuit. If it wasn't discovered, great. He'd have a backup copy. Just as he was about finished, a little red skull popped up on his display. That meant someone had done something on the network that might indicate he'd been spotted. He didn't care what it was. He just shut down the connection immediately and started sending out a flurry of spurious packets from spoofed IP addresses as a smokescreen. * * * * *
Jake sat in his underwear and a t-shirt at the computer terminal in his den. He connected to the remote access server at AA and turned on a sniffer located on a machine on the same subnet as facwks01. (The entire network was still shared 100 Mb Ethernet; one of his top priorities was to convert to switched, but that would require a hefty investment and a lot of justification.) He didn't touch the facilities machine at all, not even to ping it. There wasn't much to see at first but the kind of traffic you'd expect on a quiescent network at 3:00 A.M. - routine RIP packets, and the occasional ARP request. However, as he watched the packets scroll by, he noticed some TCP traffic to facwks01 with the FIN flag set. Bingo. Jake sat back and let the sniffer do its job, hoping he'd gotten there in time to snag something he could use. * * * * *
About five hours later, Bob plopped down in the executive leather swivel chair in his office with an exceptionally large mug of coffee (like most CIOs, he had an entire shelf full of vendor-supplied coffee mugs) and punched the button to play back his voice mail. The first two messages were utterly mundane; one was a vendor who wanted
make an appointment to demonstrate a new product (probably with a coffee mug as a reward), and the other was a message from himself not to forget his daughter's soccer game at 4:00 P.M. The third one, though, was a little less routine. "Good morning, Mr. Briley; this is Jake. I got paged last night about a file integrity problem on one of the facilities workstations. I'm looking at the sniffer captures right now; looks like there might have been a remote compromise. I'll let you know as soon as I can. Cheers." The time stamp was 3:23 A.M. Bob sat for a moment pondering this new menace, then decided there wasn't much point in worrying about it until Jake's full report came in; Jake was very thorough when it came to investigation and documentation. He sighed and pressed the "Continue" button on his voice mail panel. The next message caught him completely off guard. It was a man's voice, seemingly altered by some sort of electronic filter. It spoke only three words, slowly and distinctly: "Red Licorice Five." Bob grabbed the edge of his desk so abruptly that he knocked his half-full coffee mug off onto the carpet, where it surrendered its contents without fuss and rolled quietly under a credenza. It was a long time before he even noticed. * * * * *
Ian sorted through his ill-gotten gains cheerfully. He had email, proprietary documents, directory listings, and system configuration data to play with now. Somewhere in this mass of information there had to be a weakness he could exploit with sufficient drama and impact to force the BroadBandits to sit up and take notice. It was merely a matter of identifying and taking advantage of it. Time, he decided, was on his side, so much so that he felt a sudden strong urge to nap. The beast would still be here in an hour or two, waiting to be slain. He would slay it then. * * * * *
Jake made it into the office at 6:30 A.M., although he hadn't intended to go in that early. He hadn't been very successful at getting back to sleep after the incident though, and felt that he might as well get a bit of a head start on what promised to be a long and eventful day. The first thing he did was to take the potentially compromised machine off the network, in case it was being used as a staging area for further illicit activity. Then he grabbed a notepad, portable backup drive and cables, and his largest mug of coffee and headed off to inspect the victim machine up close and personal. The facilities workroom, where facwks01.acmeailerons.com was located, was not part of Jake's normal world, so he didn't have a key. While there were facilities folks on site 24 hours a day, finding any of them could be, well, a challenge. He walked up and down the hallways passing in front of and adjacent to the workroom, but saw not a living soul. Finally he stopped at a wall phone and called the front security desk. "Security, Building One Entrance, A.P.S. McGregor speaking." The voice sounded, as well it might, a little sleepy. "Good morning. This is Jake, the network administrator. I need to get into room 1F16.
Can you send someone with keys down here for me?" "Why do you need access to the facilities workroom?" McGregor asked. "There's a computer in there that I need to, uh, work on." Jake was keeping the news of the compromise from as many folks as he could, per the new IT security policy. "Work on," the voice echoed, a little suspiciously, "OK, Jake, hang on and I'll have a patrol officer there in a few minutes." "Thanks," Jake replied, relieved that he hadn't needed to go into details. The security patrol officer who showed up seven and a half minutes later was bigger than Jake, but seemed pleasant enough. After checking Jake's employee badge he opened the door and led Jake into the room crowded with work tables and tools. Jake went immediately to the area where the workstations were housed and found it behind a locked chain-link gate. "I wish our network were half as secure as the physical plant," he muttered under his breath. He turned to the guard. "I guess I'll need this one unlocked, too." Jake braced for what he knew was coming. "Control didn't say anything opening 1F16A. Only 1F16," replied the guard, a little stiffly. Jake tilted his head a bit to the left and went into his 'patiently explaining things to morons' mode. "That's because I don't know the layout around here well enough to know that the computer I was after would be behind yet another lock. My equipment tracking database just says "Facilities Workroom, Rm. 1F16." "I'll have to okay it with control," said the guard, doubtfully. "Fine," replied Jake, "Can you do it soon?" Jake eventually got into the locked area, and after a little poking around identified facwks01. He logged on with the admin password and dumped the entire disk image to his portable drive for archival purposes. He took the media out of the drive, sealed it in a plastic evidence bag and labelled it with the contents, time and his initials. Then he started the long post-mortem process by logging into another machine where he kept the Tripwire binary and the original checksums for the protected files on read-only media. He first looked at the files that Tripwire had reported changed. One of them was the Registry. Comparing the old Registry and the new version, he found only one small difference: the key \HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\netcat, contained the data "C:\TEMP\NC\nc -L -d -e cmd.exe -p 9999." "Got you, you little turd," Jake crowed in triumph. He deleted the key and the referenced directory with, as they say in the military, 'extreme prejudice.' He didn't know about the copy of netcat hidden in the NTFS file stream, of course...
"Come in, Bob," said Mr. Easton, the founder and CEO of Acme Ailerons, "have a seat." Bob sat nervously in one of the enormous stuffed leather chairs arrayed around the executive suite like exquisite sculptures in a formal garden. "What's on your mind?" Bob cleared his throat. "Sir, I have something that might be relevant to our new DoD contract." Mr. Easton raised his eyebrows and nodded for him to continue. Bob squirmed a little and drove on. "This morning I received a rather disturbing phone message..." he tailed off, unsure how to proceed. The CEO looked at him expectantly and Bob noticed that he was tapping the index finger of his right hand. Bad time to stall out, he thought. "Uh, sir, I don't know if you recall this from when I was hired, but my background before coming here was largely in the military intelligence field." "Of course I know that, Bob," Easton replied, gently, "We all had to submit to that bloody security investigation before they would award the contract. I've got a dossier on every cleared employee right here in my computer. Tells me how many times you go to the bathroom every day and even," he chuckled, "which stall you prefer." Bob smiled a little, relieved by Easton's sense of humor. "Well, sir, one of the projects I was assigned to involved, among other things, evaluating the security of various equipment located aboard the President's mobile command planes." He paused, trying to sort out what he was going to say next. "We had code words for everything in the service - that's an occupational fact of life in the intelligence community - and we could convey a lot of information with very few words that way." He paused once more, this time to take a deep breath. "I hadn't heard anyone speak in that code for almost five years until this morning. A man's voice, heavily filtered, left a message for me using the code phrase 'Red Licorice Five.'" He stopped, as though finished, and looked out the window. Easton waited for a few moments, then asked, softly, "What does 'Red Licorice Five' mean, Bob?" Bob said nothing for a moment, but then he swivelled his eyes to meet Easton's and said, in a flat, cold voice, "Catastrophic threat to national security in this facility."
Episode Four: Through a Glass, Darkly After several days of filtering through the data he'd downloaded from the Acme Ailerons facilities workstation, working an hour or two at a time as he had the opportunity while studying for semester exams, Ian came across an interesting item. It was a CAD file that contained blueprints for a new building scheduled for construction the following spring. Ian didn't know much about architecture, but he was insatiably curious. So he took to the Net to look up some of the information he saw listed on the blueprint. Two of the references that caught his eye were "NSA-65-6" and "NSA-73-2A." After a fair bit of data mining on the Web, Ian managed to track down these numbers. They were U. S. government specifications. NSA 65-6, NACSIM 5204, R.F. Shielded Enclosures for Communications Equipment: General Specification, National Security Agency. NSA 73-2A, NACSIM 5204, National Security Agency Specification for Foil RF Shielded Enclosure, National Security Agency. Ian was no expert on the intelligence community - all he really knew about the NSA was based on the uninformed and derogatory comments made about the agency by his online brethren. However, he saw no immediate reason why blueprints for a new facility would refer to an NSA standard for electronic shielding. Acme Ailerons seemed to make most of their money in the avionics field, crafting custom instruments for specialized applications in the aerospace industry. Ian concluded that the new building was going to house a laboratory for developing some sort of instruments for the Department of Defense. He didn't know enough about aircraft instrumentation to even hazard a guess at what they might be planning to produce there. "Probably some new bomb sight or something," he mumbled. Most of his knowledge in this area came from old movies and watching archived footage of Desert Storm (he was too young to remember the actual events very clearly). He would monitor the progress of this project with interest. It just might prove to be the 'scoop' he needed to get in with the Bandits. * * * * *
Jake finally finished his examination of the compromised machine. The attacker had done a good job of covering his tracks. If it hadn't been for the Tripwire warning, in fact, Jake realized he might never have discovered the intrusion at all. One last time, he ran every virus and trojan locating utility he had managed to acquire on the box, just to make sure that nothing was lurking in the shadows of the operating system, waiting to jump out and say "boo" at him somewhere down the line. Everything looked to be clean. He sighed and wiped his brow in a ritual gesture of finality. Nothing to do now but make sure the patches stayed updated. It was time to go home and get a little sleep after his 17 hour day. * * * * *
Bob slowed the car and rolled down the window as he approached the security post. Even though he had a sticker on his front bumper that granted him access to most military posts as a retired officer, this one was different. No one got in or out without
positive identification and a metal detector sweep. He showed his ID card to the guard, who made a tick mark on his clipboard. "Please step out of the vehicle and through the metal detector, Colonel." The guard was polite but completely businesslike. Bob did as he was told and passed through the detector without incident. "Right thumb on the pad, please, Sir," said another guard, motioning to a small box on the counter of the guard shack. The monitor screen lit up in green with the words "Briley, Robert P. O-6 R SCIF Active" "Thank you, Colonel," said the first guard, handing him an orange key card. "This is your facility key for the Orange Labs. The inner doors are all biometric to your thumbprint. Colonel Briggs will meet you in the Officer's Lounge in Building 27. Have a nice visit, Sir." The guard saluted sharply. Bob returned the salute a little stiffly - it had been a while. The base had changed somewhat, but not to the extent that Bob had any difficulty navigating. The buildings were color coded with stripes according to the security level necessary for entry. Blue was the lowest, followed by green, yellow, white, and the highest, orange. He noted several new orange buildings on the little map the guard had given him, one of which seemed to be mostly underground. It was interesting to speculate on the cause for the new construction, since the base itself had been targeted for closure in less than a year. This part of the facility had always been a universe unto itself, though. Even the telephone prefix was unique among the rest of the base. He found Building 27 without any trouble. It was a Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) center, with a properly impressive neo-classical facade and the red tile roof that was standard issue for the base. He parked in the visitors' area, which positively bristled with pan, tilt, and zoom surveillance cameras. He swiped the orange card through the reader at the door and was concerned when nothing happened. He realized after a few seconds of puzzling that he had swiped it with the magnetic stripe on the wrong side. It was getting harder and harder to stay smarter than technology; even opening a door these days required an engineering degree and three references. Bob chuckled grimly at his own little joke, since there wasn't anyone else around to do it for him. Colonel Briggs was waiting for him in the lounge, as advertised. Neither had seen the other for a couple of years, since a retirement party for a mutual friend. "How are you, Will?" Bob asked the officer, shaking his hand. "Never better. How's civilian life treating you, Bob?" Will Briggs was a large, vital man, balding with brown hair and a round face that seemed too accustomed to laughter for a man in his stressful position, which was so classified even he wasn't allowed to know what it was all the time. "Can't complain," Bob replied, then added, "except for present circumstances, of course." He smiled as he said it, but Will could feel the sharp undercurrent in his tone of voice. He nodded his head sympathetically. "Let's get a cup of coffee and head over to my office."
"Sounds like a plan." * * * * *
Douglas sat at his desk and read through the thick sheaf of documents that had been delivered to him by an armed Air Force Senior Master Sergeant. The whole thing was a little spooky at first, but the project outlined in those pages was sufficiently interesting that he gradually allowed the cloak and dagger culture-shock to recede into relative quiescence, where it merely taunted him from a distance. The engineering feat he and the others on his team were being asked to perform was far from trivial. In fact, it was closer to science fiction than any project with which Douglas had previously been engaged. It seemed to involve some physics that must have escaped his notice in school. Maybe he'd been sick that day. After a couple of hours of reading, it became obvious to Douglas that he wasn't 'getting it.' He hoped that he could just build the thing without worrying about how, exactly, it was supposed to work. He wasn't even sure how to tell if it was working. * * * * *
Ian sat at his keyboard, skimming through some port scan data he'd collected the night before. He was in a mood to do a little defacing today, so he was looking for port 80 traffic to identify potential Web servers. He grepped the text file for '80' and got back a nice list of candidates. Some of them were identified by IP address only, meaning that no canonical name mapping existed for them in the Domain Name System. One of these numeric addresses looked strangely familiar to Ian. So he pulled up a little Perl script, which he had found on the Internet, that automated 'whois' lookups and fed the dotted quad into it. It was assigned to the Acme Ailerons address space. Ian's eyes lit up like a child's on Christmas morning. He grepped the scan file for the address and found the telltale signs of an NT box. Things were definitely looking up. Time to dig out the RDS exploit and see if the fish would bite. First, though, he decided to do a little 'recon'. He went to an anonymous Web-surfing site and entered the address of his target. After a few seconds, a generic IIS 4 welcome screen popped up. This bonzo either hadn't bothered to install an index page, or, better yet, didn't even know he was running a Web server. How much luckier could Ian get? He twirled around in his computer chair in a little geekish pirouette of triumph. This looked like a job for msadc.pl. It had been coded by a well-known hacker (rain.forest.puppy) and used by legions of script kiddies who didn't understand how it worked (which was, in simple terms, to take advantage of the fact that NT system commands could be embedded in remote data services queries made to a server running the default configuration of IIS 4 with the option pack installed.) Ian understood the basic premise of the script, if not every little nuance. He had realized that the only way to evolve out of the script kiddy tadpole stage was to tear apart exploits and
understand their mechanics, one line at a time. Late that night, Ian slipped on the old "Buckaroo Banzai" head band he habitually wore while engaging in cybercombat and fired off the msadc script at his newly discovered victim. Step 1: Trying raw driver to btcustmr.mdb Ian watched directories print out as the script tried to brute force a connection to a little-known inactive database installed by default on the system. Success! This meant that the very first attempt to create an exploitable connection had succeeded. This was, in all probability, a totally default and, most likely, totally unattended Web server installation. Ian almost wet his pants. He flew through the rest of the script execution in a state of unbridled joy. When the time came, he uploaded a small HTML file he'd created just for this occasion. It contained a rather rude graphic and a few lines of text. U have been h4x0r3d by ir8_d0g. Ph33r my 5ki115!!! Gr33tz to Br04dB4ndits (they rule), #underdawgz, & Beverly (shes so fine!!!) Remember: !ADM!ROX!YOUR!WORLD! Ian sat back and surveyed his handiwork, content and happy. He surfed over to the newly hacked index page via the anonymizer and was almost moved to tears by the sight of his defacement on the Acme Ailerons computer. He sat up suddenly and dashed off a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. Not much point in defacing a page and not getting credit for it, was there? He also sent a little announcement to one of Beverly's friends (Beverly was his latest heartthrob) with whom he was on good terms, since he was afraid to tell Bev directly that he'd declared his affections to the whole planet on a defaced Web page. You'd think that would rock, but you never knew how girls were going to react to stuff. Ian didn't entertain any delusions that this kiddie defacement would impress the Bandits, but he decided to plug into his favorite IRC channel (#underdawgz) and see if any lesser mortals noticed. Word fame is, after all, word fame. * * * * *
Will raised his eyebrows and sat back heavily in his executive chair with the U.S. Air Force logo emblazoned on the head cushion. He was sucking on a jaw breaker and seemed for a moment to be choking on it. He dislodged it from his throat after a brief struggle, however, and spat it out - it's hard to sound serious with a marble in your mouth. "That has to be some sort of hoax," he said to Bob, "you haven't even built the facility yet."
"That's what I thought at first, too, but what if it isn't?" "All we can do at this stage is keep our eyes open and follow the security protocol to the letter," Will replied after a moment of consideration, "and hope for the best." Bob nodded in agreement and stood up. "Oh, just leave that tape here with us, if you would," Will added, "and I'll ship it off to Ft. Meade to see if they can make anything of it." He cleared his throat. "One last thing, Bob. I'd appreciate it if you didn't involve anyone in this who wasn't absolutely necessary. It's going to be tough enough dealing with this glitch as it is, without raising any red flags in the Pentagon or Langley." Bob tossed him the cassette and gave Will a little half-smile: "I think I can handle that."
Episode Five: The Devil in the Details "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We've reached our cruising altitude of 34,000 feet. There's a line of storm activity passing through the St. Louis area right now, but we shouldn't encounter any difficulty skirting around the turbulent cells. I'm going to turn off the seat belt sign for now, so you're free to move about the cabin. It may become necessary to turn it back on if we run into any rough weather. In this event, please return to your seats as soon as possible. You may now use any approved portable electronic devices." "Oh, did I mention that your seat cushion can be used as a personal flotation device? Just in case we happen to need to make an emergency landing in water - and we can find any water big enough. Thanks for flying with us today, and best of luck to everyone." Ian relaxed on his personal flotation device and stared at the bulky cell phone attached to the back of the seat in front of him. He had saved all year to attend this hackers' convention, and now that it was over he felt a strong desire to make use of his new-found store of knowledge. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to recharge his laptop after the last "Unreal Tournament" session, so he couldn't do much except read the boring airline magazine over and over. That phone kept grabbing his attention. Ian decided to try a little experiment. He got up as though to go to the bathroom and dropped into one of the empty rows near the rear of the plane. He waited until no one was looking and lifted the phone deftly from its cradle. There was a recording about inserting a credit card. He pressed a few buttons, trying to elicit some effect. He thought about dialing 911, just to see who would pick up on the other end, but realized that it would be difficult to remain anonymous in his current situation. He suddenly looked up and saw a flight attendant staring sternly at him from the aisle. He plopped the phone back in place, then smiled weakly at the attendant as he squeezed past her and fled to the bathroom. * * * * *
Bob stared out his office window at the rain slanting down from a heavy grey sky and drummed his fingers absently on an Acme Ailerons mousepad. He was waiting for a return phone call from a security consulting firm, whom he had contacted for the purpose of hiring someone to help get his InfoSec program off to a running start. The phone rang obligingly after a few minutes. He picked it up and put on his best phone voice. "Acme Ailerons Information Technology. This is Bob," he piped brightly into the plastic receiver molded in the likeness of a well-known cartoon character. His face fell immediately. "Oh, hello Doris," he said, mentally cringing, "What can I do for you?"
"No, I didn't get your forwarded e-mail. What was it about?" Bob sighed and leaned back as far as he could in the chair without actually tipping over backward. "A baby picture? I didn't know you had a new baby." He fumbled with a loose thread coming out of his shirt pocket. "Oh, it's not your baby. Whose baby is it?" He took a big sip of coffee. "Well, if you don't know whose baby it is, why are you asking me about it in the first place?" He was beginning to get a little impatient with this game. "Because it sent itself to everyone in your email address book?" He sat up abruptly. "Okay, don't send or open any more mail. Pull the network cord out of the back of your computer and sit tight. I'm on it." He slammed the phone down. "That woman," he said through his teeth to no one in particular, "should be the poster child for Grecian Formula 16." He punched a button on his phone. "Jake, take this morning's anti-virus signatures disk over to Accounting and run it though every system. Yep, every system with an e-mail client. Sounds like the entire department is infected with that babypic worm. Then do a general survey and see who else needs disinfecting. Top priority." Click. Bob sighed and leaned back in his chair again. This security thing was getting to be a real pain in the neck. How could he get his FY 2002 budget projections done and prepare for the company-wide software audit with the security bogey man leaping up out of every shadowy crevice and making rude faces at him? He swivelled his chair around so that he faced the wall with the calendar on it, and started counting backward from one of the dates circled in red. Suddenly the phone, which was now only a few inches from his left ear, annihilated the silence of his office with its piercing warble. Bob snapped out of his reverie with a start and pushed his already precarious center of gravity a little too far to stern. There was a confusing crash of furniture and flailing limbs, followed closely by a heavy, vaguely comical, thud. From this angle Bob could see something under the credenza. It looked almost like a coffee cup... * * * * *
It was a small, dark room with heavy wooden shutters over both the windows - the sort of room where you would expect dark and devious dealings to transpire. Four shadowy figures sat in this room, huddled over a small, dark table. They were studying some sort of technical drawing. They had to squint because, as should have been made clear by now, there wasn't much illumination in the room. They sat without speaking for some minutes, peering intently at the schematic. Finally one of them broke the almost palpable silence.
"Why is somebody not turning on the damn lights?" Somebody found the switch and turned on the lights. The first figure growled again, this time more softly, "Now maybe we can see what is going on." The plan spread out on the table before them was rather complex. It had a lot of lines crisscrossing it, lines that connected various geometric shapes with other geometric shapes. Some of the writing was scribbled clearly in English, some of it was scribbled in a seemingly illegible scrawl . The figures studying it were a little easier to discern, now that the lights were on. Three of them were tall and well dressed with neatly trimmed beards, one was clean shaven and sported a baseball cap. The one with the baseball cap jabbed a fat little finger at the paper. "What does this say?" He asked, pointing to an indiscernible notation. One of the well dressed replied stiffly, "It reads 'Viral Payload Vector'." The baseball cap nodded and grunted to itself. "And this?" "Ah, that reads 'IPN Gateway'." Baseball cap traced his finger along a line and stopped at another scrawled caption. "How about this? What does this say?" One of the other gentlemen decided to answer: "That is a number." "Yeah?" replied baseball cap, "What is it, an IP address? A packet sequence number?" The well-dressed man looked at him in mild surprise. "No," he said without intonation, "It is the telephone number of our favorite Chinese takeout restaurant." Baseball cap looked up at his companions. "No kidding?" He sat back in his uncomfortable wooden chair and stuck an ivory toothpick in his mouth. "I don't know who that General Tsao guy was, but he sure had a hell of a lot of chickens." The well-dressed men looked at each other gravely, and then at him. He leaned forward. "It was a joke. A joke. Ha ha ha." Baseball cap rolled his eyes and muttered, under his breath, "Tough room." He stood up and assumed his best Steve McGarrett pose, fingertips on the table. "Never mind. Get this thing drawn up a little neater and fire it off to our agent in America toute suite." One of the suits frowned at him and opened his mouth to speak.
"Oh jeez," snapped baseball cap, "It means ASAP. Really soon. As fast as you can." The light of understanding dawned in the tall man's dark, sombre eyes. "Ah yes. PDQ." Baseball cap chuckled, "Whatever floats your boat." * * * * *
Jake fumbled around in a cluttered desk drawer in search of some headache pills. It had taken him six and a half hours to track down and pulverize the last copy of W32.Mybabypic.Worm. He had no idea yet how much collateral damage had been done by the malicious code running amok on the intranet. He put his head down on his desk and sighed. At least as far as he could tell the Trojan hadn't spread to Engineering, where its tendency to erase (among others) all files with the extensions .vbs, .js, .cpp, .h, and .c would have wreaked untold havoc. Thank God for small favours, he thought. On Jake's desk, underneath his right cheek to be more precise, was a brochure for a dedicated virus scanner, one that sat at the firewall and checked every piece of incoming/outgoing SMTP traffic for nasty surprises. He had been on the verge of writing it off as a good idea he could never justify to management. Now, though... Jake felt his second wind kick in. He sat up and started typing out a purchase requisition - might as well strike while the iron was hot. * * * * *
A man in running clothes sat alone on a park bench, breathing heavily. He had just jogged two miles, and was appreciating the cool day and the convenient bench in a way that only exhausted middle-aged people would truly understand. The idea of posing as a jogger, which had seemed so brilliant the night before, was beginning to look less brilliant as he sat there trying not to throw up. He glanced at his watch and sighed. Time to get on with it. With a grunt of effort, he pulled himself to his feet and half strode, half hobbled down the gravel path. After about 50 yards he stopped by a tree and leaned against it, as though resting. He surveyed the park carefully, trying to look like a jogger simply stretching his neck muscles and not at all like a paranoid amateur spy. He saw not another living creature, except for a very chilled-looking titmouse fluffed up into a grayish ball on a limb. He walked nonchalantly toward a squat evergreen bush and, as he passed, reached down and swooped up a small flat package wrapped in paper camouflaged amongst the litter underneath the bush. He slipped the little parcel in his fanny pack and broke once more into a labored jogging gait. "This," he gasped as he struggled for breath, "is a job for a much younger man." * * * * *
Douglas dimmed the lights in the conference room with a little switch on his lectern. He clicked an icon on his laptop display and watched as the first slide in his presentation
appeared on the wall-sized screen to his right. It read "Project Bellatrix: Design and Technical Briefing." Below that was a U.S. Department of Defense logo and the words "Top Secret" in large red letters. Douglas shook his head briefly, to clear it of the curious notion that he was merely acting out a part in some spy novel. The sea of grave faces belonging to assorted military and government officials spread out before him in the darkened room urged him to believe otherwise. As he watched the parade of slides and listened to himself elaborate on them to the assembled crowd, it seemed painfully clear to Douglas that this entire project was in many ways too rooted in science fiction to be serious. Yet the government had given him and his team a budget of over 100 million dollars to forge some sort of reality out of it. One hundred million dollars! It smacked of a fever dream, and he half expected to waken from it any moment with a craving for chicken soup. As he approached the end of his presentation, Douglas winced. He didn't like this part, because the final piece of technology that was necessary to make the project function had been withheld from him for security reasons. He was an engineer, and engineers don't like guessing games, especially when it comes to engineering. He had been waiting for weeks to find out how this thing was supposed to function the way the proposal said it would, and now the time had finally come. Douglas sat down and listened in rapt attention to the Air Force captain who took the podium after him. It took the officer only a few minutes to get to the crucial technology. It was remarkably simple, yet monstrously complex at the same time. It was also clearly insane.
Episode Six: The Gathering Storm Deanna Neare slowed the car and swerved to miss a turkey vulture that was on the road, a little too intent on its meal to get completely out of the path of her vehicle in time. She chuckled to herself - the sight of vultures always made her think of her former profession, and to wonder whether she made the right decision in leaving it. She had majored in computer science in college, and graduated with honors. Her father was a lawyer, as had been her grandfather. As the only child, she was given little choice of vocation - law school was inevitable. Not that she hadn't excelled in that as well. But her father's practice, which she was expected to join and eventually take over, was primarily business-to-business civil litigation and, quite frankly, left her cold. While in law school, she had fantasized largely about two things: defending people wrongly accused of heinous crimes and making a lot of money. It didn't take much time as a practicing attorney to find out that those goals were mostly incompatible. After a couple of years of suing and countersuing, Deanna was fed up. Over her father's vehement protests, she quit the law firm and went back to school to get her master's degree in Information Technology. While in graduate school she became interested in computer security. After graduation, she attended a couple of study courses and passed two of the more prominent certification exams with relative ease. With her new credentials, she got a job with a well-known contract security firm. It was in the performance of her duties in this latter occupation that she narrowly avoided hitting the vulture. Her client today was a fairly large engineering firm called Acme Ailerons. Her job was to evaluate the IT security posture of the company and make recommendations for improvement. Today had all the earmarks of being just another day in (or rather, out of) the office... * * * * *
Jake was in a relatively good mood. Shipping and Receiving had just called and there were several boxes for him on the way up. Jake knew what they were his new firewall and hardware virus scanner. He'd been hitting the online firewall rules documentation pretty hard over the past few days. Now it was time to see if he had learned anything useful. After all the unpacking and plugging in had been accomplished, Jake set up an xterm session to the firewall and settled in for some serious config action. First, he needed to retrieve the disk image of the firewall's boothelper program, to be saved on a diskette. To do this, he had to enable TFTP on his Unix box. # cd /etc # cp inetd.conf inetd.conf.bak # perl -ne 's/\#tftpd/tftpd/; print' inetd.conf > inetd.conf2 # mv inetd.conf2 inetd.conf
Now he had to restart inetd to get the new service up and running. # ps -ef | grep inetd root 148 1 0 Apr 29 ? # kill -HUP 148
0:01 /usr/sbin/inetd -st
With TFTP functional, the next step was to transfer the boothelper program to the Unix box and make a disk image of it on a diskette. dd bs=18b if=./bh510.bin of=/dev/rd1 Once the boothelper diskette was created, Jake used it to transfer the binary image from the TFTP server to the firewall. With that step behind him, Jake started in on the actual firewall configuration process, but not until he had disabled TFTP again. Wouldn't want that mischievous little daemon running around unsupervised... configure terminal clear arp ctrl-Z After resetting the default route for the router and all the hosts on the perimeter subnet to point to the firewall, Jake starting feeding interface names, global addresses, and local addresses to the firewall. He had drawn up a rough chart of the security structure he wanted to create. He then used it to map out the DMZ proxy hosts that would act as buffers between the firewall and the computers inside Acme Ailerons. Those computers would have nonrouteable local IP addresses only and would not be communicating with the Internet directly. Only the firewall would have a map of which NAT addresses mapped to which hosts. For his part, Jake felt safer already. * * * * *
Ian sat transfixed at his terminal. It was late Sunday afternoon, and he hadn't slept since Thursday night. Well, that wasn't entirely true; he'd catnapped a couple of times for 15 minutes or so. His room was a collage of candy bar wrappers, semi-crumpled soda cans, casually strewn CD cases, hacking files printed out from the Web and, of course an ever-growing collection of computer parts. Buried underneath all of this, he mused as he tore his eyes away from the screen for a moment's rest, were some new clothes his mother had bought for him the previous week. Ian suddenly realized that the rather disagreeable odor he'd been catching wind of occasionally over the past few hours was himself. He hadn't bathed in several days, either. Reluctantly, he pried himself away from his Linux entertainment center and stumbled off to take a shower. When he returned a few minutes later, the fatigue that had been starting to set in was, at least for the moment, dispelled. He was rarin' to go, and dove back into the complex paper from his hacker convention, which he had been on the verging of giving up on before the invigorating application of soap and water. The paper concerned embedding exploit code in the body of a Graphics Information Format, or GIF, file. That concept
Colonel William Briggs sat in a smartly appointed leather chair at the end of an impressive walnut table. Immediately in front of him were several stacks of intelligence reports and photographs from the image analysis section of the Pentagon, which is where the table and chair happened to be located. Across the table from Will were three gentlemen with lots of stars on their shoulders and collars. They had decidedly unflattering pictures of themselves hanging around their necks, constituting part of the official-looking ID cards suspended by little fabric bands with words he couldn't make out woven into them. The lighting in the room was subdued, but there still seemed to be enough photons bouncing around to glint menacingly off their sartorial constellations whenever one of the generals leaned forward to speak. "Colonel Briggs, you have made a highly unusual request. The President and his Security Advisor will want to know exactly upon what data you have based the assumptions underlying it." Will stirred uncomfortably in his suddenly and inexplicably slippery leather seat. "I understand, sir. I have brought with me what I hope will be sufficient and just evidence for my request to be granted." He paused to sort through some photographs. "I've had these analyzed by the microphotogrammetry folks, and have indicated in the margins the probable identification and significance of each of the findings." He shoved a stack of photos across the table to the General who had spoken. "With all due respect, I think you gentlemen will agree with me that this is not a matter to be taken lightly. Sirs." He leaned back and tried to relax as the assembled brass looked over his photos and notes. "That, um," replied one of the generals as he peered at the material through his reading glasses, "That remains to be seen, Colonel." "Of course, sir." Outside, a generous late Spring thunderstorm was gathering force for an assault on America's largest office building. Down in the basement, the janitorial crew donned their galoshes and readied their mops and buckets. The Pentagon, it is said, has many leaks. Not all of them are brought about by rain. * * * * *
Bob looked up from his CIO magazine and punched the speaker phone button on his telephone. "Yes, Constance?"
"There's a Ms. Neare here to see you, sir." Bob wrinkled his brow for a moment, then punched up an electronic business card on his palm top. Digitally-enhanced recognition flooded in. "Ah, yes, the computer security consultant. Please send her in. Oh, and Constance, would you find Jake and have him report to my office also, please?" After the usual round of pleasantries and a few pointed questions from Bob to reassure himself that Deanna was as knowledgeable as her company's marketing had claimed, Bob laid out the specifics of what he wanted Deanna to accomplish. His systems administrator, Jake, was essentially the front line for both operational administration and IT security. Jake had some formal training in security now, but not enough to design a comprehensive security plan for the entire company. Deanna's job was to review the entire company's IT infrastructure and make specific recommendations about which hardware, software, and policy to be put in place to harden the network. It would be a time-consuming task, and one for which the funding had been wrested from the tightly clutched fingers of other department managers. They would be watching the proceedings with keen interest, to put it mildly; Bob knew that his rear end was on the line here. For a CIO, however, that is a familiar position. A middle-aged man in a blue serge suit sat at a functional but not very attractive desk in a sparsely decorated room, unpacking one of a dozen or so cardboard boxes marked simply "New Office." The contents of the boxes were, in a word, generic. There was a phone, a notepad, some files, some office supplies, a calendar, and some random books to go on the shelves. There was a desktop computer, of course, and most of the other trappings of an office environment. To the casual observer, this would appear to be just another small business office, housing a small law practice or a manufacturer's sales office. It was neither of the above, however. It was a front for one of the most insidious conspiracies ever perpetrated against the United States Government. It would be the focal point for an operation so secret the conspirators didn't know each other by sight or even precisely for whom they were working. The plan to be put into operation from this deceptively simple office would cause a splash that would ripple to the far corners of the civilized world. Across the street was a busy construction site, shielded behind a tall fence that obscured it from ground level view. The view from the 7th floor office was excellent, however. Every movement of the construction crew and every piece of equipment or material brought in or out could be carefully documented through the highly mirrored one-way glass. The office had been rented by an organization that called itself Global Technical Products, AG, with headquarters in Amsterdam. The building site they had gone to such great lengths to monitor so scrupulously belonged to Acme Ailerons.
Episode Seven: An Ill Wind Jake wasn't coping with life, the universe, and everything too well today. He had gotten to work on time today, and given that it was Monday, that was cause for minor celebration in and of itself. Scanning his email, he saw a message from one of his friends. He opened it, and it contained only one line a URL. Jake obediently clicked on the URL (first making certain it contained no odd characters or anything else overtly suspicious) and read to about midway through the first paragraph. His shoulders slumped and he felt himself sink involuntarily in his chair. He closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them slowly, one at a time, as though trying to sneak up on the words to see if they would change to something more agreeable. They didn't. It took Jake at least an hour to come to terms with the news that Douglas Adams had died. He was only 49; it reminded Jake strongly of when one of his best friends, who was 50 at the time, had passed away suddenly a little over 4 years previously of a similar massive heart attack. Jake thought of many people he knew whose untimely demise would have represented less of a psychic blow to him. Death was not only unfair, it was downright arbitrary. As if to help take his mind off the tragedy, Michael in Receiving phoned at that moment to tell Jake that he had four largish crates on the loading dock. It took a few seconds for the sense of that declaration to strike home, but when it finally did Jake came partially out of his philosophical coma. "Uh, great." He shook his head to clear away some of the cobwebs. "Can you have 'em hauled down here?" Jake sat down heavily. Although he was still in shock from the bad news, a part of his mind was reacting to the incoming equipment. "Must be the new Sun boxes," he muttered, almost but not quite inaudibly. As he sat and planned how he was going to incorporate the Internet Services Cluster, for that was to be the function of the newly arrived servers, into the existing network architecture, he suddenly had an idea that cheered him, albeit not much. He would name the four new servers in honor of the late Douglas Adams. * * * * *
Douglas (the live engineer, not the dead author) tapped his fingers on the desk in a kind of thoughtful fidget. He was reviewing the latest test results obtained on one of the modular components of Project Bellatrix, and what he saw made him at once both uneasy and excited. Excited, because he was beginning to think that this thing might actually be possible, and uneasy, because he still didn't understand how he could think that. The physics here, he told himself for the umpteenth time, were bordering on the paranormal, or so it seemed to him. He ran the computer simulation once again, and watched the numbers being displayed in neat little bar graphs in the upper left hand corner of the screen. Simulations were
about all he could manage right now, until the new laboratories were finished. He thought about the computers he was using for the simulation: massively parallel processors involving banks of over two thousand 1.5 GHz CPUs. It was a lot of number crunching power; almost more than his mind could comfortably encompass. Yet, according to one of the Top Secret/Secure Compartmentalized Information reports he'd read by the Bellatrix computational team, one of the byproducts of the gadget he was building would be quantum computers capable of data processing at several orders of magnitude beyond anything currently available. Several orders of magnitude beyond mind boggling...He didn't like to dwell on it. Douglas sighed, and switched off the secure computer. He went next door to his "unsecure" office and logged into his normal workstation. Maybe a little Web surfing would help to massage his jumbled cortex. * * * * *
Ian was sweating. He'd made a careless mistake while defacing a corporate Web page the previous evening, and now was embroiled in a nerve-wracking cat and mouse game with someone who seemed to anticipate his every move. He was being gradually backed into a corner, and getting a little scared. Every time he switched to a different proxy host to try to elude pursuit, his assailant followed within a few seconds. Ian could see someone at that same IP address login just after him. How in the devil did he know where Ian was going? He couldn't have time to set up a sniffer at each new box; sometimes Ian stayed there only long enough to type in a new dotted quad. It was almost as though the person chasing him could see over his shoulder. Almost as though his software knew what he was going to...Ian froze. He moved his fingers over to a different keyboard without taking his eyes off the screen. He was using a hacker tool called "nVader" to navigate between open proxies and find or start root shells on them when possible. Still watching the netstat data on the proxy, he typed strings /usr/sbin/nVader | egrep Ian paused while he cut and pasted the IP address of his pursuer onto the end of the command, then hit enter. It was there. Ian sat up straight in his chair and ran the program through a crude disassembler. He scanned the code until he found the line with the IP address in it. A little more reverse engineering and the answer suddenly hit him. It was like being smacked in the forehead with a large brick with polka dots all over it; it hurt like heck but it was probably rather amusing to an observer. Maybe it was the subtlety of the joke; maybe it was just from sheer relief. Whichever the case, Ian started chuckling, a chuckle that soon gave way to a full fledged guffaw. There was no pursuer; nVader was generating the spurious login itself. He'd been had, and royally. * * * * *
Bob and Vijay stood in a partially finished hallway with a blueprint and a thermos of coffee each. They had tight, determined sets to their mouths and glanced around at the dangling fixtures, half-painted sheetrock, and floor tiles stacked against the wallboards with what could only be described as naked frustration. The new facility
was two months behind schedule and suffered from numerous 'accounting inconsistencies' that the Defense Department and the General Services Administration, not to mention the Defense Contractor Auditing Agency, were 'looking into.' There were a lot of people hired to work on Project Bellatrix that sat in hastily rented offices playing solitaire on their newly-purchased state of the art workstations, waiting for this building to be declared ready for occupancy. That seemed right now to be roughly as probable as the wholesale democratization of mainland China. "Jeez, look at that," growled Bob, pointing to one of several gaping holes in the suspended ceiling, "That Cat-5 isn't even in a cable tray." Vijay followed Bob's finger up into the cavernous crawlspace above their heads. "Are you even sure," he asked after a moment, "That it is Cat-5?" Bob blinked at Vijay and shook his head. "Don't give me any worse nightmares than I'm already having." "I'm sorry to hear that you aren't sleeping well, my friend," replied Vijay, softly. He was kneeling next to a row of rectangular holes gouged out of the sheetrock. "Perhaps this would not be a good time to point out that they seem to have gotten the Ethernet and telephone drops reversed. Also, didn't I hear you say at a facilities planning meeting that all the workstations in this wing were supposed to have fiber to the desktop?" Bob vowed not to go to sleep again until the place was finished, but he knew deep down that it was an unnecessary pledge. * * * * *
"We have submitted our bid through the pre-established channels. The construction is approx. 52 days behind schedule; by now there should be very little remaining dissension among target management concerning our proposed contract modifications. Plan is proceeding as predicted." Baseball cap rubbed his bald spot and hit the 'send' button on his email program. The triply encrypted message sped off across, or rather, underneath, the Atlantic on its nefarious mission. Here in the good ol' U.S. of A., he decided, it was Miller time. The collection of empty bottles aligned in various odd patterns on every horizontal surface in the room suggested that this was not his first encounter with that thought. * # reboot -r Jake sat back to watch the phosphor characters flicker and dance in their electronic ballet. This was the last of the configurations he needed to make; hopefully the high availability array would be fully functional once this machine made it back to multiuser mode. He had assigned the host name "zaphod.acmeailerons.com" to this box, to go along with "trillian," "arthur," and "fenchurch." All were names concocted in the fertile brain of Douglas Adams and adopted by Jake in his honor. Jake was strangely satisfied by this small tribute. It made him feel the emptiness of losing someone whom he had considered a friend, though they had met but once at a book signing and hardly * * * *
spoken, a little less keenly. Jake glanced at his watch and suddenly remembered that he had a visitor coming in less than half an hour. Deanna somebody from that security company whose name he couldn't remember because it sounded like a law firm would be here soon to make sure he had implemented her security recommendations. Jake didn't really feel that he needed anyone checking up on him, but on the other hand, anything that kept his machines out of the statistics and his rear end out of a sling couldn't be all bad. Besides, he had no real choice in the matter. Ian was struggling with offsets. After a lot of false starts, he had managed to feel his way through his first original buffer overflow exploit in C; now he just had to find the right place to insert his shell code into the memory of the target machine. Ian still didn't understand the way memory worked as thoroughly as he would like, but he had a couple of well-written papers on the subject--one he got at the hacker convention and one on the Web. If he read through them enough times, he figured, eventually they would sink in. His exploit took advantage of weak bounds checking on a user input string in a widelyused remote login utility. If he could figure out the right length of "padding" to put in before the code he wanted to insert, he could overflow the area in memory allocated to that part of the program and trick the computer into executing arbitrary instructions; in this case, starting a shell with root privileges running on a high-numbered port. The problem was that in order for his code to overflow the buffer, he had to know both how big that buffer was, and about where it started in memory. To find those magic numbers at his level of expertise was a time-consuming process of trial and error. Still, time isn't really a problem for a 15 year old boy who spends every free moment at his terminal. Besides, he could automate some of the procedure using tools he'd managed to accumulate here and there. Merv was a facilities engineer with a lot of contacts. He was a large, cheerful sort who seemed to make friends just about anywhere he went. Through his elaborate network of acquaintances, he was often privy to some pretty sweet deals. One of those deals involved getting an ordinarily very expensive piece of computer-aided design software, and a dedicated computer on which to run it, for nothing from a friend who was upgrading his business systems and owed Merv for helping him rennovate his kitchen. Merv brought his new stuff to his office at Acme Ailerons, since he could make best use of it there. He didn't have a spare Ethernet jack in his work area, so he scrounged a little five port hub from the spare parts room at the end of the hall and found a cable that seemed to work to plug into it. After getting the system set up as best he could, Merv turned it on. As it booted, it asked him a series of questions about the network enviroment. He really didn't know the answers, so he accepted the default where this was an option and made something up where it wasn't. Surprisingly, the system came up without a hitch. Pleased at his technical accomplishment, Merv turned off the monitor to save energy, but left the CPU on. No harm in leaving it running, he thought, and I've read somewhere that powering systems up and down too often actually shortens their
functional life. Heck, he said to himself as he locked his office door for the evening, this networking stuff isn't as hard as people make out.
Episode Eight: Still Waters Construction of the new Acme Ailerons facility was over budget and behind schedule. The company chosen to replace the original contractor took over smoothly and efficiently. They seemed competent, organized, and consummately professional. Not only had they agreed to finish the job for the same price as in the original contract, they promised to work around the clock to meet the completion deadline, despite the fact that the project was a good three months in arrears. Bob was pleased at the sudden change in fortune surrounding the project, but in the corner of his mind where his training and experience as an intelligence officer resided, a little alarm was going off. He could ignore it, but it would not be silenced. He told himself that he was just being paranoid, and that there was nothing to be concerned about. [Beep, beep, beep]...his brain obviously wasn't buying it. Whatever the case, the new contractors certainly seemed to have none of the bad luck that had plagued their predecessors. Supplies arrived on schedule, employee sick calls were rare, and each inspection went flawlessly. Acme management, not to mention the GSA and DoD, were overjoyed. Bob was gratified that things were back on track, but he still couldn't shake the seemingly irrational sense of misgiving. Without any tangible evidence of misconduct, however, he knew better than to voice his discontent to anyone in his chain of command. One morning a larger than usual crew showed up at the site. The general supervisor explained that a number of tasks were due for completion that day, and the need for several interoperative systems to be brought online simultaneously necessitated the large crew. At about three that afternoon, a small fire broke out near the employee cafeteria. The fire was contained by the contractor crew within a couple of minutes with very little damage sustained. However, policy dictated that the fire department be summoned. For about an hour and a half every member of the government overseer and Acme management teams on site were involved in the inspection and debriefing near the cafeteria. Unbeknownst to any of them, a small but highly efficient crew was taking advantage of the distraction to install some 'undocumented' devices in the fiber optic lines running under the floor into the main computer center. They were small cylindrical inline units, scarcely noticeable when installed, and took less than fifteen minutes to position and hide in the vast collection of cabling that ran in dozens of conduit clusters leading into the computer center complex. The fire department completed their investigation and declared the fire to have been caused by a short circuit in a paint sprayer compressor. After the inevitable reams of paperwork had been filled out and submitted in quadruplicate to the various agencies and officials, Bob sat in the half-finished cafeteria with a cup of coffee and reviewed the day's events. His intelligence training just wouldn't let go - something was going on here. He didn't believe in coincidence or luck, at least not where matters of national security were concerned. He decided to go for a little walk and think things through.
Ian was tired but happy. He had finally gotten his new LAN configured the way he wanted. He was working part-time for a local computer store now, and his earnings, combined with the employee discount, had enabled him to pick up a nice hub and a small remanufactured router. He installed these in his room and connected all four of his computers to the new LAN so he could test his code under different environments and operating systems. He'd also gotten hold of an external SCSI hot swappable drive housing, which made it possible for him to keep several identical hard drives with different operating systems on them at the ready. All he had to do to go from Red Hat Linux to FreeBSD was swap out the drive and reboot. All in all, he could test three different incarnations of Linux, two commercial and three open flavors of Unix, three Microsoft operating systems, and even BeOS. Life was looking better and better. * * * * *
Douglas looked up from his computer and noticed the time. He was supposed to meet in the lobby in fifteen minutes for a tour of the new building. It wasn't ready for occupancy yet, but the anticipated move-in date was only two weeks away. The VP for Engineering wanted to make certain that everyone on the Bellatrix project was fully prepared, so that the downtime associated with the move was minimized. Douglas was usually a rather sedate individual, being more interested in engineering physics than smoozing, but he had to admit experiencing a certain sense of excitement at the thought of his new state-of-the-art laboratories. From his perspective, testing could start as soon as he was moved in. He had run every conceivable simulation so many times he could almost spit out the modeling profile data for each of them by memory. After the tour, Douglas sat at his non-classified workstation updating his personal Web sites. They weren't personal in that they displayed his favorite music or pictures of his dog, they were personal because they did not directly represent Acme Ailerons, its products, or services. They were, however, closely related to what Douglas did for a living, as they provided a variety of engineering utilities, links to current standards bodies and working groups, and the headquarters site for a local users' group for the principal Computer-Aided Engineering package that Douglas made use of in his job. He hadn't received specific written approval from his manager to operate the sites, primarily because he had put them up before the company had any formal policy on such things. In fact, Douglas's oldest site predated the Acme Ailerons site by over a year. According to his logs, more two thousand professionals in the international engineering community had his sites bookmarked, and he got around 400 page views a day. Not one of the top hundred Web sites by volume by any means, nevertheless one he was dedicated to maintaining. It made him feel as though he were doing his part to support the free and open sharing of information among the Web using public. He was careful never to let working on his sites interfere with his job, and usually did his updates and other changes either before or after his official duty hours. Truth be told, no one at Acme seemed even to have noticed Douglas's sites on their servers. All that was about to change, however. The
Engineering Department had just hired their own network manager. * * * * *
Deanna was an attractive woman. That was Jake's first impression of her, at least. After a more complete inspection, he upgraded his opinion to remarkably attractive. He had no idea what she thought of him, of course, but hope springs eternal... Wresting control back from his metencephalon, Jake switched on his professional mien. Deanna noticed the subtle change of direction and was silently impressed. As a consultant in the IT industry, she encountered unattached males of his type on a daily basis. Most didn't have the character or poise to snap out of appraisal mode before she was offended, or at least annoyed. Jake managed to sneak in under the wire on that score. Over the next few hours, Jake would get a taste of Deanna's formidable intellect and her keen analytical skills, as well. By the time she had gone over every item on her Solaris secure installation checklist with him, he'd more or less forgotten her physical charms, and was instead trying to keep up with her mentally. She was very thorough, and he sensed that she knew exactly what she was doing. They spent what seemed like hours just going through all the scripts in the /etc/rcx.d directories, stopping running scripts, setting them not to start on boot up, and testing the effects. They made sure the boxes weren't being used as routers, edited /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow to remove unnecessary default accounts, modified the search path and umask for root, and drastically reduced the number of services running under inetd. Next they installed TCP Wrappers, OpenSSH, and Tripwire, as well as Iplog and Snort. Deanna gave him her own handout on writing rules for Snort, and spent some time explaining and demonstrating the process. To wrap things up, they set TCP initial sequence numbering to strong, disabled IP forwarding and source routing in /etc/init.d/ineinit, set logging to a remote host that Jake had provided for that purpose, and removing unnecessary suid and sgid bits from system files. By the time they finished, it was almost five. As Deanna was packing up to leave, Jake tried to organize all the notes he'd taken and materials she'd provided him. He was trying desperately to keep it all from ending up as the seed of yet another deep pile of cellulose debris on one of his already densely populated work surfaces. Deanna watched him with a sort of detached amusement. "Why don't you get some file folders for all that?" she asked, arching her eyebrows. Jake looked a little sheepish, "I've got some - over there, in that drawer," he winced and cleared his throat, "I can never find enough time to print out the little labels for them." He trailed off, embarrassed. She looked at him and laughed. "Well, they say honesty counts for something." Jake really had no idea why he did what he did next, but something told him the time was right. He suddenly looked Deanna straight in the eyes and asked if she would have
dinner with him. He was immediately overcome with shock at being so forward, so much so that it took a few seconds for it to register when she just as suddenly said yes, she'd love to. Fortunately for Jake, it wasn't necessary for him to be anywhere or do anything for the next few minutes, as this little exchange had left his head spinning. Deanna smiled, shook his hand, and left his office, her own powers of ambulation seemingly unaffected. Sitting in her car on the way home, Deanna wasn't sure why she'd said yes. She'd never succumbed to temptation with a client before, not that many of them had been courageous enough to ask. It was something to do with Jake's eyes... * * * * *
Douglas put the phone receiver back in its cradle slowly, without any conscious awareness of the action. He was stunned by the words that had issued from that receiver, namely, that the new engineering network manager had ordered him to take down the Web sites he hosted on company systems. According to the network manager (whose name, Douglas seemed to recall, was something short and vaguely derisive) people hitting those sites were using company bandwidth that could be put to better use. Any site not officially sanctioned by Acme Ailerons and containing material not dedicated solely to the company's interests was henceforward banned from using any Acme resources. It wasn't that Douglas couldn't see the logic to this argument, or that he disagreed with the sentiment, close-minded though it may have been. It was the abrupt, coldly clinical way a stranger had called him up out of the blue and, without even discussing the situation, ordered him to negate several years' worth of his life. Two of Douglas' sites had won awards for fostering open sharing of information in the international engineering community. Douglas had received over two hundred e-mail messages of thanks and praise from every corner of the globe. None of these points seemed to matter to the voice on the other end of the line, however. In fact, he seemed to shrug them off the way a dog shakes off a bath. Douglas let the simulation he was running abort on an error and crash the system. He just wasn't able to think clearly at the moment. Douglas opened his e-mail. The first message he came to was a forward from a friend of his who was a systems administrator for a local community college. As he read, Douglas felt his shock and sense of betrayal gel rapidly into anger. The forwarded message was a post to a city-wide computer administrators' newsgroup. It made a number of uncomplimentary and totally baseless charges against Douglas, accusing him of deliberately circumventing the company's policy on personal Web sites. It implied that the reason Douglas hadn't asked for permission is that he knew it would be refused. The rant went on to suggest that the poster of the message was going to institute sweeping changes at Acme Ailerons in order to wipe out this "near-criminal misuse of company resources." It was signed: A. Asworthy
Network Manager Engineering Technologies Department Acme Ailerons Douglas punched the print hotkey on his e-mail program and stood there seething as the libelous document came spitting out of his DeskJet. This was no longer a misunderstanding that could be cleared up by a friendly meeting of the minds. This was war.
Episode Nine: Smoke and Mirrors Jake sat at his assigned terminal and looked over the scenario for the morning's exercise. He was in the third day of a five-day training class on hacking techniques. Today's lesson was the Distributed Denial of Service attack, or DDoS. His mission was to block access to a dummy Web server by compromising as many of the other students' boxes as possible and using them to saturate the target server's HTTP daemon. The Web server was running a variety of logging utilities so that the class could conduct an extensive postmortem of the attacks and observe firsthand the mechanics and resulting signature of this trendy form of entertainment. First things first, however. He needed to get his exploit script into someone else's machine while fending off attempts to do the same to his own. He did an arp -a to get a feel for the network neighborhood, then looked at his own IP address. It was 192.168.1.15. Made sense so far. The 192.168.0.0 address block was reserved for local use on networks not directly connected to the Internet. His arp showed him that the other machines were in the same subnet, ranging up to 192.168.1.24. He glanced down the ARP table at the hardware addresses of the network interface cards. There was a little bit of heterogeneity, but for the most part the cards were identical. Something about one of them rang a far, faint bell, but he didn't have time to sort out what it meant right now. Besides, knowing his psyche, it was probably part of some old girlfriend's telephone number. That train of thought segued smoothly into reveries about his recent dinner date with Deanna. Just as he was getting to the best part, the CPU usage meter in the lower right hand corner of his screen jumped up to near 100% and yanked him back into the here and now. Jake managed to evict the intruder, who had been rather clumsily searching his drives for something, and spent a few minutes locking down his system as Deanna had taught him to do. This time he managed to keep his mind on business, and so the process went fairly quickly. After he felt relatively safe from basic attack, he started doing some probes of his own. He portmapped everyone on the local segment, and put his network interface into promiscuous mode for a couple of megs of packet capture, just to get the lay of the land. Between the results of the portmapping and the network traffic profile he built up from sniffing, Jake now had a pretty good idea of what ports were being used by which machines. He used his browser to hit the target page. It came up very rapidly, which meant that no one had succeeded in affecting it yet. Well, the morning was young. * * * * *
Ian struggled to a sitting position. He'd come down with strep throat and spent the last eight days in bed. He was desperate to get back to his computers. There was only so much TV he could stand to watch, and the local cable offerings were none too swift even in the best of circumstances. He sat on the edge of his bed feeling dizzy and extremely weak, but determined to get online. He wished fervently he'd had enough sense to get a laptop; he would make that and an 802.11 network a priority in the future. After a few minutes of gathering strength, Ian stood up gingerly and shuffled
with agonizing slowness over to his command chair. He felt sure that parts of him would break off and shatter on the floor if he weren't very, very careful. He had a ton of email. He scanned it; most of it was either spam or stuff from various hacker mailing lists. One of them caught his eye; it was a forwarded news story about a hacker who called himself f00m4nchU who Ian recognized as a member of the BroadBandits. He'd been indicted on several counts of identity theft and computer fraud after being caught breaking into a popular online commerce site during an undercover sting operation. Ian was expecting himself to be outraged, but instead he just shrugged. He'd never liked f00m4nchU (whose real name, honest to goodness, was Dingle) much anyway. He was loud, brash, and far too sure of his own invulnerability. If there's one thing that Ian had learned along his tortuous path to hackerdom, it was to be cautious and never give away how much you really know. Act a little stupid, a little naive. Watch, listen, learn, survive. That was his mantra. You go sticking your arm down every drainpipe that comes along, sooner or later something's going to bite you, and bite you hard. Hey, that was just Darwin in action. The feds were like wolves: they cut the weak, injured, and stupid out of the herd, leaving the strong and smart to graze another day. Ian had spent a lot of time thinking while he was flat on his back in bed. He was determined to be a survivor, and that meant staying alert and not taking foolish risks. Realizing that he was drifting off, Ian forced himself awake and plugged into his favorite chat room on DALnet. Time to see what the monkeys in the zoo were up to. * * * * *
Douglas paused with his finger on the "enter" key. He wasn't a melodramatic person by nature, not at all. It was just that this was something of an occasion, being both the first simulation in the new building using the new supercomputer, and also the first ever in situ trial of the cryogenic pulse lasers that were supposed to induce the microeddy necessary for the quantum computer components to function. Deep down, he was a little afraid of what might (or might not) happen when he pushed that key. He'd been in a sour mood since the Web site incident, and the failure of his boss to have even a smidgen of sympathy for his position certainly hadn't done anything to improve it. He definitely had plans for the unpleasant Mr. Asworthy, but they would have to wait. Right now he was feeling an old familiar uncertainty about just what in the heck he was really doing on this project. Uncertainty made him a little woozy, and it occurred to him that he must look faintly comical standing there with his finger poised above a computer keyboard while he swayed ever so gently like a sapling in the breeze. He'd probably even chuckle at himself if he weren't afraid it would make him sick. Douglas had no problem with the physics of the lasers, their supercoolant systems, the little polarizing mirrors through which their beams passed, or even the shielded chamber full of thick translucent goo into which they fired. What he found difficult to contemplate was the assertion that the computer would operate on different quantum channels simultaneously, some of which would produce their answers effectively before
he pushed the button, but not until after he had done so. This sounded like drunken nonsense to Douglas, yet the mathematics describing the effect, at least that part of them he could truly grasp, seemed to support this insane conjecture. The purpose of this initial series of test runs, apart from simply verifying the experimental electronics and architecture, was to establish the correlation between the thermal and energetic parameters of the test environment and the number of quantum channels generated. Theory held that as the thermal background approached the asymptotic limit of 0 degrees Kelvin, the number of functional quantum channels in existence within the n-dimensional singularity where the laser beams met would increase logarithmically. The beams did not actually meet, but were aimed at one another in such a way as to leave a tiny gap between them. As the photons streamed past one another heading in opposite directions, they induced a tiny rotational current in the highly viscous Bose-Einstein condensate filling the chamber. This eddy supposedly existed in multiple dimensions at once, and had the weird effect of exchanging linear distance with time. Movement perpendicular to the rotational axis of the eddy moved particles back and forth in time, instead of in space. When photons of a known state were introduced into the eddy through inductive coupling, they could be deflected in and out of the singularity by very slight modulations of current, which changed their attitude to the opposite state. In other words, they could be designated as "ones" or "zeros"--binary information. With every pulse of the laser, a new calculation could be carried out in each of the dimensional "niches" in the chamber. To speed things up even more, some of the calculations would be carried out in a quantum state that, when the current laser pulse ended, would collapse far enough along the temporal vector that from the point of view of an observer they would appear never to have existed at all (having been created in the now but destroyed in the past), yet information about the states of the photons contained in them would still be available. The trick to doing anything useful with quantum information is to gather it intact. The nature of quantum mechanics is such that, as Schrödinger and his cat so vividly illustrated, the very act of observing quantum states changes them. How, then, could this quantum computer ever be used to generate meaningful and, more to the point, accurate computations? The answer lay in another nifty magic trick of physics called entanglement. As it turns out, under very special circumstances a pair of photons may be 'synchronized' so tightly that their states remain identical, even when separated by trillions of miles or millions of years. The explanation for this is quite frankly unknown, but it makes for some dramatic parlor tricks. There had been a method for producing these tightly coupled pairs published in a public journal, so that technology wasn't really new. What made Bellatrix such a bombshell breakthrough is that it employed the same basic mechanism that created the quantum singularity to produce the entangled pairs. It was a two-for-one bonus, and it made the quantum computer a viable idea for the first time. The theoretical limit for calculation speed was a number with a whole slew of zeros in it per second, but no one really knew how that would work out in practice. Douglas and his team were about to be the first people to know the answer to that question. Taking a deep breath, Douglas pressed the fateful key. * * * * *
Baseball Cap smiled cheerfully at his laptop. He was just pleased as punch to see those liquid crystal letters and numbers appearing on the screen. The laptop was connected to a little black box with a popup antenna that looked for all the world like some transistor radio from the 1960s. There was no tuning dial, however, for this radio only received one station, whose transmitter was a small cylinder attached to a fiber optic cable buried deep beneath the floor tiles of the building across the street. If you were to listen to that station, all you would hear would be what sounded like intense bursts of static at random intervals of a few seconds to a few minutes. The station was Acme Ailerons, and the static was top secret project Bellatrix data that belonged to the United States Department of Defense-and that was why Baseball Cap was smiling. Everything was going exactly according to plan. Some people believe that every action in the universe, down to the last collision between random dust grains in deep intergalactic space, is part of some grand overall plan. Some believe, on the other hand, that virtually every action is the result of incomprehensible forces of chaos and entropy that cannot be predicted or controlled, even temporarily, on any but the most local scale. Still others see the universe as a careful balance between order and chaos, a balance which is perpetually maintained by equal but opposite events. Baseball cap, for his part, saw the universe as a giant playground for his personal use. All plans were therefore ultimately constructed for his eventual benefit. Questions of loyalty, honor, ethics, and morality were mere philosophical banter--interesting as topics for discussion over a few beers in the tavern, but not applicable to everyday life--at least not his life, anyway. Only those things that directly contributed to the good of Baseball cap were of any lasting significance. Only those plans which furthered his interests were worth bothering with, and these were the only plans Baseball cap would pursue. So far, this had been quite a successful philosophy for him. His organization was large, well-supported, and highly profitable. He was operating with impunity right under the noses of people who considered themselves the smartest and most technically advanced military force on the planet. Life was good. * * * * *
Over a thousand miles from Baseball cap and his static-collecting laptop, however, a extraordinarily unlikely sequence of events was coming to pass that would prove unequivocally that the universe doesn't give a wet slap about your plans.
Episode Ten: The Road Less Traveled It was almost noon, and no one had managed to have much effect on the target Web server in Jake's "hands on" hacking class. There had been a couple of minor interruptions, but nothing that could really be classified as a denial of service. The instructor had warned them at the beginning that this was not meant to be a pushover exercise; it was becoming apparent to the students that he wasn't kidding. Jake had tried most of the tricks he knew, with no success: smurf, ping of death, echo-chargen, and teardrop, among others. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. It was time to think outside the box. He mentally ran over all he had learned in the lecture portion of the class, taking it point by point. No insights there. He thought about the hundreds of messages pertaining to denial of service attacks he'd read on various security-related mailing lists and news sites. Nothing leapt out at him. He reached forward and idly scrolled back through his command history. Something made him stop at 'arp -a' and hit enter. As the arp table printed out he scanned the hardware addresses, and suddenly the reason his subconscious had urged him to replay this command hit him. The first six hex characters in the hardware address were called the OUI, or Organizationally Unique Identifier. They were assigned to specific manufacturers of network-enabled devices by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers as a means of identifying the device on a network. The OUI was combined with a serial number to label each network device uniquely, like a fingerprint. One of the computers on this network had an OUI that Jake recognized: it was a network interface card with which he'd had extensive dealings in a previous job. At first glance there wouldn't seem to be any useful information in this discovery, but after a few seconds of concentrated thought Jake realized that here was a potential exploit staring him in the face. * * * * *
A bit anticlimactic, thought Douglas. He had been watching the Bellatrix display panel for ten seconds now, and nothing much had happened. Admittedly, this was just an early operational test of a system he'd never really expected to work, but somehow the lack of any visible result at all was a little disappointing. The apparatus was obviously on, and the lasers were pulsing. No numbers were appearing on the screen, however. Everyone in the room let out a collective exhale when it became apparent that the first trial run wasn't going to produce anything spectacular. Most of the witnesses were officials with tight schedules, so the development manager stood up and hastily reminded everyone that this was merely an initial trial to work out some of the kinks, and that the absence of spectacular results didn't have any bearing on the ultimate success of the project. He put up a brave front, but it was apparent to anyone paying close attention that he was just as disappointed as the rest of the crowd. Douglas was puzzled. All of the components passed their function checks, and the system seemed to be performing as designed, except for the minor glitch of not producing any actual result. He checked and rechecked all the test parameters, looking for some anomaly that might explain the failure. By the time he had finished his first diagnostic run-through, it was early evening and everyone else in the Bellatrix SCIF had gone home. Douglas was on the verge of joining them when his eye jiggled a
bit while scanning a row of binary numbers representing the settings of software flags. He carefully compared the numbers fed into the test program with the ones he'd prepared from countless simulation runs. The lists were identical except for one number. Tracing back the position of that number and matching it to the parameter database, Douglas suddenly realized what had happened. They had asked the system to perform all calculations using only virtual quantum channels those which reentered the "real" world before the experiment started. While it was possible to gather information thus calculated by analyzing the states of photons entangled with those in the virtual channels, it couldn't be done unless a real channel had been reserved for each entangled pair so the results could be displayed. The errant "0" had made all those numbers be generated before the apparatus had been able to register them. A simple change to one number, a reload of the parameters, and a few seconds to reenergize the lasers. Douglas pressed the enter key with no fanfare at all this time. Three seconds later screen full after screen full of numbers began spewing out, almost faster than the processors and data bus on the heavily beefed up workstation could handle. The system was programmed to run for ten seconds. At the end of that time, which seemed like an eternity to Douglas as he sat, fascinated, watching the blur of mathematics, the machine shut down. It took about fifteen more seconds for the supercomputer buried deep in the bowels of the facility to read the generated data and spit out a statistical analysis of it. For a long moment Douglas didn't completely comprehend what the analysis was telling him. It seemed somehow unreal, like a signpost half remembered from a dream. He printed it out and sat staring at it for quite a while, trying to wrap his brain around the number. As he stared at it, it became meaningless, the way any word or symbol can do when pondered too long without any context. Finally he decided simply to walk away and worry about it in the morning. He left the printout there on the console, switched off the power and the lights, and headed for less mind-numbing climes. The printout read: Effective Processing Speed Achieved: 145,783,219,423,655 flops per second. Estimated Percentage of Total Operational Capacity: 0.034 * * * * *
Ian had been lurking on his favorite IRC channel for about half an hour, while playing a computer game on another system. He wasn't paying close attention to who was conversing, or what they were saying. He just had the words scrolling by as a sort of background noise while he blew away mobsters in an Orwellian New York City. In between gunfights, however, he happened to glance at the IRC screen and see something that snatched his attention away from crime-fighting altogether. It was an IP address someone had posted as being open to a newly released exploit. The address was in a range that looked very familiar to Ian... The dotted quad did, in fact, point to Acme Ailerons, but it wasn't one Ian had ever seen before. He felt himself oddly angered that anyone else would dare to be probing around in 'his' territory. He shut down the game he was playing and headed straight to
the indicated address to see what sort of vulnerabilities it evinced. The thought that other people were probably doing the same made him all the more determined to get there first and head them off. The answers Ian got back from his port mapping and OS fingerprinting were surprisingly inconclusive. He wasn't sure just what sort of box this was; he wondered what made the lamers on IRC think it was exploitable. It did seem to be wide open and outside the firewall, though. Maybe they knew something he didn't. He went back and read the entire IRC transcript to find out what had made the AA box a topic of conversation in the first place. Apparently a few guys had noticed an odd traffic pattern associated with the Acme box and concluded, rather baselessly, that it was being generated by a new exploit of some kind. Ian didn't have any idea what was causing the traffic, but he felt relatively sure that it wasn't a run-of-the-mill hack. It almost looked as though the box were being used as some sort of relay. The disturbing thing was that the data being relayed were encrypted and seemingly headed for an IP address not routable by properly configured routers. While it was possible that the data were simply going from one internal machine to another, the latency suggested otherwise. Unless something was seriously wrong with the campus network at Acme, this system was transmitting bursts of encoded data to an address a long way off. While Ian was far from being an expert at all aspects of Acme's business dealings, he was quite familiar with their network traffic patterns. He ought to be he'd mapped them extensively for over a year now. At first he was just trying to impress the BroadBandits and be accepted. As time went on, though, that goal became less and less important. What really mattered to him was the sheer adrenalin rush of learning new things about computers and networks. He was obsessed with each little grain of information and addicted to the hunt for more. As he watched the curious network activity emanating from that one mysterious Acme node, he was a bit surprised to realize that he was worried about something illicit going on. Ian had come to regard Acme as his personal stomping grounds, and the idea that someone else might be exploiting them irritated him. He decided to investigate further and put a stop to it if he could. * * * * *
Will Briggs sat at his desk with an envelope in front of him. It had just been delivered by special courier, and was sealed about half a dozen ways. It had a variety of official warnings emblazoned on it about the dire consequences of opening it if you weren't Col. William Briggs. He took a few seconds to make sure he was the right Col. William Briggs, just to be absolutely clear on the point. No sense taking chances. Once he had managed to convince himself of his identity, Will began breaking the seals on the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of paper, embossed with the seal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Department of Defense. It had "Eyes Only" stamped across it in bright red ink. Will chuckled. He'd always found this particular phrase amusing. "I'm sure as heck not gonna read it with my feet," he muttered. The contents of the letter were curt and to the point. In fact, they consisted of only one
sentence: Request for suspension of Project Bellatrix pending security review denied. Reason: insufficient cause. And that was that. Will sighed and shrugged. He'd given it his best shot. The high muckity-mucks weren't impressed. All he could do now is hope that he and Bob had been wrong. He wasn't very optimistic about the odds surrounding that assertion, however. When two veteran intelligence officers have the same gut feeling, it usually turns out to be justified. Only time would tell. * * * * *
Deanna glanced at her watch. She had one more client visit to make, then at five o'clock she was going to pick Jake up at his training class. She and Jake were seeing more and more of one another these past few weeks. She wondered just how far things would get. So far Jake hadn't done anything but make her happy. In her experience, though, it was only a matter of time until he started to slip up. Every one of her relationships up to now had followed that old familiar pattern. Still, one could hope... * * * * *
On a high plateau in Anatolia, a lizard scampered madly across a sandstone outcropping as the peaceful rhythms of the desert were shattered by the roar of a rocket booster coming to life. It lifted off flawlessly, carrying into orbit a smallish tuna can-shaped satellite about six feet in diameter. While it was tracked by multiple governments across the planet, it was registered to a private company who was reportedly establishing a telecommunications network to support its commercial activities, and so was not regarded as any sort of military threat. The owner of record of the newly launched satellite was a Dutch-based company called Global Technical Products, AG. The tracking stations relaxed once orbit had been achieved. There was nothing to worry about, now that the satellite was safely in its planned trajectory. The lizard watched the fiery demon scream towards the sky with a deep sense of foreboding. Nothing like this had ever before disturbed his peaceful existence. Though he could not grasp the mechanism of or purpose for the launch, he knew instinctively that it was not a natural event in his desert, and therefore must be a bad thing. There was something intrinsically evil about it. Score: lizard 1, world governments 0.
Episode Eleven: Fire and Brimstone "What do you mean, you want to get in touch with the feds? Have you been eating moron sandwiches again?" Ian sighed and paused to calm himself before replying. "Look, dude, I just found some stuff that I think might be serious. It might be some kind of spy stuff. It's encrypted and being burst in small packet fragments at irregular intervals from a computer that isn't supposed to be there." "So what? What business is it of yours? You can't get involved, man. They'll drop your butt in the Mitnick suite so fast you'll be able to watch time dilate." Ian wasn't having any more of this. "I don't need a lecture, I need a plan. I figure you're my best shot at finding someone who'll listen. Are you gonna help me, or do I let my fingers do the walking?" The voice at the other end of Ian's phone was silent for a minute. "Okay, okay. At least I can keep you from being too damn easy to track." Ian wasn't very happy about that negative assessment of his own stealth skills, but now was not the time to get dragged into another largely pointless dialectic. "I'll ship you a PGP-signed doc with some chained remailer URLs and an email address where you can send the tip. Wipe, and I mean really wipe, the message when you're done with it. Don't screw this up or we may both regret it." "Thanks a lot, dude," Ian rolled his eyes but tried not to sound annoyed. "You sure you've got my public key?" "I'm sure. I'm looking at it right now." "Awesome. Later." "Later." Click. Ian plopped the phone down and stared at the wall for a moment, absorbed in thought. He was beginning to realize that most of his so-called friends in the underground were self-serving little egomaniacs with no social consciousness. "What a prick," he mumbled. * * * * *
Jake sat in the hotel restaurant eating the rather expensive meal he'd bought himself as a congratulatory gesture after winning the DOS challenge in his hacking class earlier that day. He'd taken advantage of a known bug in the network interface card of one of his classmates' workstations to render the LAN more or less unstable. Packets
were dropped, nodes were kicked off the network at random, and in general data communications were hosed. While his solution wasn't one the instructor had anticipated, it fell within the rules as established for denial of service, and Jake was declared the winner. He got a tee shirt and another coffee mug. He also got bragging rights, which he valued far more highly. He couldn't wait to tell Deanna. * * * * *
Douglas' late-night discovery caused quite a stir the next morning. In typical sparse Douglas fashion, he had reported it to the project leader in an email as follows: Found bad parameter. Bellatrix now operational. D. It would take some time to reassemble all the luminaries who were supposed to witness the first full scale test. Meanwhile, Douglas was free to noodle around with the settings and make some preliminary runs. It would be a bad thing if anything went wrong with the second test, so he had to make absolutely certain everything was shipshape. This meant exhaustively reevaluating the effect of each parameter on the outcome of the run. As he was conducting these rather tedious exercises, Douglas found himself pondering the larger consequences of their engineering achievement. They hadn't just built a super fast computer: they had created a time machine. They had also developed a reliable means of producing and manipulating entangled photons, each pair of which remained perfectly coordinated even when separated by vast distances or millions of years. Although Acme Ailerons wasn't the first to achieve this latter functionality, they had by far the most efficient entanglement generator, and the shortest cycle time. The implications of this were only beginning to dawn on Douglas. They hadn't escaped the people who were funding Project Bellatrix, either. * * * * *
Colonel William Briggs was in a bad mood. Not only had his request for increased security on Bellatrix been flatly denied, but the S.U.V. he had bought a year earlier because everyone else in his social set had one was proving to be an unreliable, gasguzzling monster. He remembered with exaggerated fondness the little two-seater sports car he'd driven while he was stationed in Germany just after the reunification. The Autobahn, the crisp Black Forest air, the heady highway smells... He'd just poured his second cup of coffee and was reading the security dispatches from the previous evening when his adjutant called. The Captain's voice was hollow and shaking. "You'd better turn on CNN, sir." Will wrinkled up his nose. "TV, this time of morning? Don't tell me the Rangers actually won a game." Something about his aide's reply made Will's stomach turn to jelly. "No, sir...You need to see for yourself." Will walked over to his office television and reached for the switch. He found that he had to will himself to press it. The first picture he saw was a very tall, strangely familiar building with heavy black smoke pouring out of it. Even before fully understanding the
situation, he sensed instinctively that something fundamental about his universe had forever changed. * * * * *
The threat analysts at the super-secret Defense Intelligence Analysis Center are responsible for scrutinizing thousands of mostly nebulous bits of information every day. While there were various levels of machine screening of incoming data using some extremely sophisticated algorithms, in the end the final determinations of threat validity and severity were made by human analysts. After a couple of years in that job, the best analysts developed a sort of 'sixth sense' (which was really probably just a highly developed pattern-recognition acumen) for picking out significant threats from seemingly innocuous looking words and phrases. Analysts could assign a threat index to each event they examined, from alpha (no plausible threat) to delta (clear and immediate threat to national security). However, since any events labeled 'charlie' or 'delta' were forwarded to field agents for immediate action, analysts were under considerable pressure not to classify events in the top two categories unless they were absolutely convinced that a definite threat existed. The analyst who received the anonymous email skimmed it for anything really significant. It seemed to be classic paranoid babble about security flaws and foreign spies. While it mentioned a known Defense Department contractor facility, there were no references to any classified project names or details, just something about "data bursts" and encryption. She read it again, then clicked on the 'alpha' category, with a subcategory of 2 (threat unsubstantiated by evidence), and was about to hit the 'enter' key when her screen locked up. At the same time, the red Threatcon Delta beacon began flashing high on the wall. She closed and locked the metal housing that secured her keyboard, as per regulations, and headed off to the briefing room. Another drill, she thought. When she returned to her duties about an hour later, she was visibly shaken. She sank mechanically into the fabric-covered chair at her console and fumbled with the little silver key and seven digit code that restored access to her keyboard. It took her a few seconds to remember where she had left off. Her screen was now unlocked, and she reached for the 'enter' key again. As she did, however, she glanced once more at the message she had just classified as 'no threat' and her eyes came to rest on one detail she had somehow missed before. The message sender had thoughtfully looked up the registrant for the IP address to which the encrypted data were supposedly being sent. It was Global Technical Products, AG, with an address in the Netherlands. Something about that corporate designation struck her as suspicious, although she couldn't immediately put her finger on the anomaly. She punched up an intelligence database on an adjacent system and did a search. Global Technical Products, AG, was considered a 'questionable' corporation, with some as yet unconfirmed ties to organizations the United States classified as supporting terrorist activities. Yeah, well, this described half the companies in Eurasia. All you had to do was sell one wingnut to the mechanic who once fixed a car belonging to one of Yasser Arafat's lieutenants to get on that list; this wasn't enough to rate even a 'baker' classification in and of itself.
As she tapped her fingers thoughtfully on the keyboard wrist pad, the "AG" part suddenly struck her as the incongruity. AG was an acronym for Aktiengesellschaft, a German designation roughly equivalent to the American "Incorporated." GTP was headquartered in Holland, however, where the same designation was Naamloze Vennootschappen, or N.V. A minor point, to be sure, and possibly just some sort of clerical error, but it rang her alarm bell nonetheless. She reached for the mouse and moved her check mark from the 'alpha' box to one marked 'charlie.' She had no real reason for this upgrade to "probable real threat" except a deep gut feeling that was probably at least partially the result of recent events. She was being paranoid, but 'informed paranoia' was, after all, her stock in trade. She took a deep breath and pressed the 'enter' key. She knew immediately that this was the right thing to do, paranoid or not. Sometimes instinct overrode all other considerations. * * * * *
Baseball cap watched the horrific scenario unfolding on the American east coast with concern. He wasn't really bothered by the almost unimaginable destruction and loss of life that was philosophically compatible with his own goal but by the disruption this event was probably going to cause to his own operation. His organization had spent thousands of man hours training, infiltrating, and now harvesting. He was a highly proficient surgeon, skillfully extracting information of immense value from the bloated and decadent West with a deft scalpel. Now, just as things are going perfectly, some maniac comes along and attacks the surgical ward with a wrecking ball. Another two weeks and it wouldn't have mattered so much. The salient data from the project would be gleaned and the operation could be quietly shut down without detrimental effect to the cause. Oh well, the damage was done. All he could do was ride out the storm and hope for the best. He ran his finger around the safety latch over the radio controller that would detonate the small explosive charges on the transmitters deep in the flooring beneath the Acme Ailerons secure facility computer room. Sooner or later he would press that button, but when that happened he needed to be in the car on the way to the airport. Of course, that would require the airport to be open. The uncertainty surrounding the time frame for the availability of his carefully planned escape route made him uneasy and angry. No one in his organization had warned him of this turn of events. Someone, somewhere, had failed him, and he would find out who if it was the last thing he did in this life. * * * * *
Bob, Vijay, and a couple of senior vice presidents were holed up in a conference room in the secure facility. They were having a 'pre-meeting meeting' to agree on Acme's stance before the DoD officials arrived. Everyone at the table was still in a state of shock over the events of earlier that morning, but the ramifications of America's worst terrorist attack were already beginning to manifest themselves. Every military base in the area was locked down at Threatcon Delta. All non-military air travel was
suspended indefinitely. The company's the nation's neatly arranged priorities had been scattered like leaves in a sudden violent September squall. When the two Defense Department liaisons finally arrived, they wore ashen faces, grim with resolve. One of them handed a bright red envelope to Bob. He opened it slowly, reluctantly, as though it might contain anthrax spores. Inside was a solitary sheet of paper, with the letterhead of Colonel William Briggs. On it was written single arresting sentence: Red Licorice Five confirmed.
Episode Twelve: The Serpent's Tooth Jake and Deanna sat in a quiet little out-of-the-way Oriental restaurant in the old King William district and gazed into one another's eyes. They held hands across a small antique table equipped with a brightly colored vinyl tablecloth, a small candle in a knobby red glass vase, and a single artificial flower that had seen better days. They weren't so much romancing as simply drawing support from one another. The shock of recent events had begun to wear off, leaving in its wake a dull melange of fear, sadness, and a deep sense of innocence lost. Life was suddenly rather empty and forlorn, as though the laughter of nearby children and the verdant aroma of honeysuckle had been abruptly banished from the world. Though the South Texas air was still quite warm, the city, the planet, the universe, seemed cold and harsh. It was hard to remember the smiles of friends, or celebrations, or joy, or the elations of the past. They clung to one another and hoped that the light would gradually return, although they sensed somehow that it could never be the same illumination they had once known. As though in response to their shared anguish, both of them had found the same message printed on the little slip of paper in their respective fortune cookies: "This too shall pass." * * * * *
Baseball cap winced. His data stream had suddenly been cut off, for no apparent reason. He couldn't tell if the problem was with the transmitters, his receiver, or some other component. This was the first real data transmission failure since the project began, and coming as it did at a critical point in the proceedings, it made him very nervous. He walked over to the windows and opened a narrow slit in the blinds. The street looked normal; no unusual vehicles or other suspicious activity were in evidence. He shrugged and sat down at his desk. Perhaps there would be a coded message in his e-mail that would shed some light on the situation. He had four e-mails to download. That was about the usual number. One of them was quite large; it might be an important communiqué from the home office. As luck would have it, of course, it was the last message on the list. He waited somewhat impatiently as the first three slowly slithered their way onto his hard drive. One was a software vendor offering him a demo version of some new and vastly improved knowledge management system; he chuckled at that in spite of himself. The next bit of wisdom was a blunt invitation to a sex site, sent from an obviously spoofed address. He made a mental note to visit the indicated URL later. The third and final obstruction to the information he really needed to see was a message telling him that a new computer virus was going around that would erase his hard drive and sell the contents of his e-mail address file to the highest bidder via an online auction site. Baseball Cap raised his eyebrows as far as they would go and clicked on the attachment, which promised to protect his system from this new menace. After a few seconds a graphic of a large snarling dog sporting a collar studded with nasty metal spikes appeared on his screen, with the words "System Protected" emblazoned in large red letters beneath it. Well, thought Baseball Cap, that's one less thing I have to worry about.
Finally the message he was waiting for began to download. About three quarters of the way through, his system locked up. He gritted his teeth and started pressing keys. Nothing helped. He tried ctrl-alt-del. That elicited no response, either. He waited a couple of minutes, and turned off the CPU. After thirty seconds of concentrated agony, he turned the computer back on. It churned for a moment, then this ominous message appeared: Operating System Not Found. * * * * *
Ian had gotten into intrusion detection systems. He'd started with some simple packet filtering, progressed to IP Chains, and now was exploring the intricacies of Snort. He set up one of the Linux boxes on his LAN as a hacking target, running Snort, TCP-Wrappers, and IPLog. He particularly favored Snort because it was written in Perl. While he still wasn't nearly as good at C as he'd like, Ian had become quite proficient at Perl. It made sense to him, whereas the pointers and memory allocation/cleanup stuff in C sometimes left him confused, especially when he was tired and trying to finish a complex hack before bed. Ian's collection of programs designed to break into or gather information on other people's systems was sizeable. While he'd usually tested these exploits on his own boxes before using them against someone else, he'd never really done much with code designed to fend off these attacks, or at least track them. Mostly he just looked for target systems that weren't using any firewalls or other defensive programs. But now it seemed to him that the next logical step in his evolution should be to embrace and fully comprehend the other side of the hacking coin; i.e., defending against malicious code. The more he played with Snort, the more he liked it. There were so many rules to tinker with, and so many individual components that could be altered a little bit at a time, to observe the effect. Ian learned much more by experimentation than he did from reading manuals or textbooks. He also had a lot more fun that way. Ian had largely forgotten about the message he had sent pointing out the suspicious activity at Acme Ailerons. The traffic stopped; whether his message had anything to do with it he had no way of confirming. His interests had begun to shift away from Web page defacements and 0-day exploits to network engineering. Acme's once tantalizingly open network had become increasingly less accessible, and Ian had grown less and less interested in challenging it. He was maturing into a true hacker. He was also, unknowingly, the subject of a rather impressive manhunt. * * * * *
Bob sighed as he stared at the mountain of paperwork he needed to wade through before his round of meetings started bright and early the next morning. The new emergency security measures in place meant that not a lot of work was getting done in the secure facility, what with all the searches and random audits and surprise inspections. Not only did he have to address the information security issues, he also had to explain to the board of directors why people were having a harder time
accessing data from their workstations. He started daydreaming about retirement and that little llama ranch he'd always wanted... An unfamiliar phone ringing shook him loose from his reveries. He frowned and looked at his desktop. After a confused moment he saw the secure phone that the DoD had installed the previous day, with a direct link to Colonel Briggs, and identified it as the source of the foreign ring. He picked up the sleek white receiver. "Bob here." "Bob, this is Will." Big shock, Bob thought. "We've had an interesting development. Meet me in the parking garage in 30 minutes, near the South elevator." "Wilco," Bob replied, "Anything I need to bring?" "Network cabling diagrams would be nice," said the voice on the other end of the phone. Bob looked surprised, but simply said, "Check. See you then." Network cabling diagrams? This was getting weirder by the minute. * * * * *
Douglas and in fact most of the rest of the civilian Bellatrix team were frustrated. Now that the quantum computing model had proven itself, they were anxious to begin full scale testing. However, the labs were locked down tight, surrounded by armed guards. They weren't allowed anywhere in the facility except for their own offices. Douglas sat at his table full of computer terminals and reflected on how much of his career as an engineer he'd spent waiting for someone else to finish something so he could get on with a project. It was a depressingly large chunk, he decided. It could be days or even weeks before the military felt that security had been sufficiently restored to allow them to get back to work. By then he would have lost most of his 'intellectual momentum,' not to mention having forgotten the million little mental notes he had made during the recent trials. Douglas wasn't in the habit of committing such things to paper, given the amount of time involved, but maybe he should try writing at least some of the more important stuff down before it got buried too deeply in his long-term memory, or simply cast off. As he was struggling with putting into words as many of his mental notes as possible, one of them jiggled a neuron that started a chain reaction in his brain, the upshot of which was Douglas suddenly remembered a "back door" he had left in the systems control box in the laser lab. When he was doing the final calibration of the controller, he had created a direct duplexing link from his workstation to the box. This allowed him to tweak and monitor the controller from his office, where the modeling and other salient engineering software resided. It wasn't technically within the rules, since his office was
not afforded the same security level designation as the lab, but it saved Douglas a lot of walking back and forth. He scooted over to the appropriate terminal and typed a few commands. The link was still there, and still fully functional. Now if he could just figure out some way to power up the lasers from here... * * * * *
Merv the facilities engineer was on the verge of total panic. He was sitting in a tiny cell that seemed to be made completely of steel, with no windows and very heavy bars where the door should be. How he came to be there was the part that made him want to panic. He'd come to work at his usual time, about 7:15 AM, and found two men in dark suits waiting for him. The building was crawling with military and civilian security types recently; he didn't see anything unusual about two more of them, even though they seemed uncomfortably interested in him specifically. The men followed him into the building and waited until he sat at his desk. They started asking questions about his job, his computer, his recent travels, and other seemingly unrelated things. He answered them the best he could, but when they started asking questions about his computer, he found himself unable to satisfy them. They handcuffed him and told him he was under arrest for 'espionage.' Merv didn't have the slightest idea what they were talking about. Now he was sitting in a steel cage in some building, still without a clue as to why. He hadn't been allowed to make any phone calls, or in fact been able to talk to anyone at all. He was alone and trapped in a predicament that was, as far as he could tell, totally unrelated to anything he had done to deserve it. * * * * *
In a high-ceilinged room that smelled faintly of spices, several well-dressed men were engaged in a spirited conversation. "We have the satellite, we have several gigabytes of data, and we have the tapes. We do not need the American." "But he has been our contact and ally for years. We cannot simply abandon him!" "He is an American. Sooner or later he will betray us. It is the way of the corrupt West." "So you are saying that we should betray him first? Is that honorable?" "Honor has nothing to do with it. We are fighting for our very existence here!" "I cannot agree to such an act of treachery. We must allow him time to escape." "Fortunately for our organization, your agreement is not essential. I have already
ordered it be done; further discussion is pointless." "You have not heard the last of this, I think." "On the contrary, my friend, I think I have."
Episode Thirteen: Cabbages and Kings Jake sat at the incarcerated Merv's terminal and scratched his head. The military security people had told him that this box was sending bursts of (presumed) classified data to an undisclosed location in another country. Okay, except that this segment of the network had no physical attachment to the secured net. In fact, the segment into which this box was plugged wasn't even on his network map. That was a little disturbing, but not entirely surprising, since the data telecomm documentation he'd inherited from his predecessor was a little on the skimpy side. Facilities wasn't exactly the center of the Acme Ailerons computing universe, after all. Jake felt he had a pretty decent grasp of the overall topology of the networks under his control, but every now and then something like this popped up to remind him that he was a bit shy of omniscience. Still, he was puzzled and concerned that someone could be compromising a top secret project right under his nose. He gathered all the relevant data he could about the network interface card and cabling; the hard drive had been removed by the feds for forensic analysis. The IP address being used by the box was one belonging to a DHCP pool and wasn't supposed to be assigned statically. Well, he thought grimly, this wasn't the first time policy and reality had been slightly out of alignment-- it was just the most significant. * * * * *
Baseball cap was running scared. He had no functional computer, no data, and his pipeline back to the organization seemed to have been severed. He was alone in a hostile country, a country which had cherished him as a native son until he had turned his back on that relationship of trust and plotted against the nation of his birth. He didn't know what had happened, but somehow his cover had been blown. It seemed almost inconceivable he had taken every precaution, observed every protocol. Nevertheless, he knew a stakeout when he saw one. They were waiting for him. His only chance was to leave the building unobserved, or at least unrecognized. He arranged for a friend to pick him up two blocks away, at a preset location that he referred to on the phone by a code name, to confuse the inevitable phone tappers. Now he just had to figure out how to get there. * * * * *
Bob cradled his sheath of blueprints under his arm and stepped off the parking garage elevator. He was beginning to feel as though he'd never retired from Army Intelligence. He kept having flashbacks of little plywood-paneled hole-in-the-wall offices in which he'd spent months at a time, poring over photographs and intercepted dispatches, looking for code words and hidden meanings. He could smell once again the peculiar combination of dust, photographic developer, dried perspiration, and insect repellant that permeated his working days. His vivid reminiscences were interrupted by Will's voice. It took Bob a moment to refocus his thoughts on the present. Will had been a part of that past, and the
juxtaposition disoriented him briefly. "Glad you could make it, Bob. Let's step into my office over here and take a look at those diagrams." Will was congenial, but there was an undercurrent of urgency that served as the final impetus to pull Bob back into the here and now. "Sorry I'm a little late. It took me a while to find some of these plats," he apologized, "I had them sort of misfiled." "Not a problem," replied Will. He led Bob into the back of a panel truck, the inside of which was decked out with an impressive collection of electronic gear and soundproofing. Bob whistled through his teeth. "Nice setup," he said, appreciatively. He noticed several small monitors in various locations. "So, you guys get ESPN in here?" One of the agents smiled and replied, "When it's part of the mission, you bet." Will chuckled. "We're equipped to monitor just about anything we need to monitor, including broadcast TV, digital satellite, microwave, wireless, IR, Bluetooth, you name it. A little better than in your day." Bob shook his head. "Boy, that's the truth. I remember trying to read lips with binoculars through a fogged-up window and straining to hear what was going on below you using a ceramic mike lowered into a ventilation duct from the attic crawlspace. Now you sit in a temperature controlled van and watch the World Series." After a slight pause he added, "that's what I call progress." Will laughed and spread out the secure network topology map. He studied it intently for a full minute. "What is it exactly that you're looking for?" Bob finally asked. "I have a sneaking suspicion that there's something on your network that you don't know about," replied Will, without looking up from the map, "and I'm trying to figure out where it might be hidden." Bob's forehead wrinkled. "What do you mean 'something I don't know about?' You and I watched every component of that thing get screwed on, plugged in, and locked down. How could there be anything I don't know about?" "Your sysadmin what's his name?-Jake told me that the box that was transmitting the data bursts wasn't on the secured net. If that data was classified, then, it had to be relayed to facilities somehow. I'm betting there's a little wireless device somewhere in these miles of cabling." Bob considered this. "But the cabling is almost entirely optical," he objected, "you can't
just waltz in and splice a transmitter into fiber. The network management software would notice it immediately." Will looked up. "Not if it was installed at the same time as the network itself." * * * * *
Douglas watched the numbers on the laser power meters count up. He'd realized that not only could he control the test system from his office, he could even get power to the lasers by routing the power supply telemetry feed through his master control board. Since the lasers were hard wired into an ultra high precision power supply unit that was computer controlled, rather than simply plugged into a wall socket, with a little adjustment to the software he could switch the power on and off from here. Douglas chuckled when it occurred to him that he had just 'hacked' the system. Jake would be so proud... Once everything was up and running, and he had tested his data relay channels several times to make sure he had enough clean bandwidth for effective data capture, Douglas decided to program a low level test before trying anything fancy. He still wasn't entirely confident with his ability to make reproducible runs, so a simple set of calculations would be a good warmup. He chose a minor problem, like figuring out the first thirty Mersenne primes. He already had the mathematical model representing this problem mapped out, because looking at Mersennes was one of his hobbies. All he had to do was modify it a bit to be compatible with the Bellatrix data input schema. A few tweaks here and there, and he was ready to rock. Douglas checked all his parameters one final time, then pushed the input button. The answer came spitting back before he even finished taking his hand off the button. Must be a problem somewhere, he thought. He punched up the 'view results' screen and stared openmouthed at the monitor. There were all thirty of the numbers, correct and in sequence. It had taken Mankind over 500 years from the discovery of the Mersenne prime to calculate the first 30, and this machine had done it in he checked the run stats 12.3 milliseconds. He sat back in his chair and exhaled slowly while he pondered the implications of this thing he had helped to create. It was so fast and so powerful, and it operated in the mind-twisting realm of quantum physics, where events happened before they were triggered and could be detected before they happened. Douglas sat up abruptly, stunned by his own sudden fabulous idea. He scooted over to his "nonsecure" terminal and surfed to the State Lottery site. He downloaded the database of all the winning numbers that had been drawn in the Lottery's ten year existence. With this data on a floppy, he rolled back over to the Bellatrix terminal. He cracked his knuckles, flexed his fingers, and started churning out modeling code. * * * * *
The first inkling Ian had that someone might be looking for him was a posting on one of his hacker groups by a regular known as MsThang, who worked for a large ISP. She said that federal agents had come in and installed a 'black box' on one of their routers that was looking for specific traffic. She had managed to wheedle one of the spooks into telling her that they were trying to track down someone who had sent a message to
the feds about a computer that was transmitting classified information to another country. Ian was taken aback when he read this, but decided that he was being a little paranoid assuming it was himself to which they were referring. All the same, he felt it prudent to assume a low profile for a while. No sense taking unnecessary risks. Meanwhile, he was continuing his self-education on firewalls and network architectures. As he delved more deeply, he became increasingly aware of his limited knowledge of TCP/IP, which prompted him to dig up as much information on that critical set of protocols as he could. He cast around the 'net for information, and eventually decided to go straight to the horse's mouth; i.e., to the Internet Engineering Task Force, more specifically, to RFC 1180, A TCP/IP Tutorial. He was particularly intrigued by the multiplexing/de-multiplexing model, which more clearly explained the purpose for and mechanics of the sometimes confusing IP header construction process than anything he'd so far encountered. While he knew that each layer in the network added or stripped header information from a frame depending on whether it was coming in or going out, he hadn't fully grasped the reasons for this. The multiplexing model dictates which transport module in the TCP/IP stack to which a frame is passed. This in turn allows the same data to be transported by a variety of services, depending on the type field in the protocol header. It was kind of like sending a gift to someone. First you wrap the gift, then you package it in a box for shipping. Once it's in a shipping container, you can choose from a variety of methods for getting it to its destination, without changing anything about the box itself. Nifty. While reading the part about the way Ethernet keeps packet collisions to a minimum, CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense and Multiple Access with Collision Detection), Ian came across these sentences: Everyone in the room has equal capability to talk (Multiple Access), but none of them give lengthy speeches because they are polite. If a person is impolite, he is asked to leave the room (i.e., thrown off the net). Ian chuckled. "Maybe that was true in 1991 when this RFC came out," he said out loud to no one, "but it sure isn't the ways things work these days." If it were, he thought, the Internet would be a vastly different place, not to mention virtually uninhabited. * * * * *
"I think we've found a match," said the voice on the other end of the phone, "Several misspelled words and odd capitalizations in newsgroup postings strongly resemble those in the suspect message." The OSI agent sat up with sudden interest. "Yeah? What's the hacker handle used in the postings?" "Let's see...that would be i-R-8-d-0-g." "Okay, let's have a look at the headers and see if we can't figure out where this 'irate dog' holes up."
"Looks like they were posted through one or more proxies. We'll probably need a 2703(d) for each hop." "Check. Give me the relevant info and I'll get right on it. We ought to have this kid in custody by next week, if all goes well. And you know what?" "What?" "I'm really looking forward to it."
Episode Fourteen: A Bird in the Hand Baseball cap peered warily around the corner. He was at the end of the hallway in which his rented office was located. The coast seemed to be clear, at least for the moment. He held his laptop tightly under one arm. It was the only surviving link to Global Technical Products and his illicit activity. He had destroyed everything else in the office, making quite a mess in the process. "I suppose," he reflected as he made his way carefully down the corridor, "I can kiss the security deposit goodbye." After a few seconds he shrugged and added philosophically, "Good thing I used a stolen credit card." He had chosen a Tuesday morning for his escape, not too early (to avoid running into stragglers coming late into work) and not too close to noon (to bypass the lunch crowd). He got onto the elevator and rode it until he was the only passenger. Then, using a key he had "borrowed" from the building manager's office (don't ask) he clicked the elevator over to maintenance mode and took it down to the sub-basement. He reset the control panel and sent the car on its way, to circumvent the ruckus that would naturally arise when one of the building's four elevators stopped working. This now meant that he was trapped in the sub-basement, unless he wanted to risk summoning the elevator again. Fortunately, he knew there was a way out, a way that led up to street level via a narrow concrete stairway that emerged behind a trash receptacle in the alley. All he had to do was find it. He did find the door, eventually, and even managed to jimmy off the padlock securing it. He crept cautiously up the stairs, like a mouse creeping out of a hole in a barn patrolled by cats. He watched from the shadows of the alley until the ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic presented an opportunity for him to slip into a passing throng unnoticed. He tried to match his pace and demeanor with those of the nameless denizens of the city scurrying around him, each of them shoulder to shoulder with their fellows, yet a million miles apart on their separate journeys through time and space. Less than a block from his destination, he caught sight of two men in suits and overcoats crossing the street at a diagonal on an intercept path. He'd been spotted! Quickly he ducked into an alley and ran full speed to the other end. It was a dead end, but there were empty packing crates piled up next to the chain link fence sealing off his line of retreat. He scrambled up them barely seconds ahead of the pursuing agents, fighting to hold on to the laptop as he climbed. At the top he realized that there was no way he could go any further with the laptop as a burden. He turned and suddenly flung it at the nearest agent, whom it caught squarely in the chest, sending him tumbling back down over the boxes to the asphalt of the alley. His partner leapt to the injured man's side, temporarily giving up the chase. Baseball Cap saw that he had gained a few precious seconds with his sacrifice, and took full advantage of them. He climbed the last few feet of the fence, and swung himself over the top. Taking a deep breath, he let himself drop to the sidewalk far below. * * * * *
Several hundred miles above the Earth's surface, an oblong, greenish stiletto of a satellite fired a small thruster and nudged itself into a slightly higher orbit. It presented a rather odd appearance for a communications satellite: long and needle-like, with three dangerous-looking protrusions at the nose. There were no solar reflector panels, or even any obvious antennae. It was difficult to understand exactly what this orbiting beastie was designed to do; that is, if one tried to comprehend it as a communications satellite. If, on the other hand, one were to think of it as, say, a hunter-killer robot designed to destroy other satellites, the task of comprehension required considerably less effort. The method this killer satellite employed was quite simple. It closed rapidly on a victim, matched rotational velocity with it, injected a fast-drying expanding foam into any maneuvering thrusters to shut them down, then grabbed some component of the satellite with its nose-mounted pincers and applied a sharp twisting motion to it, simultaneously firing its own thrusters to compensate for the tendency to rotate in the opposite direction. The victim spins away out of control, with no way for controllers on the ground to regain a functional orientation. No debris, no fuss, no signal. At the moment this orbital bushwhacker was stalking a U.S. intelligence satellite, whose job it was to coordinate encrypted communications between field units and headquarters in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The ultimate goal of this hunt was to disable the com link just before a major multi-pronged terrorist action took place, to hamper efforts by intelligence officials trying to correlate the multiple attacks and prepare for additional hostilities. The killer satellite was now in an orbit just a few hundred feet lower than that of its target. At NORAD in Colorado, the folks who track satellites were curious about this one, but they hadn't yet realized the full significance of its sudden drastic change in orbital altitude. Still, it was close enough to IntelCom 3 to warrant investigation. The duty officer ordered tracking and computations to run a reverse plot of its positional coordinates to see where it had originated, and hopefully thereby identify its owner and purpose. Meanwhile, the killer satellite, having spotted and locked onto its target, settled into a stable synchronous orbit and waited for the signal to move in. * * * * *
Jake snapped the odd-looking card into the backplane of a test bed computer in his office. He had to dig an older main board out of storage because the card he had removed from Merv's workstation used the obsolete ISA bus, rather than the more modern PCI. The card had been functioning in Merv's system as an Ethernet network interface, and had the requisite RJ-45 jack and connectivity status LEDs on the exterior mounting strip. However, it didn't look like any NIC Jake had ever seen. There were components soldered into that circuit board that seemed far in excess of those traditionally needed for the typical NIC. Jake didn't know what they did, precisely, but he had a pretty strong hunch they constituted some sort of radio frequency transmitter, probably with built-in hardware encryption. All of the other components in Merv's box were standard, name-brand units that Jake recognized immediately. The weird NIC was the only wild card in the lot, and this was what led Jake to remove it as the probable culprit. He was a little puzzled that the feds hadn't taken it themselves, but all they had
seemed interested in was the hard drive. That was fine: he would solve this little mystery all by himself. * * * * *
Ian rubbed his eyes and swung reluctantly out of bed. He had a physics test today: that was the first coherent thought that hit him, and it very nearly made him flop back down on his nice soft comforter. Two years ago, maybe even last year, he would have devoted a lot of thought to devising a plan for getting out of the test. Now he just resigned himself to the inevitable and got dressed. He had studied for it--perhaps not as much as he should--but he felt reasonably confident that the test at least would not present him with any material he hadn't seen somewhere before. This was a far cry from his former test preparation methods, which consisted mostly of making up excuses beforehand for the poor performance he knew was coming. In point of fact, Ian's performance was usually at least fair even when he hadn't cracked a book. He had a naturally gifted intellect, and was widely read, at least where science and math were concerned. He stumbled down to the kitchen and made himself a bowl of cereal, topped with dried apricots covered in sugar. He had favored this combination since he was a toddler, and it never failed to open his eyes. Most people found caffeine to be the most effective morning stimulant, but for Ian it was the particular combination of acidity in the apricots and raw horsepower of the sucrose that kicked his brain over into drive. Blood sugar levels now approaching the saturation point, Ian practically teleported himself to the bus stop, buzzing like a bumblebee on steroids. When he stepped off the bus that afternoon, Ian was tired but elated. He probably hadn't aced the physics exam, but he felt certain he had pulled at least a 'B.' To top it off, a new girl who had just moved into his school district from Vermont made it quite plain at lunch that she found him attractive. They had set up a movie date for Friday night. Life didn't get much better than this. Rounding the corner a block from his house, Ian suddenly stopped in his tracks. He was dead sure that something was wrong. He could sense it. The abrupt and undeniable feeling of impending danger caught him completely off guard; the unexpected prescience itself seemed more threatening than whatever he was being warned about. He ducked behind a tree and scanned the scene by peeking around the trunk for brief periods every thirty seconds or so. He didn't have the faintest idea what he was looking for, but he knew that something or someone was waiting for him. He was right, of course. Two OSI agents had tracked him down and were waiting in a white sedan across the street from his house. They weren't hard to spot. He slid down with his back against the tree trunk and considered his options. He didn't have many. He could walk into the trap, or run. There wasn't much point in running, he realized after a moment's thought. There was enough incriminating evidence on his computers to get him locked up until sometime after the next Ice Age. He could dodge them for a while, but not forever. Better to get it over with now, while he was still a juvenile. Maybe he could get one of those legal aid groups like the Electronic Frontier
Foundation to help him with his defense. Having made up his mind to face the music, Ian stood up, brushed off his pants, and turned to make his way to his house. As he did, the two agents stepped out from behind a fence and scared the living daylights out of him. * * * * *
Douglas stared at six two digit numbers printed on an otherwise pristine sheet of white paper. They were the product of just shy of two full hours of Bellatrix CPU time by far the most extensive test yet of the system, and definitely also the least authorized. He couldn't stop staring at them. Were they really the numbers that would be drawn thirty two hours from now in the next lottery drawing? How could any computer, even a quantum one, predict the results of a random drawing? The jackpot for the upcoming drawing was 28 million dollars. Did he have the key to that fabulous wealth sitting here in front of him? If so, what were the ethical implications involved in his capitalizing on that knowledge? The whole episode was giving him a headache. Douglas folded up his sheet of paper, closed his briefcase, and headed home for the day. He didn't go straight home. He needed time to think. He drove to a small lake up in the hills Northwest of the city and sat there on a boat dock, staring at the blue-green water and watching the ring-billed gulls swirl around the pier like leaves in an autumn whirlwind. It wasn't really as though he were stealing. Since it was supposed to be impossible to predict the outcome of a random event based on any past record of random events, whatever method he used to come up with numbers to play was as ethical as the next. Employing Acme's (and the DoD's) computer to generate his lottery numbers was an unauthorized use of the equipment, yet he was engineering project leader and responsible for testing Bellatrix under every conceivable operational mandate. This lottery problem was a rigorous workout for the system, and it had performed brilliantly. At least he hoped it had. He realized that he could never tell anyone about it, if he won. It would have to remain his secret forever. After several hours of this sort of rumination, Douglas reached a philosophical impasse with himself. He decided that this was as close to a moral victory as he was going to be able to achieve, and headed for home. On the way, he stopped and bought a lottery ticket. * * * * *
Jake sent one last email message racing on its digital journey and switched off his PC for the night. It was time for bed tomorrow would be a very busy day. He had figured out what the mysterious card he'd found in Merv's computer was doing, and arranged to share his findings with the feds in the morning. His mind was spinning with dozens of anxieties, questions, concerns, and doubts, but above them all floated a disconcerting mixture of euphoria and gnawing uncertainty about his date with Deanna the following evening. It was going to be a very eventful night for both of them, if things went the way he hoped. He fingered the little velvet-covered box in his coat pocket, turning it over and over in his hand.
No doubt about it, tomorrow was shaping up to be a pretty big day.
Episode Fifteen: End Game It was a long drop to the pavement. It was so long that Baseball cap couldn't figure out where all the time was coming from, as he had apparently forgotten about the temporal distortion that can accompany stressful situations like, say, being chased by federal agents whom you've just assaulted with a laptop that contains irrefutable proof of your treasonous activities. A reinforced concrete sidewalk suddenly announced that time was up by hitting him very hard in the feet. So hard, in fact, that the shock wave traveled up his legs, punched him in the solar plexus, and knocked him flat on his back. His blood was still carrying an overdose of adrenalin, however, so he was on his feet again in a few seconds, despite the fact that the air around him seemed mysteriously to have run out of breathable oxygen. He looked wildly to his right and left, and made a snap decision to run in the opposite direction of his eventual destination, hoping to double back and lose his pursuers. Behind him, still on the other side of the chain link fence he had just scaled, the OSI agents yelled for him to stop. They had their guns out, but Baseball cap knew they wouldn't risk taking a shot at him in the heart of the city. Collateral casualties were bad for business, especially at Congressional appropriations time. He ran for the nearest crowd of pedestrians and blended in with them as best he could. The first alley he passed, he ducked in for a few seconds and reversed his coat, changing it from bright red to a muted navy blue. It was an old trick, but sometimes the old tricks were the most effective ones. He had been buying reversible jackets for years now (and they weren't that easy to find); the habit finally paid off. He knew that any APB out on him would include the red jacket description. Changing coat colors wouldn't make him invisible to the cops for long, but he only needed to buy enough time to reach his waiting escape car. He had gone about a block without spotting any further pursuit when suddenly a suited figure stepped out from a doorway to his left. "Federal agent. Freeze!" Without even turning to look at him, Baseball cap ducked down and pulled a woman pushing a high tech baby carriage that looked like a spinoff of some NASA lunar rover program between himself and the agent. He spun around to run back in the direction he had come and thought better of it. Instead, he darted across the street, dodging traffic more nimbly than a slightly overweight middle-aged man should have been able to dodge. There was an agent on that side waiting for him, however. "These guys are getting smarter than they used to be," Baseball cap muttered to himself, "Guess it's time to retire." He jumped back off the curb, narrowly avoided being clipped by an irate taxi, and ran along the street until he came to an intersection. He turned right and scrambled up onto some scaffolding bridging a gaping hole in the sidewalk, an agent close at his heels. He glanced across the street and saw another one shadowing him over there. He knew he had to do something dramatic, so as he leapt from the scaffolding he made a grab for a passing produce truck and managed to haul himself up on the small rear loading
deck. There wasn't much to hold on to back there, however. In grabbing the handle of the cargo door to steady himself, he accidentally unlatched it. The handle slipped out of his grasp and the door rolled itself up like a window shutter. Baseball cap grabbed the door track just as the truck ran over a bump in the road. He had been looking behind him, trying to assess where his pursuers where, and turned around just in time to be hit square in the chest by a wall of cabbage-filled crates, set in motion by the bump. He wobbled for a brief moment, then crashed to the asphalt, a mountain of cabbages cascading off the truck on top of him. Man and produce tumbled violently in the street in some bizarre vegetarian ballet, cars braking madly and swerving to avoid joining the ensemble. When he finally came to rest, Baseball cap looked more like a botched batch of kimchi than an international spy. His trademark headpiece had flown off somewhere during the spin cycle. The battered bald head added a final touch of ignominy to a darkly comic ending: the centerpiece in a curb-to-curb bed of coleslaw. Sic semper proditores - thus always to traitors. * * * * *
Jake unlocked the door to his office and plopped down in his ergonomically correct computer chair, with deluxe seven-position adjustable lumbar support. He had concluded that the seven positions has been intended to accommodate each of Snow White's dwarves, because none of them even remotely matched the vertebral column of a human being. Having just finished a grueling three hour session with a team of supposed technical experts from the DoD, trying to explain to them what the card he found in Merv's computer had been doing, Jake needed to sit down somewhere comfortable and unwind. Instead, he sat in the gray upholstered thing masquerading as a chair and tried to find a combination of settings that wouldn't cause his health insurance premiums to go up. In a nutshell, the NIC had been rigged to pick up, encode, encrypt, and transmit the electromagnetic signals put out by nearby computer monitors to a remote IP address via FTP on a periodic basis. The system at the receiving end would then presumably decrypt those files and reconstruct the screen contents using the EMF data. Since the nearby monitors in Merv's case were all set to display a rather silly screen saver 99 percent of the time, however, all that was being sent to the remote site was an animated graphic of a bunch of flying household appliances with the Acme Ailerons logo emblazoned on them. Jake was not trained in the subtle nuances of intelligence gathering, but his gut instinct was that this information was not particularly helpful to whichever competitor or foreign government was responsible for the doctored NIC, unless they were trying to reverse engineer animated appliances remotely. The IP address hard coded into the firmware came back to a small company located on an island in the Caribbean, but Jake noted that the current owners had possessed that IP block for only six months. To whom it had been assigned when the spy card was gathering its intended data was anyone's guess. Explaining all this to the DoD guys had been an uphill battle. They kept asking him to go over each and every detail again and again. He began to wonder if they had all
been required to take (and fail) a technical comprehension test prior to being assigned to this project. He had to strip down his explanation to just one notch above baby talk -it was like trying to explain something to an Acme senior VP. Given the fact that the DoD had invented the term TEMPEST to represent standards relating to the reduction of electromagnetic emissions by data equipment, and given the fact that they were supposed to be experts on it, Jake felt that having to explain the basic concepts of emanation security (EMSEC, which is what TEMPEST was now called) repeatedly was a little odd. He could only assume that these particular experts were expert at something other than information technology and basic electronics physics. 'Filling out expense reports' was his best guess. It took a while to sort everything out, but in the end it seemed likely that the man from whom Merv had gotten the computer had been the hapless victim of a little industrial espionage. Someone in his organization had been selling proprietary information to a competitor, and (presumably) had been paid to install the nefarious card in a key computer. The feds reluctantly let Merv go once it became apparent that he had played no part in the operation, but he did receive a stern reprimand from Acme for installing an unauthorized system on the Acme network. Merv himself was simply relieved to be out of jail and back at work. He wouldn't go near the instrument of his incarceration again, and Jake finally dumped it in the "retired computer systems" room, where it cut a dashing figure as the centerpiece of a cunning arrangement that he had informally titled "Still Life with Dot Matrix, 5 1/4" Drives, and Cobwebs." Now that he'd cleared up the mystery of the malfunctioning facilities workstation, Jake turned his attention once again to working on the formal information security policy for Acme. It was a bit of a dry assignment, and considerably removed from the hands-on stuff that Jake preferred, but he realized that it was vitally important that Acme have a written policy in place, and that he was the logical person to originate that document. He'd just have to buckle down and get it done. After the discovery by the Air Force guys of inline transmitters on the Acme 'secure' network and the repeater disguised as a utilities meter attached to the outside of the building, security had become a critical issue all the way up to the CEO's office. He hoped that his request for an additional person to help him with sysadmin stuff would be approved. He'd even take a part time CS student -anyone at all would be a blessing, now that his security duties seemed to be increasing geometrically. He was hard at working slaving over a hot word processor when an intra-office courier dropped off an envelope for him. He glanced at it; it was from Human Resources. Probably the 401K change request he had asked for. His retirement account had taken a pretty severe hit from the large proportion he had allocated to tech stocks. He wanted to redeploy most of that into nice safe municipal bonds. A slow, steady yield was a lot less nerve-wracking than the violent ups and downs (primarily downs) of the stock market lately. When he opened the envelope, however, he was surprised and puzzled to find that it contained a "Request for Promotion, Transfer, or Reassignment." He had no idea why they would be sending him one of these, as he couldn't remember asking for it. He had his hand on the phone to call HR when it rang. His caller ID told him it was his boss, Bob.
"Systems, Jake here," Jake answered, wondering what had gone wrong now. "Jake, this is Bob. I'd like you to come up to my office when you get a chance. We need to talk." "Uh, OK, sir, I'll be right up. Should I bring anything with me?" "No." "On my way, sir" God, he hated that phrase: "We need to talk." Jake put the phone down and looked at it with one eyebrow raised (he'd learned to do that as a child, watching the old Star Trek). That was unusually cryptic, even for Bob. Oh well, maybe Bob knew something about the equally cryptic envelope from H.R. It had been one of those days so far; the laws of thermodynamics dictated that entropy was just going to increase as the day wore on. Jake was no stranger to entropy. As he trudged up to Bob's office, trying not to think about what his boss could want to 'talk' about, it suddenly dawned on Jake that he hadn't eaten lunch yet. "Well," he thought a second later, "I don't need any now: I've got all-you-can-eat butterflies." Two doors down from Bob's office, Jake passed an administrative tech whose workstation he'd rescued from what had seemed to her to be certain silicon insanity (she'd somehow set the screen saver to come on after one second of idle time); she beamed brightly at him and gave him an encouraging but inexplicable thumbs up. Approaching weirdness overload, Jake knocked on Bob's door. "Come in, Jake. Have a seat." Bob was very businesslike. While this didn't increase Jake's anxiety any, it didn't do much to lessen it, either. Bob sat there reading through some paperwork in a manila folder on his desk and seemed to be ignoring Jake. Jake stood this for as long as he could, then quietly cleared his throat. Bob peered over his reading glasses at him. "I've been looking at this hiring request you submitted." Oh, now things were starting to make sense. This was going to be one of those lectures about personnel costs, making more efficient use of his time, etcetera. Jake squirmed in his seat and prepared himself for "looking attentive, but really in a coma" mode. Bob paused again. Jake wasn't about to stir a second time. He'd sit there until both of them went senile before he'd do anything at all to encourage the lecture he assumed was in the offing. Sensing Jake's shift in tactics, Bob put down the papers and sat back. "I had a long talk, or rather debate, with HR over this, and apparently it's against company policy for someone in your job classification to supervise anyone, even a student worker." Jake's shoulders sagged imperceptibly on hearing this, but Bob was
trained by long experience to spot the imperceptible. "I've got room in the budget for one full time sysadmin and one half time student to help you, but by the rules I would have to be the supervisor of record for them, and I think you know how much time I have for managing another employee, let alone two." Jake looked down and nodded glumly. Bob paused again, this time sheerly for dramatic effect. He was enjoying this. "That's why," he continued in exactly the same tone of voice, "I've decided to promote you to Information Systems Manager, effective tomorrow." Jake halted in mid-sag and tried to make sense of what he'd just heard. It was a losing proposition. He looked up at the older man for some clue that might give comprehension a foothold. Bob was grinning like a maniac on nitrous oxide--this was all Jake needed to see. He closed his eyes and swirled Bob's offer around in his head like fine cognac, finally coming to the conclusion that he approved of the vintage. He opened his eyes and, smiling, nodded his head in acceptance. Bob clapped him on the back. "Congratulations, my boy, and welcome to the ranks of management. Think you can handle it?" That was a truly excellent question, and one to which Jake didn't know the answer. He felt he ought to make some sort of reply, though. "I'll give it my best shot, sir." "Call me Bob, Jake." "Yes, sir. Uh, Bob." Well, at least he knew what the H.R. paperwork was all about now. That evening, he and Deanna went to one of those tiny little restaurants you can only find by stumbling over them while looking for an obscure dry cleaners an old high school buddy recommended to you the last time you ran into him in an airport cocktail lounge. They sat at an appropriately remote table, complete with the requisite candles and a single red rose in a nice faceted vase. Jake reached across the table and held Deanna's hands in his, trying to shake the feeling that they were in a black and white movie. "How does it feel to be a manager?" Deanna asked, after they had gazed into each other's eyes for a few long moments. Jake was being mentally swamped by the almost surrealistic run of good fortune he was currently experiencing, and as a result his synapses weren't firing in any recognizable pattern. He watched her lips move, but it was a few seconds before the fact that they had asked him a question registered in his luck-soddened brain. He tried to answer, but found his tongue had apparently swollen to three times its customary size. He finally managed to produce an intelligible sound--only one syllable, but he
felt it unwise to push for too much too soon. "Good." Deanna laughed at his reply. "Well, that's a relief. Good is much better than bad, or even indifferent." Jake smiled at her and nodded. He released her right hand and felt in his coat pocket for the velvet case. He brought it out of the pocket and held it under the table. He fingered it nervously, waiting for the right moment, and suddenly lost control of it. The box dropped and bounced off a leg of the metal pedestal supporting the table. Jake remembered how much he had paid for what was inside the box. He panicked and lurched forward to grab at it as it fell. In the process, he managed to hit his forehead rather hard on the edge of the table. He scrambled madly under the table, searching for the box with outstretched arms. Finding it at last, he grappled it with both hands, losing his balance during the struggle and ending up sitting awkwardly on the floor. He became aware for the first time of the throbbing pain in his forehead. He sat there with the box in one hand and the other rubbing his wound. Deanna, who had been in turn amused then concerned by his rather graceless antics, knelt down to him and kissed the angry red welt above his right eye tenderly. "Are you all right?" she whispered, "What on earth were you doing under there?" Jake looked up at her and tried to answer, but he realized that it wasn't going to be possible under the present circumstances. Instead, he opened the little box and held it up to her, forcing out the only two words he could think of to say. "Marry me?" * * * * *
Ian swallowed hard. There was nowhere to run; he didn't even try. The agents were surprisingly polite. They didn't grab him, or threaten him, or even tell him he was under arrest. They simply asked him his name and escorted him back to their car. They drove him in silence to a rather stark looking gray building near, but not actually on, a local Air Force base and asked him a few questions about his computer activities, his knowledge of hacking tools and techniques, and then grilled him in detail about the message he had sent concerning Acme Ailerons. Ian answered as truthfully as he could. When it came right down to it, he didn't feel nearly as persecuted as he expected. It was beginning to dawn on him that the government wasn't quite as it had been portrayed by some of his hacker underground buddies. There were no bright lights in his face, nor any intimidation tactics. They gave him a soda, a comfortable chair, and even let him watch TV whenever they left the room. After a couple of hours of this sort of treatment, they thanked him for his cooperation, and drove him home. That was it. He didn't have to sign anything. They didn't even talk to his parents, at least not in front of him, anyway. He went immediately to his room. It was exactly as he had left it -not a single thing was out of place. Ian sat on the edge of his bed, his head spinning. He'd expected to be sitting in a holding cell somewhere by
now, trying to figure out what he could do to save himself. Instead, he was completely free, and they hadn't even taken any of his computer stuff. As the evening progressed, Ian began to piece things together. They had traced the message back to him -not to arrest him, but just to find out how he knew about the Acme computer and its illicit transmissions. Either they weren't aware of the indiscretions of his script-kiddie phase, or they weren't interested. Either way, he wasn't going to take any further chances. Ian knew that he had dodged a bullet this time. He decided that he would remove himself from the firing range before the next round went off. He used DoD-wipe to get rid of everything that would look even remotely suspicious on his systems, especially incriminating emails. That stuff was behind him now, and he was going to keep it there. The only things he couldn't erase were postings he'd made to archived lists, but thankfully those were relatively rare. Most of his communications in that realm had been made via IRC or ICQ, neither of which were likely to have any long-term records made of them. He kept his hacking tools, but moved them all to a directory he called "Pentest." They somehow sounded a little more legitimate that way. Ian leaned back in his chair and let out a deep, slow breath. He felt his stress level finally beginning to fall off. It was time for bed, but before he went he'd check his email one last time. Among the offers for low interest mortgages and urgent "business proposals" from Nigeria, he saw a message from the current big cheese of the BroadBandits. More in annoyance than anything else, Ian opened the message and read it. It was his long sought-after invitation to join that group of 'leet hackerz.' Ian scowled at the screen for a second, the suddenly broke out in laughter. He hit reply and typed in just one line: BroadBandits.* > /dev/null He deleted his usual signature block and simply typed in "Ian" before sending the reply on its way. The BroadBandits and ir8_d0g belonged to his childhood, and that era was now officially over. He felt for the first time in his life in charge of his own destiny; it was a feeling he relished. * * * * *
Douglas sat at the computer in his library playing a turn-based strategy game. He wasn't really all that interested in it, but it gave his mind something to do besides thinking about how desperately slowly time was passing. He looked at the clock every half an hour, or so it seemed by his personal reckoning, to find that only two minutes had actually ticked away in the objective world. He was sorely tempted to check the clock to make sure it was working properly, but since his watch was in perfect agreement with the darned thing, it seemed like a pointless action. Oh well, back to the game for a while. Finally, it was ten o'clock. The lottery drawing would be taking place right at this minute. He could of course go watch it on TV, but Douglas preferred to wait until 10:30 or so, when the results were posted to the lottery Web site. He played another couple
of rounds of his game and tried not to think about the lottery. It was like asking a starving Texan not to think about chicken-fried steak. It wasn't until 10:42 that Douglas finally allowed himself to save the game, exit it, and fire up his Web browser. He went to his bookmarks and found the one for the current winning lottery numbers. After hesitating for a couple of seconds, he closed his eyes and clicked. He counted "one-one thousand" up to ten and opened his eyes. He stared at the screen for a full minute. The room seemed to be rotating slowly and majestically clockwise. He almost felt as though he were becoming dissociated from his body, the way he sometimes got when experiencing 'highway hypnosis' while driving long distances. Finally he tore himself away from the screen and picked up the phone. "Hi mom, it's me. No, nothing's wrong. Listen, I'm sorry to call this late at night, but I'd like you to do me a favor. You know that little cabin out on the lake that you and dad have been drooling over for the past five years? Would you have the realtor contact me about it? I think I want to get it for you and dad for your thirtieth anniversary. How can I afford it? Let's just say I got a really nice bonus at work." The killer satellite advanced on its target. Back on Earth, the NORAD folks knew it was there, but didn't know what they could do about it. It would take less than fifteen more minutes for the rogue device to close the distance between itself and IntelCom 3. They could only guess what its intentions were, but the odds were pretty good that they weren't friendly. In one of those wild coincidences that usually only happen in the movies, a solar flare of healthy proportions (X6, if you're into solar flare classification) erupted from the surface of the Sun at that moment. It was several times the size of the Earth, and contained an almost unimaginable quantity of radiation energy in a wide range of wavelengths. Spreading out from the point of origin in a convective column just below the solar equator, the initial massive burst of charged particles raced away at the speed of light, sending an expanding multilayered shell of energy coursing through the cold emptiness of space. The Earth was in the direct path of this pulse, as it happened. A little less than eight minutes from now, the daylight side of the blue planet was going to be lit up like a 6,000 mile diameter neon sign by the outermost band of fugitive solar energy. Communications would be disrupted, auroral displays would increase dramatically, and weather patterns would be altered. Satellites wouldn't fare too well, either. One of the problems with solar flares is that you never know they have happened until the light from the event reaches you. Of course, along with the light comes the first electromagnetic shock wave, which is a tad inconvenient if your job is to warn people about solar activity. If the flare happens to be pointed more or less directly at the Earth (or, more accurately, where the Earth will be in eight minutes), a good deal of the damage is done before anyone knows what hit them. In the Acts of God department, this was a biggie.
This particular solar event not only spawned a flare, but also sent a coronal mass ejection (CME) blazing toward Earth; since those travel rather slower than the speed of light (this one at a paltry 6.5 million km/h), it wouldn't get here for a number of hours yet. The CME was preceded by several waves of highly charged particles, however, and the first of these washed over the Earth like a tsunami just as the killer satellite was positioning itself within striking distance of IntelCom 3. Solar flares, like most other disruptive natural phenomena, follow their own largely unfathomable schedules. Experienced satellite designers know this, and do what they can to protect orbital payloads from destruction by the sharp increases in ambient radiation that accompany solar events. Global Technical Products had not been able to procure experienced engineers for this project, however, since they had to choose from among the relatively small number of people for whom designing such an antisocial satellite for a private company posed no particular moral dilemma. As a consequence, while IntelCom 3 swung shut its solar panels and temporarily went into "safe mode" to ride out the storm, the GTP satellite took the full brunt of the radioactive torrent like a galleon receiving a broadside. The circuit that controlled the grappling mechanism sparked, popped loudly (or would have if there had been any air to conduct the sound), and fused itself in the closed position. The grappling head started rotating at full speed, which it was not designed to do from a dead stop, and the resultant counter rotation set the satellite to wobbling badly. It frantically signaled to ground controllers that spatial orientation was being lost. They tried to use the maneuvering thrusters to counteract the spin, but the radio command to fire was trampled by the billions of particles coursing through the orbital path of the satellite. The wobbling continued to intensify, until eventually the satellite simply started to fly to pieces. About ten minutes after the initial solar particle wave hit it, Global Technical Products Orbital Platform #1 had been reduced to a three hundred cubic meter area of space debris, whose already decaying orbit would soon result in quite a nice episode of 'shooting stars' for folks on a track that started in Northern Africa and continued all the way to the Black Sea. Somewhere toward the end of this path a lizard looked up from beneath a sheltering rock at the strange streaks of light in the sky and smiled a tiny reptilian smile. The next morning Deanna followed Jake so he could drop off his car to have the tires rotated and alignment adjusted. She picked him up at the garage and let him out a couple of blocks from Acme Ailerons, because that was as close as her normal route to work took her. They kissed several times in parting. After she drove off, Jake stood there for a moment watching her car disappear in traffic. He couldn't get over the fact that she was now his fiancé. His feet scarcely touched the sidewalk as he made his way to the office. Along the way something caught his eye—it was an oddly-shaped object sticking partially out of a drainage grate. He bent down and picked it up. It was a rather nice baseball cap: a little soiled and beat up, but still wearable. He dusted it off with his hand and put it on. It fit perfectly. Whistling and sporting his new-found headgear, Jake floated down the hallway to his office. On the way he passed a crew from maintenance with carts full of various
construction supplies. One of them asked him where room 1A12 was. Jake pointed out the empty executive corner office at the end of the hall. "Thanks," said the crew chief, "We've got a work order to get it ready for the new Information Systems Manager." Jake smiled. "Well, I'm sure he'll appreciate your efforts." He went into his old office and started packing things in the boxes he found just outside the door. There was a letter on his chair. He stopped and picked it up. It had the Acme Ailerons logo embossed on it, but nothing else. He opened it, and nearly fell over when he saw what was inside. It was a bonus check for $5,000 and a letter of commendation and congratulations on his promotion from the CEO of Acme himself. Life, Jake decided when his head stopped spinning, was good.
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