I decided to try my hand at fiction. Usually, I can only write non-fiction. And even then, it pretty much has to be memoiric or it is terrible. I couldn’t sleep one night, and this scene popped into my head. I didn’t really know what to do with it, but it seemed like a really cool concept. A combination of Burn Notice (awesome TV about a former spy) and Daemon (not awesome but still pretty good book about a game designer that takes over the world post-mortem). It sort of hints at a larger story that I am not skilled enough to write. It is probably also terrible. Even I think it is sort of cumbersome. It does pack a lot of interesting computer stuff into it, though. As far as I know, everything in it is technically possible – although it would take an insane amount of effort to implement. Without further ado, this is what happens when a computer nerd watches too many spy movies:
My phone is ringing.
My phone should not be ringing. No ones knows the number – I don’t know the number. I bought it with cash last week. The only time I ever even looked at the number was – shit.
I set up a Twitter account with this number so I can text updates. I know what you’re thinking. If a guy doesn’t want to be found, what the hell is he tweeting for? The answer is: I’m not. Not yet anyway. I hit END to stop the phone ringing, then jump to the texting function and send this tweet:
Believe it or not, this is significant. My botnet, my own PC army, is listening to Twitter. For this command specifically.
You see, whenever John Q Public boots up his computer and puts it out on the internet, I find him. I find him, and I attack him, and I take over his computer. And once I have, I install my own program on it. This program starts every time ole Johnny boots up his computer, and among it’s many functions, it does these two things: it scans and attacks and takes over other computers, and it listens to my Twitter account for that command.
I am a hacker. I exploit software (and people), in order to control what I shouldn’t be able to control. My real name is unimportant. No one who matters knows me by my real name – they know me by my handle. They know me as pr0metheus.
I know, I know. Cheesy name, but I was really into mythology when I chose it. And when I did, I wanted to help people. It seems impossible now, but I did. I wanted to use computers to help people. I was going to give fire to the Greeks.
That went south quickly. By the time I realized it was time for a new handle, it was too late. Too many important people knew pr0metheus and his works. It grew on me, too, I suppose. Had I ditched like I should have when this whole mess started, maybe I wouldn’t be running for my life. I guess I have no choice now. There’s a north-bound bus pulling up. I hop on and use my Metro Card. For the last time. I paid for it in cash, but if they found this phone number in a week, then they have already figured out how to track the card. I take a seat on the bus, boot my laptop, and plug in my wireless data card. As soon as it boots up, I launch a script. This script connects to what used to be one of my bots (among other things, that command tweet told this specific bot to take itself off my network), and starts executing random, meaningless commands. I disable the power management features, close the lid, and put the laptop back in my bag along with the Metro Card and the burn phone, then I hit the bar to alert the driver that I want to stop. If I am lucky, by the time they realize I’m not actually on this bus, it – and they – will be in Harlem.
One of the great things about living in New York City is that there is a coffee shop on every corner. One of the great things about living in the 21st century is that every one of them has pay-by-the-minute public access computer terminals. I pull a USB stick out of my wallet, pop it into one of these terminals and reboot it. The computer starts counting down from 5. I enter my password, and it boots from my USB stick, instead of the OS installed on the computer. It’s funny. Most people carry their IDs in their wallet. I do, too, but it carries much more significance. It isn’t just a laminated piece of paper with my picture and date of birth on it. It is essentially my computer. The hardware is irrelevant to me, but this USB stick contains all of the tools and files and passwords I use every day. Even that laptop I left on the bus is useless to me without this USB stick. It is my identity. It is pr0metheus as much as I am. The bot that that laptop is (hopefully) still connected to was the only one whose location I had memorized. The twitter command also told 5 pre-determined PCs to take over as the head bot. The trouble with not having physical access to your computers is that you never know which ones are going to be live when you need them. Even though they have dyndns addresses, I can’t remember them. How am I supposed to remember 3dsvjsdf9.dyndns.org unless I write it down? And that’s just 1 of the 5. I pull up the list and blow through 3 before I finally get connected to one. I don’t know how to access these bots, but they know how to access each other. I issue a command, and within a few seconds, I have created a tunnel through at least 50 of these bots at random. Even if they are monitoring the sites I frequent, by the time they trace the IP addresses from the 50th bot to the 49th all the way down to the 1st and then all the way to this coffee shop, I will be on the other side of the GW Bridge. I hop on IRC and try to get some information from my contacts who actively monitor government agencies and most of the larger crime organizations. No one knows anything. Useless. It is going to take a lot more time and research to figure out how to cut myself loose from this. Well, I tried.
I login to Twitter and send a few more tweets to take the 3 bots I just failed to connect to, as well as the one I am currently connected to, offline. You can never be too careful. I also tell it to designate another 5 bots to register random urls with dyndns, and then email their names to an account I only use for these purposes. I tell the bot I’m connected to to collapse the tunnel it created. When it disconnects, I reboot the coffee shop PC again. It boots from the USB stick again, but this time, I don’t enter a password and the timer gets to 0. When it does, instead of launching my USB stick OS, it copies a different program into the computer’s memory. While I am yanking out the USB stick, the PC has already started eating itself. The program will format the drive, then fill it with garbage data over and over again, until someone turns it off. Nothing that I was doing should have been written to that hard drive, but given the circumstances, I decide to play it safe. I turn off the monitor, walk over to the counter, grab a napkin, and ask the guy behind the register if I can borrow his cup-marking pen. I write “Out Of Order” on the napkin, hand the marker back, walk back to the PC, steal a piece of tape holding up a sign on the wall that details how to pay to use the computer, and tape the napkin to the monitor. By the time someone realizes that an employee didn’t make the sign, there ought not be any trace of anything on that computer, let alone the data that may have gotten dumped to it inadvertently while I was using the rest of its hardware.
I leave the coffee shop, and as I do I shed the skin – forget the identity – of pr0metheus. That name is useless to me now. Any fool that tries to pretend to be me in the next decade, in order to steal my thunder, will end up dead or in prison. Time to do what I should have done so long ago. Change my name. ph0enix, perhaps.