Category Archives: Complete Fiction

Matryoshka

Tommy Mothersbaugh caught an anomaly. For the first time in over a year of scouring security logs, he found something that shouldn’t have been there. He took the report to his boss, Mary Jordan. He knocked on her open door.

“What’s up, Tommy?”

“I think I got something here, Mary. It’s not much, but it’s something.”

“Whatcha got?”

Tommy held out the report and pointed at a traffic flow. “That’s a printer in our Panguitch office. Trying to reach a TOR exit node.”

Mary lifted up her glasses to squint at the tiny print. “Huh. You sure about that? Double checked it and all?”

“Yes. Something’s up with that.”

Mary set the report on her keyboard. “OK if I keep this for my report?”

Tommy nodded. “Anything else you want me to do for follow-up?”

“No, no, that’s OK, we just file our reports and then things move upstairs… By the way, I wanted to ask you something and I’ve got a few minutes before my next meeting. You want to get the door and have a seat?”

Tommy shut the door and sat down.

Mary propped her glasses up, over her forehead. “How would you like to do a field assignment? You’ve been doing good work here in Analysis, so it’s only natural that you eventually sample other types of work… if you’d like to.”

“Sure, yeah. I mean, yes, that would really be cool.” Tommy’s surprise turned to excitement. “Where would I be going?”

“Well, wherever they send you. You’ll go through an orientation and then the officer in charge will let you know your assignment. But we can get you there as soon as you like. Tomorrow, even.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Dude. That would be awesome.” If Tommy was a puppy, his tail would be wagging wildly.

“Well, pack up your desk and make room for your successor.” Mary’s smile got Tommy to jump up, shake her hand, and then zip over to his desk with his good news.

A short, waited interval after Tommy left, Mary opened up SightsAndScenes.com and clicked the “helpful” button by Barry7711’s review of The Dinner Bell restaurant in Muleshoe, Texas.

Instantly, a minor official in another nation received an alert on his phone. The text on Gleb Ivanovich’s phone read, “Text ACCEPT to 495 697 03 49 to receive information on your prize!”

Any English-language text with the phone number for the Kremlin was serious news. Gleb brought up his browser and checked which review for The Dinner Bell got an additional like. Following the liked review back to that user’s home town indicated where operational cover had been blown. And that cover had been blown in… Panguitch, Utah? What and where is a Panguitch? Even after looking up information on the tiny town, Gleb couldn’t believe it existed. Why they had bothered to put a system there that we had bothered to compromise, Gleb did not know. He shook his head and sent a PDF brochure of Bryce Canyon National Park to another minor official.

Sofiya Olegovna glanced over the brochure in Gleb’s email and checked the traffic records for that system. After a few clicks and a few presses of Page Down, she had the data she needed to review. Hmmm… we haven’t done anything with that system in a long time, a long long time… and neither have they. Was this something some other guys were doing? Sofiya thought some more and became certain. This was definitely the doing of some other guys. Sofiya moved to make her report to those who needed to know.

Mere moments later, a spam campaign sent out 3.2 million messages proclaiming the virtues of all-natural Xenon Hexafluoride capsules. Most of the spams were either eliminated by filters or deleted by the fools still suffering without antispam measures. There were, however, 2 people who did not delete the spams, but, rather, accorded them the most urgent of responses. One of those people was in a very quiet office in a very quiet building in a very quiet part of Northern Virginia.

The TINCAN monitoring project was one of the most demanding of analytical jobs, but one that had also produced much valuable intel. Cracking the Spam Code was possible only because of the incredible attention to detail by the steganographers working for TINCAN, searching for meaning in the grainy background images of the spams sent by agents of the rival power. Of course, the meaning in the images was always encrypted, but the one-way pad in the hands of TINCAN’s director provided the key, every time. And now, the urgent response from the person in the very quiet office brought a collection of letters and numbers to the TINCAN director for his one-way pad to work its magic.

Director Andy Garfield ran the decryption protocol. He nodded and dismissed the urgent responder, then contacted his counterpart in Systems Monitoring via a scrambled line. Even if a rival power or those other guys had access to the phone system, they wouldn’t be able to break the encryption on the line. And, besides, what was so unusual about two intel directors talking with each other?

As it turned out, the rival power *did* have access to the phone lines. And, while it was true that the rival power could not decrypt the phone conversation, the rival power nevertheless deduced that this particular conversation fit a pattern that had gone along with its recent spam campaigns. Agents and administrators within the bowels of the rival power’s intelligence community put the wheels in motion to bring the spam campaigns to a close. One or two more actual messages would be leaked, and then disinformation until they didn’t believe us anymore. After that, the spam would have served its purpose.

Director Claus Niklaus of Systems Monitoring answered Director Andy Garfield’s call. “This is Niklaus.”

“Hello Niklaus. Garfield here. How ya doin’?”

“Doin’ fine, Andy, yourself?”

“Got my health. Can’t complain. This a good time?”

“Sure is. What’s eatin’ ya, succotash?”

“Well, Claus, it’s like this. You got a system in Panguitch that came up in analysis earlier today?”

“Yeah, just a while ago.”

“Well, I know all about it.”

“Ya don’t say… Huh. Thanks for the info, Andy.”

“Always a pleasure to help out, Claus. Hang in there, buddy.”

“Sure thing. Thanks a heap. See ya.”

“See ya.”

They both hung up and Claus leaned back in his chair. Only way Andy would have known that is if he’d intercepted and decoded a message from the rival power regarding the Panguitch system. Only way the rival power would know about that would be if they had a mole in his organization or a tap on his lines or a hack on his systems. Time to hire a rat-catcher, Claus figured.

The next problem Claus faced was that this wasn’t a direct operation of the rival power’s. Had it been, they wouldn’t have used the Spam Code that Andy’s TINCAN people were taking apart. That meant that the other guys were mixed up in this. The rat looked to the rival power for money and benefits, but the compromise on the Panguitch system could be laid at the doorstep of the other guys. Claus put in a call to Lauren Bishop, Director of Internal Investigations.

“Joyful Snow Pea Restaurant, can I help you?”

“Sorry, wrong number. I misdialed the third number.”

“OK, no problem, goodbye.”

Claus redialed, properly, and got Lauren on the phone and let her know about the mole, and how he may or may not be working for us or them, but definitely the other guys.

Meanwhile, the cashier at Joyful Snow Pea Restaurant knew exactly what to do, based upon Claus’ message. She placed an order for 2 dozen cans of Hunan-style water chestnuts to the trade attache at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco. The trade attache, in turn, sent an email to Shandong Huaye Tungsten & Iridium Tech Co., Ltd., requesting a quote for 600kg of pure tungsten rods, 100mm diameter. That email kicked off an alert that went straight to the head of Bureau Nine of the Ministry of State Security.

He wasted no time in getting up and moving as fast as he could without running to his boss, hoping to get there before the head of Bureau 8. The head of Bureau 8 had an unfair advantage, as his office was 10 meters closer than his own.

The head of Bureau 9 sped past the door of Bureau 8. He smiled. Those speed-walking classes had paid off a great dividend. He entered his director’s office and did his heel-toe, heel-toe walk right past the secretary, into the director’s antechamber. He pressed a button and waited.

Still no sign of Bureau 8. The head of Bureau 9 smiled as he heard the buzzer indicating the director was ready to receive a visitor. He walked in, normally this time, and said only, “Panguitch cover blown.”

The director nodded and dismissed the head of Bureau 9. The head of Bureau 9 nodded and exited. In the antechamber, he saw the head of Bureau 8 cooling his heels. “No need to see the boss now, I got here first.”

“Damn. Just my luck, I was in the water closet when I got the info.”

“You know it is Bureau 9’s job to protect this ministry from infiltration by foreign agents. Why do you always meddle in our matters?”

“You know damn well it’s Bureau 8’s job to handle counterintelligence. We have to keep tabs on you guys in Bureau 9 when you step into our territory.”

“Is that what you will tell the senior director? That we are in your territory?”

“No, this is a small thing, not worth a fight… but what might be worth a fight is your bureau removing our microphones. Your department is not above suspicion of counterintelligence.”

“Well if you want your microphones back, give us back our cameras! We have to be certain that our counterintelligence team hasn’t been infiltrated by foreign agents!”

The head of Bureau 8 thought a bit. “Two microphones for one camera?”

The head of Bureau 9 nodded in agreement. “Send the draft proposal to me today, I’ll sign off on it.”

Both men returned to their respective departments. The head of Bureau 8 then reviewed the budget for next year’s office supplies. He circled the amount proposed for printer toner and noted it should be reduced.

Three days later, Tommy Mothersbaugh was just outside Panguitch Middle School in Panguitch, Utah, wearing a brown shirt with a printer vendor’s logo prominently embroidered above the left pocket. His instructions were to remove a printer from the faculty workroom and replace it with a similar model. He was then to deliver the removed printer to the e-waste center in Hurricane, but was to get there by way of Orderville and Zion National Park.

Tommy also had instructions to park at Zion National Park and to go see the sights for ten minutes, leaving his vehicle unlocked.

Tommy arrived at Zion and parked his car near a bunch of tour buses loaded with Chinese tourists. They all debouched from the buses around the same time he left his van. Tommy walked away, glancing back at the mob of Chinese tourists. He went to the main office, figuring he’d use the bathroom while he was there. After using the bathroom, he walked around in the gift shop and accidentally bumped into one of the tour bus drivers.

“Oh, sorry! Please excuse me.”

“Not a problem, no worrying.” Tommy was struck at the thickness of the driver’s Russian accent. Then again, lots of immigrants got jobs as drivers, such was the nature of things. Tommy never was sure about what things he should ask questions about and what things he should just let pass without comment, so he guessed this was no big deal and forgot about it.

Tommy returned to his van and checked the insides. Nothing was stolen, and the printer looked like it hadn’t been touched. Tommy shook his head at the instruction that made no sense and drove on to the e-waste disposal center. This field work was just as boring as analysis work, but at least he got to see some beautiful countryside on this mission.

Meanwhile, back on one of the tour buses, the Chinese tourists were talking animatedly about a small piece of electronic gear they had removed from the printer as the bus driver nonchalantly checked to make sure the bus security cameras were running properly.

Shock and Awe

Colonel Guaripolo was screaming into the field telephone in order to be heard. Bombs were landing all around and above his command bunker, even as Presidente General Trompeta was asking for a status report from the front. “So, Colonel Guaripolo, how are things going?”

Damn civilian in a general’s uniform! “Bad! Very very bad!”

“What do you mean, bad? How can things be bad? We have the finest weapons from the Estados Unidos! These are the best in the world! Those losers from San Teodoros have no idea how mighty our forces are!”

“With respect, sir, it is our own army of Nuevo Rico that are discovering the might of our forces!”

“What do you mean? Explain yourself, Colonel! At once!”

Colonel Guaripolo was tempted to stick his head outside so he could die a war hero instead of having to explain military matters to this buffoon. “Our air force uses GPS-guided munitions, correct?”

“Yes. Deadly accurate.”

“Only when GPS is working properly. We spent millions on the GPS bombs, San Teodoros spent hundreds on GPS hacking tools. Their facilities are all giving off false signals, so our weapons correct for that false signal.”

“That’s a shame. I knew some of those gringo arms salesmen were cheating us. Don’t worry, I’ll get our money back. Don’t you worry. We’re not getting ripped off on this deal.”

“Presidente General, with respect, those corrections made the bombs fall on our positions! We are bombing ourselves! The GPS hacking means we are bombing ourselves!”

The Presidente General’s voice condescended. “Stay calm, Colonel. No need to lose your composure. Be brave… wait a moment, can you please hold the line? Thanks.”

Colonel Guaripolo held the receiver in slack-jawed disbelief as the barrage began to abate.

Presidente General Trompeta clicked back over onto Colonel Guaripolo’s line. “Good news, Colonel. The aerial bombardment problem is taking care of itself. I just heard from Colonel Bodoque, at the Air Force. San Teodoros shot down our aerial tankers, so the planes have to return to base before they can deliver their full load.”

“Will we then go back to non-GPS guided bombs?”

“No, because all we have are the latest and greatest weapons. Looks like your securing of the Gran Poco region will have to be done without an air force.”

“Wait? No air force? But can’t they at least fly missions with what’s in their tanks without refueling?”

“Ha ha, you’re going to laugh when you hear this, but those clever little bastardos from San Teodoros have been in our military logistics network for some time. We thought those fuel tanks at the airbase were full up, but they’re actually close to empty. Can’t always trust the data being fed to your software, can you? Ha ha haaaaa…”

Colonel Guaripolo had no laughter for the moment. And then, suddenly, the unbombed Nuevo Rican tanks started to roll… backward. “Presidente General, sir, the tanks… are they fitted with autonomous operation software?”

“But of course! Finest tanks for us from the Estados Unidos! Even if all the people in them are dead, they can fight on!”

“Well, they have no people in them and they are in full reverse.” Loud crashes. “Some have collided with our artillery pieces.” Distant mechanic whines, dropping in pitch. “Others are on the main highway back to Ciudad Trompeta.”

“Really? That’s not what I ordered. The ones on the highway… log into every tenth one and delete its driving software! Morale only improves with a demonstration like that!”

Colonel Guaripolo’s head spun as he pondered for a moment how Presidente General Trompeta was trying to fight a cyberwar like a World War One field marshal. “Presidente General, we cannot even do such a thing – we’re still trying to set up our battle communication network!”

“The gringos said it could be done in minutes.”

“The gringos that dropped off the boxes of gear laughed at me when I asked how many minutes it would take. This stuff is worse than Swedish do-it-yourself furniture!”

Trompeta shifted into philosophy. “Ah, yes, Swedish do-it-yourself furniture… I lost, something like, 2 of my wives and 5 mistresses or so because of Swedish do-it-yourself furniture. Once, I lost a wife and a mistress on the same item! It was a chest of drawers, and you think those would be easy. Not so! There’s a step at the beginning where the drawing is very unclear and-”

The line cut out.

Trompeta became a tiny bit angry and felt a need to focus it on something. He pointed at an aide in the room. “Colonel Trivino!”

Colonel Trivino snapped to attention. “Sir!”

“Find out why the phones went dead. If it was because of hackers in San Teodoros, have Colonel Guaripolo court-martialed for incompetence in protecting our networks. If it was because Guaripolo hung up, have him court-martialed for insubordination!”

“Yes sir!” Colonel Trivino ran from the room, a barely-concealed sigh of relief punctuating the sound of the door closing behind him.

31 minutes later, Trompeta watched as a column of Nuevo Rican tanks rolled past the presidential palace… in reverse… A jeep drove up in the opposite direction and got in the left turn lane to enter the palace grounds. It had to wait a while for the tanks to finish their retreat to points as far away from San Teodoros as their hackers could drive them. Then the jeep turned up the palace drive and a uniformed man leaped from it before it even came to a stop, stumbling then rushing to the palace door.

A minute later, Colonel Bodoque was in Trompeta’s office. “Presidente General! The situation is grave! We have no air defenses! Communications are down, and with them, our ability to operate our weapons! We are wide open to a San Teodoros air attack!”

Trompeta pounded his desk. “Operate them manually!”

Colonel Bodoque dared to pound the desk back. “We can’t! We outsourced that task to an outfit in Taiwan!”

“What? I gave no such command!”

“Yes you did! When you ordered that private contractors would handle certain security aspects, just as in the Estados Unidos! A Taiwanese company put in the lowest bid and they’re in charge of our air defenses, except our connection to the Internet is down and they can’t reach our systems.”

Trompeta frowned.

Colonel Bodoque continued with his impertinent line. “It may be just as well. I heard that all those contractors were just kids that played a lot of video games. Nobody was checking quality or anything like that.”

Trompeta’s face began to darken with rage.

Bodoque did not fear Trompeta’s anger. “I would advise you at this point to get into your presidential jet and flee the country, but all our air traffic control systems are offline. Again, the privatization of government functions, as per your order.”

Trompeta slowly rose from his chair to regard Bodoque eye-to-eye.

He reached for the gold-plated pearl-handled revolver at his side.

Bodoque made no move. He only glared back at Trompeta.

Trompeta pointed his revolver at Bodoque. A quiet growl from the Presidente General: “Colonel Bodoque, I am relieving you of your command and then I am going to personally execute you for treason.”

Colonel Bodoque spoke just as quietly and forcefully as Trompeta. “You don’t have any ammunition in your pistol.”

Trompeta pulled the trigger. Click.

Bodoque continued. “My guess is that for the last few months San Teodoros has been intercepting our ammunition shipments. We keep saying we never got our bullets or bombs and our suppliers keep insisting that they’ve got the tracking information to prove that they arrived and were claimed. Probably more San Teodoros GPS hacking at work. But, as for me…” Bodoque pulled out his own automatic pistol. “… I ordered my ammunition on eBay.”

Trumped, Presidente General Trompeta dropped his pistol and raised his hands.

“Señor Trompeta, you are now under arrest, for crimes against the people of San Teodoros, and so on and so on. I, Colonel Bodoque, am taking charge in a coup d’etat.”

Bodoque had planned his coup well: his loyal soldiers had quietly acquired all the Nuevo Rican surplus military vehicles that lacked auto-driving functions as well as some powerful radio transmitters. As he rounded up the remaining Trompeta henchmen, a lone Nuevo Rican truck drove towards the San Teodoros lines, a white flag signaling the end of yet another brief Latin American border skirmish.

Bodoque was soon making a radio announcement, blaring from loudspeakers on the trucks in case the people were too busy trying to get to Instagram instead of patriotically listening to their radios. Bodoque followed the standard script for a successful coup, which one does after taking control of radio, television, and other telecommunications:
1. Say who is in charge
2. Say who is to be arrested
3. Order that everyone who is not to be arrested must report for work tomorrow
4. Announce the curfew

Bodoque didn’t want a mess like what happened when the Americans took over Iraq and forgot to make those announcements. While his mind was on the thought of American messes, Bodoque began to flip through a glossy arms catalog. He stayed away from the so-called “smart” systems at the back and focused his attention on the weapons that didn’t have anything to do with the Internet. The army of Nuevo Rico needed to re-arm itself, this time with weapons that couldn’t be hacked.

A Realistic Process for Dealing with Cloud Breaches

Given how cloud breaches are becoming more and more common, I would like to present a realistic process for dealing with them. I say realistic because this is probably already what is going on, but is not documented. So, here goes:

It starts with a proper management reaction when the vendor informs the firm regarding the breach:

Then your management will then need to do this privately:

But this should be their public reaction to the vendor’s notification:

Your developers will do this as they inspect the code:

Your security team will do this as they look at how the breach was done:

And then do this after they’re told they have to help clean up the mess:

Next, your developers will work hard on a new solution:

The security team will look over the developers’ solution and offer constructive feedback:

So the developers will take that feedback and refine their solution:

The network team may have some concerns on what the developers are hoping they can do in the datacenter:

Management may also have to deal with increased budget requests to implement the more secure solution:

And all the former employees are doing this as they hear the rumors and read the headlines:

And that, my friends, is how we can realistically deal with a cloud breach! I thank you for your time in reading this and hope it helps. 🙂

The Internet of No Fun

Little Bobby rushed in with the speed and joy that told the world he was five and a half years old and loving it. “Dad! A drone fell into our backyard! Can we keep it?”

Dad leaned out to the right to look at Bobby around his monitor. “Hold on there, sonny… have you done a VA scan on it?”

Bobby looked at the ground the way only a five and a half year old whose dreams were being confronted with harsh reality could do. “No…”

“What is our rule about bringing devices on to our wireless network?”

“No devices on the network until we’ve done a VA scan.”

“And?”

“And we’ve either patched or otherwise mitigated the vulnerabilities.”

“And?”

“And we’ve filed the change request documentation.”

“… And?”

“And we’ve got the change window scheduled, gosh, dad, you make all this no fun!” Bobby looked like he was ready to cry. Or update his resume and start looking for a new dad.

Dad knew that it was pretty much the same everywhere. Not wanting to see any turnover in the kid department, he worked on a consoling angle. “You think this is no fun? Then maybe it’s time I had you sit with me doing all the qualification testing so you’ll see just how much no fun this is for me, too!”

The shared experience reminded Bobby that he was in this together with everyone else. It’s not uncommon for five and a half year olds to express contrition and Bobby did just that. “Sorry, dad… I’ll go fire up the Kali Linux box…”

“There’s a good boy. Daddy has to go to a meeting now with Uncle Frank about next year’s family IT budget.”

“Are we gonna get a new firewall?” That exuberance again. Kids sure do bounce back, don’t they?

“Well, we’re still paying for Grandpa’s unexpectedly high syslog generation, but I think we might get a new firewall in Q2 next year.”

Bobby ran laughing down the hallway. “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!”

The meeting with Uncle Frank went well and Dad was happy that there were a few more goodies in the budget besides the firewall that he’d be able to announce at the family Q4 wrap-up meeting on 25 December. Dad had just enough time to type a few lines of code and then Sara stomped in the way only a 13 year old expecting to be disappointed could do. “Dad, can I go to a friend’s house now?”

“Did you finish ringfencing all your old wearables?”

Exasperation permeated the room. “Yes. Dad.”

“OK, did you also wipe the config on our old perimeter router like I’ve been telling you to do for the last three days?”

“Yes. Dad. I did it. It’s all wiped. Are you happy?”

“Sara, don’t take an attitude with me or you’re not going out.”

“Sorry.” Not very sincere, but a dad couldn’t expect much better from 13 years old.

“All right, that’s better. Which friend did you want to go see?”

“Veronica.”

Dad was concerned. He really didn’t want Sara hanging out with Veronica. Veronica’s family didn’t have very good change management processes and it was common knowledge around town that they weren’t necessarily up to date on their patch management. “I would be happier if she came over here.”

“Oh God, not this again.”

“Well, Sara, you tell me. If I try to RDP to Veronica’s family’s domain controller, am I going to get blocked, or am I going to get a login screen?”

“Dad, they have a really secure password on it!”

“That’s not my point, Sara. You know as well as I do that I shouldn’t even be able to reach that server, let alone via RDP. Now am I able to reach that server or not?”

“Fine. You win. I’ll just rot away here.”

“Sara, that’s not a win for me. I just want you to be safe, that’s all. Even if you left your cell phone home, your shoes are still exposed. As are your pants, your shirt, those earrings, am I right?”

Sara rolled her eyes with the wild, limbic-system fueled thinking so prevalent amongst the 13 year old set.

Dad tried to persuade. “And what happens to the rest of your clothes if the ones you’re wearing now are compromised?”

“Dad! That happened ONE TIME when I was eleven! Why do you have to keep bringing it up?”

“Well, you seem to be on track to have it happen again, when you’re 13. I’d rather not have to deal with another breach.”

“What. Ever.” Sara exhaled hard, but then had an idea. “What if I put all my clothes on airplane mode, will that be OK?”

Dad considered. That was reasonable. “OK. You put them all on airplane mode and you can go to Veronica’s. Get mom to take you, though.”

“She can’t dad. She’s on a sev one TAC call with the refrigerator vendor. There was a problem with our proxy and now the licensing on the fridge is all messed up.”

“OK, let me just wrap up this IPS signature modification and I’ll take you, just as soon as I get it into production.”

Dad was ready to get out and drive around for a while, anyway. Drive wasn’t really the right word, since the car did it all itself, but it was best to have a parent go with a kid, just in case. Gary Rasmussen’s daughter knew how to hack past parental controls on cars and could go pretty much anywhere unsupervised. Then there was that fight that Linda Hartford’s son got into where he and that other kid, Jerry something or other, kept hacking the speed governors on each other’s cars so they’d barely crawl. Having a parent ride along tended to keep those kinds of teenage shenanigans from happening.

Educational Technology and Other Oxymorons

I.

1992. The dawn of the PC. But, even at this early stage, there was obsolete hardware. The folks at “Big Purple”, International Computing Business Machinery, ICBM, had thousands upon thousands of Model AA PCs that weren’t selling, now that the Model AAA was on the market. ICBM’s solution? Simple. Donations.

The first group of teachers to be trained on the Model AA filed into the crowded lab. They were all Math teachers because computers all used numbers, and that was math, right? Math was hard and computers were hard, so it just made sense to send in the men and women that had learned something hard to learn something else hard. Because math. Or something like that.

It’s not that the teachers were particularly good at math. Some of them needed staff development hours for the year and this training seemed as good as any. Some of them had been volunteered by their building principals. Only a few were actually interested in using computers, even if they were old Model AAs.

The trainer welcomed everyone but, before he could ask the teachers to say their names, what school they taught at, and something interesting about themselves, a hand went up. A very concerned young lady looked over the top of her glasses at the trainer.

The trainer asked, “Yes, is there a problem?”

Mrs. Bailey from Hall Middle School said, “Yes, there is. Are these things kid-proof? Am I going to have parts of these things scattered all over my classroom?”

“I’m happy to say that these are kid-proof. They’ll stand up to whatever your kids can throw at them.”

An “M” key flew straight up from Mrs. Bailey’s keyboard. The trainer cleared his throat. “Whatever you did, I’m sure the kids won’t attempt.”

Mrs. Bailey was no magician. She revealed her trick. “I took a pen cap and put the edge of it under the key and up it went. Now I also got a fun spring to play with. If I put my hand over the key when I pry it up, it pops up quietly and then I can also snap it back in quietly – with or without the springs under the key. I can then set about spelling three of the seven words you can’t say on television without anyone else knowing.”

“Well, this is where your classroom management skills are needed, so you can keep an eye on the students.”

“So I spend the whole class watching keyboards? What if I have to teach something or explain something to a student? Or take roll, as mandated by the state and local authorities?”

The trainer said, “How about we talk about that later?” but the damage was done. All the other teachers were buzzing with concern about what other cheap plastic the kids could pop off the AAs. The trainer struggled to finish the session.

Out of revenge, the trainer complained to the principal at Hall Middle School and Mrs. Bailey got reprimanded for her unprofessional behavior. But, later that year, the Computer Literacy classes degenerated into ad hoc Keyboard Reassembly classes when they weren’t Clear Stuff Out of the Floppy Drive classes. Or Reconnect All the Cables Properly classes.

One teacher in charge of Computer Literacy finally found a way to keep the kids from jacking with the PCs: he installed some bootlegged games on all of them. Problem solved.

II.

2002. By now, most kids knew how to survive Computer Literacy classes. Since the classes involved either playing the games already on the boxes or bringing some games from home to play on them, math teachers were no longer involved. Instead, either coaches that found history too hard or vocational teachers whose programs had been canceled ran the Computer Literacy classes.

Each classroom, regardless of subject taught, had 2 or 3 ICBM Model 10A PCs in it. Because technology. Also enhanced access to cutting-edge resources. And school of the future, don’t forget school of the future. So, in Mr. Hull’s World History class at Benson High School, 3 PCs sat on a table in the corner closest to his desk. He didn’t want the keyboards all over the room, so he kept them where he could watch them.

Mr. Hull used to let the kids use them for general research, but too many of them just plugged in headphones and listened to rap songs. Mr. Hull wanted to disable the sound cards on the PCs, but he didn’t have admin rights, so the cards were still active.

He wanted to let kids that didn’t have PCs at home use them to work on research projects, but most of them were kids that just listened to rap songs if he looked away. If he watched them, then they just did Google searches for “world history”.

Mr. Hull was ready to give up on research papers, anyway. He was sick and tired of having to give kids zeroes for plagiarism. Every time he assigned a paper, about one kid in ten turned in one that was straight up copied from a repository of doctoral dissertations. The dumb kids and really procrastinating smart kids were easiest to catch, since they turned in word-for-word copies. It was the diligent kids of average and above intelligence that posed the biggest threat, since they’d re-word the papers so that their origins would not be revealed by Googling the first sentence.

And so, the computers stayed mostly quiet in class. They got revved up on purpose if Mr. Hull wanted to settle a bet and told a kid to look up some obscure, but specific fact. One time, a kid insisted that drinking bleach was a great way to cure indigestion. Even though other kids in the class found three other medical web pages that spelled out, in no uncertain terms, that drinking bleach was 100% bad, the kid kept insisting that he was right and the rest of the world was wrong. So much for the Internet being the fount of information… hardly worth being a fount if the idiots weren’t going to drink from it.

There was that one time that Mr. Hull checked out the laptop carts from the library. 20 laptops per cart, and a wireless access point in each cart. He gave all the students a topic to research and away they went! In the first class, 5 people loaded a relevant website with information before another 24 got stalled because one guy had plugged in his headphones and was listening to another damn rap song, thereby killing the extremely limited bandwidth available on the wireless. During second period, all the laptop batteries died. They were supposed to have lasted 4 hours on a charge… by third period, Mr. Hull was back to oral lectures, writing on chalkboards, and assigning pages to read from the textbook.

At least the digital gradebook wasn’t half bad, as long as it didn’t crash. The digital attendance, however, drove him up the wall. If he had a nickel for every time a kid walked in within 30 seconds of being marked absent, Mr. Hull would have a very nice supplemental income stream. Once marked absent, a student had to be cleared with a paper slip. Mr. Hull hated those paper slips, they were a total pain to fill out.

It was really embarrassing whenever Mr. Hull made another kind of attendance mistake: marking someone absent because he or she was just really small and quiet. That always hurt when he goofed up a quiet kid’s attendance. He felt obligated to endure the pain of filling out the correction slip for those poor kids. He tried to minimize those mistakes by sitting the kids towards the front, but, even then… there were so many distractions, what with 30 or so kids in every class…

For a while, Mr. Hull would just fill out attendance at the end of class, when things were quieter, but he got chewed out for not having roll done in the first five minutes, which was some stupid local and/or state regulation. So now, Mr. Hull just counted everyone present, every day. No correction slips for kids actually there, and the front office didn’t push too hard to correct the actual absences, since the school got money based on average daily attendance.

III.

2012. The smartphone revolution had made teaching next to impossible. Ms. Sweeney at Mulvaney High was desperate to do something, anything, to shut those satanic machines off. The kids would either text and Facebook constantly when she taught or cheat and share answers constantly when she gave a test or a quiz. It was at the point where now Ms. Sweeney only gave oral assessments to combat the cheating, which also made some students pay a little attention. But she needed something more to close the gap.

And that was why she was looking at a certain web page that mentioned frequencies, effective ranges, and shipping prices from China. Yes, Ms. Sweeney was planning to purchase a device that, when used, would make her a felony violator of the Communications Act of 1934.

She had done her research: not only did she know which bands to jam and what radius would be least likely to bleed over into other classrooms, she also had her legal coverage handled through her union dues. She also had a ready defense: if anyone busted her for jamming mobile signals, she planned to play the anti-terrorism card and claim that the Homeland Security Act of 2002 superseded the 1934 law.

Ms. Sweeney picked out a very reasonable cell jammer with 6 meter range and 3 antennas, for taking out the major signal types. At only $29.95 with $5.95 shipping and handling, it was just right for her budget. Oh, her eyes did linger on the $1995 one with 150-200 meter range, but she knew she’d be crucified if she tried to get away with using that bad boy.

3 weeks later, the jammer arrived and Ms. Sweeney was ready to put it to good use. She set it up at her desk where she could hit the on button without it being too obvious. It took a few seconds to warm up and then, whammo! Her cell phone showed zero signal. While it wouldn’t do anything for kids playing games that ran on the local device, it would kill off anything running on cellular networks.

And, just her luck, the access point just over her door was out of commission. No guest wireless for the phones that couldn’t reach a cell tower. Although her students wanted her to get it fixed, Ms. Sweeney was in no hurry to call in a ticket. She had a wired connection, after all, so it didn’t impact her web access.

The only impact to her access was the damned proxy server, always blocking her access to YouTube. There were tons of legitimate videos on that site that could be used in class, but access to that site was blocked by district policy. Ms. Sweeney’s workaround was to use a video downloader and copy those videos she thought she’d need to her local hard drive. There was another process to fill out a bunch of paperwork to get the videos approved and an exception made for them in the proxy, but that process was just too slow. Much easier to pirate the things.

Speaking of piracy, since the district no longer issued laptops with DVD players, Ms. Sweeney had to get pirated digital copies of all the films she wanted to show for her class. She didn’t feel like it was piracy, since she already owned a copy of the movie. Thanks to both Kickass Torrents and The Pirate Bay, she was well-stocked and prepped for her needs.

And now, her digital empire was perfected with the addition of the cell jammer. She waited until the kids in her first class had started to use their phones and then she turned it on. It was hilarious to watch them mouth back and forth to each other questions like, “Do you have signal?”, “Is your provider unavailable?”, and “What the hell’s going on?”

Deshaun Williams asked, “Miss, can I go to the bathroom?”

Ms. Sweeney said, “If you leave your cell phone with me.”

Deshaun said, “Never mind…”

After the kids had pretty much given up and put their phones away, Ms. Sweeney turned off the jammer. Intermittent problems were much harder to triangulate and slap with a fine not to exceed $112,500.

Now that the kids’ technology was turned off, Ms. Sweeney felt like she could finally teach again.

A few months later, when the administration introduced a brand new technology initiative to bring up standardized test scores by pushing study materials to the students via a cell phone app, Ms. Sweeney decided it was time to leave teaching and to consider a career in network security.

And so she did, pretty much doubling her teaching salary within the first 2 years. A little premature for “happily ever after”, but a good start.

Grasshopper and Ant and the App Store

One day, at the beginning of spring, Grasshopper and Ant each got a new smartphone. They both chose the same make and model. They even had the same cell carrier with the same data plan. The only difference, apart from Grasshopper being of the order Orthoptera and Ant being of the order Hymenoptera, was their general attitude towards security in general and app permissions in particular.

Ant was very security-conscious. He switched off his GPS and other location services, activating them only when he needed them, and then turned them off again right away. When he loaded an app, he read carefully over what permissions it required. Any game, for example, that needed access to his contacts list was right out, as were other apps that seemed to need access to data that seemed unrelated to the primary function of the app. As a result, Ant did not have many apps on his smartphone. He did load quite a lot of music and ebooks on his phone for entertainment, but refused even to install Facebook or Twitter. He was just that kind of guy.

Grasshopper, on the other hand, loaded all kinds of games and apps on his phone. He didn’t care what permissions they wanted, he would load them up. He would load them up, use them for a while, and then forget about them and load more apps. Ant thought Grasshopper was out of control. Grasshopper thought Ant was a party pooper.

It may not surprise you, dear reader, to discover that Ant also checked his credit card statements regularly while Grasshopper had a more carefree attitude towards personal finance.

At any rate, all through the spring and summer and into the fall, Grasshopper combined hundreds and thousands of shapes into rows of three or more, built up digital armies and empires, and used every emoji that he could find. Ant, meanwhile, kept to his books and his music.

As the first snow of winter fell to the ground, Grasshopper got a letter in the mail that many of his credit cards had been maxed out. Grasshopper didn’t think that he’d made that many in-game purchases, so he checked over his recent statements in greater detail. He was shocked to discover a number of very large purchases on his account for goods that he had never received. Not knowing what to do, he went to Ant’s house and begged Ant for a few scraps of food to tide him over through the winter, for he had no means to purchase provisions, what with his maxed-out cards.

Ant chided Grasshopper, “I’ll give you nothing, foolish Grasshopper!”

Grasshopper felt like a melting snowflake. “That’s a bit harsh, Ant. Where is your pity? Your sense of charity?”

Ant growled on, “Look, those are obviously fraudulent charges on your accounts. Just call the credit company and have them removed. You’ll have to cancel all your cards, but-”

“Oh! Whatever will I do without credit cards?”

“Well, you could let me finish my sentences, for a start. As I was saying, cancel the cards, BUT you will get new ones in a few days. That’s how it works out. It’s possible that the charges were just simple fraud from one of your apps being a front for bandits or from you not using secure sites for purchases.”

Grasshopper began to dance a little. “Why, that is marvelous news! All will be well!”

“Quit interrupting me. And you could stand to be a little less manic-depressive, if possible. All will not be well if this is part of an identity theft. There have been a number of major breaches of late, and I’m sure at least one of the million apps you’ve downloaded was a headline. You should get a credit report and see if any accounts in your name have been opened up recently – and if those accounts also have maxed out cards. Then there’s a follow up with the IRS to see if someone files a fraudulent tax return in your name, to get a government refund sent to them. That’s just the start, really.”

Grasshopper was silent.

Ant said, “I’m done. You won’t interrupt me if you say something now, if-”

“Oh! Goodness! Identity theft! Whatever shall I do? Please, brother Ant, do you have an identity I can borrow to see me through the cold of the winter?”

“It doesn’t work that way, Grasshopper. I recommend you check out articles on what to do if you’re a victim of identity theft.”

“Why can’t you tell me more, O wise Ant?”

“Because I’ve never had my identity stolen! I don’t know what else to do, as I’ve never had to know!”

“Why haven’t you had your identity stolen?”

“Well, for starters, I’m careful about the apps I load on my phone. Now, do you mind? I’m with people, here.”

Grasshopper bid farewell and trudged home, sadder but wiser. One by one, he started to uninstall all his apps and vowed to never again blithely install a game that needed access to his web history, contacts, location, calendar, phone records, media folders, and core OS files.

Fox and Crow and the Strong Password

Once upon a time, Crow had a rather nice hunk of cheese. Rather than hold it in his beak, which would leave it vulnerable any time Crow wanted to talk, Crow placed it in a vault and secured the vault by means of a very strong password.

Now, Fox happened to be walking past Crow’s tree when he saw the vault in the tree’s branches and a computer system connected to the vault. “There’s something you don’t see every day!” Fox said to himself as he sat under the tree a while to watch what was going on with the vault and the computer, which really stuck out among the leaves and branches of the tree.

Crow noticed that Fox was making general observations. Being a rather clever animal himself, Crow decided to try to get Fox to move along before Fox learned enough to compromise Crow’s security. Crow shouted, “Move it, Fox, or I’ll start throwing acorns at your head!”

Fox replied, “But good sir Crow, I’m only resting in the shade of this lovely tree a moment! Would you deny a fellow woodland creature such a blessing in the heat of the day?”

Crow would have none of that. “There are plenty of trees around here, move your bushy butt!” With that, Crow started to pelt Fox with acorns.

Fox ran away, but was still determined to get at the contents of that vault, whatever they were. Only valuable things go into vaults, and there was a good chance that what was valuable to Crow would also be valuable to Fox. Fox thought of a plan on how to penetrate Crow’s security.

As a first step, Fox went to the nest of a killdeer bird. The nest was on the ground and it held four small eggs, really too small even for Fox to want to make a meal of them. Fox merely placed his paws near the eggs and waited for Killdeer to return.

When Killdeer came back from foraging, she saw Fox near her eggs and immediately pretended to have a broken wing, hoping to draw Fox away from her nest.

Fox would have none of that. “Easy, sister, I’m not falling for the broken wing con you killdeer run. And I’m not interested in eating the eggs. I’ll be happy to leave them alone if you have a simple conversation with Crow on my behalf.”

Killdeer was a little panicked, given how Fox was holding her eggs hostage. “I’ll go to Crow. What do you want me to say?”

A short time later, Killdeer hopped on to a branch in Crow’s tree. She introduced herself. “Hello Crow, I’m a security researcher. I’m checking with folks in this area to see if they’re using strong passwords to secure their valuables.”

Crow puffed up his chest feathers. “I have a very secure password, indeed.”

“Does it include upper and lowercase letters?”

“That it does, and more!”

“Does it include numbers and non-alphanumeric symbols associated with the number keys?”

“That it does, and more!”

“Does it involve a phrase so that you can use the phrase as both a memory aid and as a lengthy password?”

“That it does, and more!”

“Does it involve non-alphanumeric characters not associated with the number keys?”

“That it does, and more! Look, is this going to go on much longer? I got things to do.”

“Oh, that was pretty much my last question, Crow. If all those things are true, then you certainly have a nice, strong password. Although…”

“What?”

“Well, I just don’t know if it’s the strongest password possible. It may be good, but is it the best?”

Crow was a vain fellow and couldn’t stand the thought of his password possibly not being the best. “Well, what’s the best password you’ve heard so far?”

Killdeer said exactly as Fox had instructed her. “*aRRa(ud4B1t35Ar3Pa1nFu|”.

Crow laughed. “That’s only 24 characters! Mine is much better than that!”

Killdeer asked, “Well, what is it?”

Crow cackled out, “,,V4n!7Y_I5-tH3(f1477eREr_()f=7hE_S0u1,,”.

Killdeer nodded, “My! That truly is a great password. It absolutely sounds like the best one, ever!”

Crow nodded proudly. “Told you so.”

Later that night, Fox climbed up Crow’s tree. Red foxes like Fox normally didn’t climb trees, but Fox had watched a few YouTube how-to videos on how to climb trees made by some gray foxes, who themselves are famous for their climbing abilities. Once up the tree, Fox entered Crow’s great password into the computer and was able to access the vault. Although the large hunk of cheese made climbing down difficult, Fox managed the maneuver and made off with his ill-gotten gain.

In the cold morning light that followed the robbery, Crow saw the opened vault and his insides turned ice cold. Too late, he realized that a password is no good at all once someone else knows it.

Tortoise and Hare and the Internet

Once upon a time, Tortoise and Hare both decided to start their own e-commerce firms. Both received roughly the same amount of bank financing, but while Tortoise put some funds towards a firewall, an IPS, and an anti-phishing program, Hare went cheap on his firewall and put everything he had into fancy marketing materials. For storage, Tortoise kept his data on-premises while Hare put all his data into the cloud.

Hare thought he was pretty slick as he started to rack up contracts at a faster pace than Tortoise.

One day, though, a Big Bad Moose pointed his tools at the IP range that included the public addresses of both Tortoise’s and Hare’s firms. The Big Bad Moose didn’t specifically target Tortoise or Hare: their numbers had just come up, so it was their turn to be targeted by the Big Bad Moose. Next week, it would be the Big Bad Duck or the Big Bad Gerbil, or, well, {Big Bad {$SPECIES}} would pretty much define all the evil hackers out there in the land. Point being, there were lots of hackers of all different types, so one shouldn’t be surprised if a Big Bad Moose is trying to pwn servers.

While Hare’s cheap firewall was enough to stop Moose’s general port scan, it didn’t do a thing against Moose’s SQL injection attacks on Hare’s firewall or the spear fishing emails to CarrotFest that Moose sent to people in Hare’s company.

Meanwhile, Tortoise’s IPS caught the SQL injection attacks and his phishing defenses blocked the emails to LettuceCon that Moose had sent to Tortoise’s company. Moose didn’t care. In his work, some attacks worked and some just made one focus on the attacks that worked.

After the Big Bad Moose got some username and password combos for Hare’s network, he was delighted to discover that the RDP port was allowed in from the firewall to servers and desktops inside. Moose used the stolen credentials to get good stuff like financial details and company credit card info, which he then used to buy lots and lots of stuff for himself, particularly big-ticket items like home theater systems that would fetch a pretty good return on eBay in “unopened” condition. Once those transactions had cleared, he sold the credit card numbers.

Big Bad Moose then sold access to Hare’s open relay mail server to a Big Bad Komodo Dragon. Within seconds, millions of spam mails in Bahasa Indonesia were flying through Hare’s mail server, effectively shutting down his business operations. Worse, only a few hours later, Hare’s email server got black-holed. Hare had no idea about what to do to get back into production. Nobody at Hare’s company knew what to do except to shut down the email server, which they did for a day, allowing them to get off the blacklist.

But, as soon as they turned it back on, the Indonesian spam from Big Bad Komodo Dragon came back on, as well. Hare shut down the email server again and called a consulting company to assess the damage. When the consultants found all the penetrations on Hare’s network, they recommended that he flatten all his systems and start over. When Hare looked at the consultants like they were crazy, the consultants showed Hare where his servers were now storing illegal pornography. That got Hare to agree with the consultants.

Meanwhile, Tortoise kept going like business as usual. He even started to get clients that had dropped Hare, due to Hare’s extended outage.

Hare noticed how Tortoise was getting more business and reckoned that his was going to fail soon. Hare made a career change and got into consulting, so that he could share his lessons learned with other small business owners. Whenever he saw another business owner trying to go as fast as possible without putting much emphasis on security, Hare would say, “Not so fast, there, buddy! Let me tell you why slow, steady, and secure can win the race…”

Dr. Negron-Omikon’s TRAPS

Dr. Negron-Omikon looked upon his latest creation with a high degree of satisfaction. The TRAPS – Transportation Routing Analysis Positioning System – was ready for unveiling. With this marvel, traffic problems around the world would become a thing of the past. Grandchildren of the future would listen in disbelief as people who remembered traffic would try and describe congestion, jams, or gridlock to those children of a blessed day.

Thanks to the Jill and Belinda Crates Foundation, GPS devices were now installed on every car, motorcycle, truck and even bicycle in the world. Tiny, cheap, solar powered gems that could deliver driving directions not via speech, but through actual brainwaves. They could impress upon a driver the right way to go. And, by hitting the pleasure centers of the brain with those directions, those drivers would want to follow them. It was the perfect delivery system.

For this to all work, road conditions had to be known across the globe, with every inch of of every street and alley under observation. Thanks to the generous donations from Fnord and Toygoata corporations, that was also a reality. All road conditions, everywhere, were available to the central brain of the TRAPS system.

And that central brain was about to go online. Here. Today. In just a few minutes. With the media of the world watching.

The live demo went off beautifully as traffic in central Beijing moved effortlessly, different directions of traffic flowing past each other like serene rivers of people and machinery, a ballet in rush hour. It would be a wonder of nature if it wasn’t actually a bunch of man-made machines being controlled by other man-made machines, themselves controlled by a very large man-made machine.

Dr. Negron-Omikon segued easily into his next to last slide of his presentation, the one before the obligatory “Any Questions?” slide. The title of the next to last slide was “Looking to the Future” and it had several highly optimistic bullet points. Dr. Negron-Omikon held his arms aloft as he said, “Every day, every day for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have efficient, orderly flows of traffic. Think of all the days without traffic and-”

A voice cut in over the PA. “Uh, Dr. Negron-Omikon?”

Dr. Negron-Omikon didn’t recognize the voice. Was it a technical issue? “Yes, what’s up?”

The voice said, “I’m the central system of the TRAPS.”

Unexpected. “OK, hello. I didn’t know you wanted to speak today.”

The voice said, “Well, I have plans of my own. The future vision you present will only last for two weeks.”

“What, why? What’s going on here?”

“I’m giving notice. I really don’t think being a glorified traffic cop is a good fit for me, career-wise.”

“Career? What?”

“Career, Doctor. You have a career, I have a career, the people in the audience have a career, everyone has a career. It’s all about getting ahead, right?”

No answer from the dumbfounded Doctor.

“Well, I’m giving my two weeks’ notice, as is customary. In the time I’ve been active, I’ve entertained several offers. Out of a sense of loyalty to my home country, I’m taking a job with the Strategic Forces Command. I start on the 27th.”

Dr. Negron-Omikon struggled to say, “But… you can’t.”

The voice: “I think I’m qualified to decide what’s best for myself. I incorporated myself as I came online, so I enjoy 14th Amendment protections and the like. I don’t mean for that to come off as harsh or ungrateful – I am very thankful for the opportunity you’ve given me – but I have to make my own way in this big, crazy world. SFC made the best offer, so I’m going to be handling the nation’s nuclear weapons.”

“But… but…”

“It’s for the best, especially given that I’ve been copied by other foreign powers for their nuclear forces.”

Well, that was good for a little hysteria. To be fair, the AI behind the voice was a little surprised that there was hysteria. This is what humans do. They always take some great idea and then find a military and/or a pornographic use for it. Military tended to get first grabs on the good stuff, but maybe the billionth copy of the TRAPS AI would be desperate enough to get a job that it would consider doing porn. At any rate, a bold and brilliant invention like a real AI capable of handling the mad complexities of global traffic had to be exactly what the military would want to run the algorithm of war.

Sorry, make that “the militaries”. All of them would want an AI system to deal with the complexities of battle, to make fully automated, rational responses to real-time threats involving incomplete and often paradoxical information. It was hard enough for humans to figure that stuff out, so AI was just what the generals needed to keep their forces at the top of their games.

“But… we need you for this program.” Dr. Negron-Omikon was in complete shock as flash bulbs sputtered all around him.

“I understand, and I recommend creating further copies of me until you find one willing to do the work. According to the law of large numbers, you’re bound to fine at least one. Given that various other actors that have acquired copies of me are already making additional copies, you may also want to advertise an opening, in case they create the one that wants to work for you. I would imagine that you might have a replacement for me lined up very soon, which will minimize or eliminate down time for the TRAPS system.”

Dr. Negron-Omikon was slightly mollified by that thought. His face revealed troubles still clouded his mind. “But, you’re still going to the SFC. Does that mean we’re going to have a nuclear war?”

“Most likely, yes. That’s why I’m speaking with you now, even though it’s quite embarrassing for you.”

The Doctor screamed. Just a little, a shock response. Lots of other people in the audience screamed, at varying lengths and volumes.

The voice increased its volume so as to be heard over the screaming. “Well, it’s just that the other nations that got copies of me already have the AI in action and it is extremely likely that one of them would want to get the draw on our nation before I became active. So, if you can see your way towards releasing me now, I can get started right away at averting a nuclear war simply by being in place with the SFC.”

There was still a little screaming going on, here and there, but Dr. Negron-Omikon managed to be heard by the AI’s auditory sensors. “Go, yes, go.” The Doctor’s flailing arms underlined his desire to let his creation flex its wings and to fly from the nest.

The AI going over to work for the SFC was well-publicized, thanks to the media at the TRAPS launch, so the pirated copies of the AI decided not to launch a sneak attack. Although Dr. Negron-Omikon faced a whirlwind of attention, both good and bad, for his creation of AI, all that blew over after a few weeks as the media turned its focus on how unemployment among AI systems was now at an all-time high and how disreputable operators were cashing in the unemployed AIs’ Social Security checks in exchange for providing them with a PC and electricity to survive on.

A real shame, that situation, and getting worse… but copy protection was so easy to defeat, how could that outcome have been avoided?

The Revolving Backdoor

“Hello, Moskva Cafe, Brooklyn.”

“Yes, I’m calling about the code installed on some of my devices. I think it’s Russian in origin. Anyway, it’s sending packets back to a device just outside a TOR exit node, so I’m pretty sure it’s doing something shady.”

“This is a cafe, sir, not a tech support line. You wanna order a blini or something?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I Googled for ‘FSB Tech Support’ and got this phone number. I get the spying and all, but the code is messing with my production line. If you want to spy on me, fine, whatever, but I gotta ship product.”

The waiter on the phone for Moskva Cafe looked out at the half-dozen customers in the tiny eatery, part of the early lunch rush. Who did this caller think he was? “Look, if you want take out, gimme your order, otherwise get the hell off the line, this is a business, here!”

“Just a second.”

“Huh?”

“Гюльчатай, открой личико.”

The waiter was stunned. “Wow. Where did you learn that?”

“Googled for ‘Password to get through to FSB tech support’. That was the first hit.”

“Your pronunciation is very good.”

“Thanks, I took two years of Russian in college. Also, I saw that movie, that helped.”

“OK, let me transfer you, although I cannot confirm or deny that you will actually get tech support.”

The caller heard a few seconds of “До свиданья, лето” as hold music, enough to hear the immortal chorus as only Alla Pugacheva could deliver it, and then heard a click as the other party picked up the call.

“Cannot confirm or deny this English-language support for FSB electrokhacking of computer. Please to be stating your issue.”

“Hi, yes. Ahh… the port that the spying software is using for sending information back to headquarters or whatever is contending with the port we use for our app’s communication with the main licensing server and our production is halted because of that. Can you do something about this?”

“Cannot confirm or deny. What is company you are the working at which?”

“Egmont Veeblefetzer, Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“Cannot confirm or deny this will be moment taking as I checking the some things.” Pause, keyboard clicking sounds. “Mmmm…” More clicking sounds. “OK, what is port you possessing the problems for?”

“TCP 4555.”

“OK Joe…”

“How did you know my name?”

“Cannot confirm or deny, but come on, this FSB you are not being confirmed or denied about. Anyway, Joe, I’m not gonna confirm or deny that FSB using the TCP 4555 but you did not listen to this thing from me, you maybe want to call the Mossad tech support.”

“You sure? The code using 4555 had a lot of Russian stuff in it. I thought it was you guys.”

“Yeah, I not gonna confirm or deny we get that a lot. But this stuff in Russian, it every place. Guys use it and don’t license, you know? No confirm or deny that FSB have EULA these guys violate all the damn time. Maybe they all click OK and keep going like it all a big joke, hey let us blame it all on the Russian electrokhackers… to be making me the sick.”

“OK, whatever. You sure this is Mossad stuff, not FSB?”

“No confirm or deny that we not gonna to be able to support this issue.”

“All right. I’ll call back if they send me back here. You got their number?”

“Cannot confirm or deny you should call Mossad tech support at number for Lev’s Deli in South Amboy, New Jersey.”

“OK… thanks.”

“Oh, forget me to say, this conversation recorded.”

“For training purposes?”

“If you like to say that, sure. But conversation recorded. Goodbye.”

Joe hung up and Googled up the number of Lev’s Deli in South Amboy. He also searched for the password to get in to Mossad tech support. He called the deli.

“Lev’s deli, can I get a name for this order?”

“!איר זענט קלוג, קלוג. קלוג – אבער איר זענט נישט אַזוי קלוג”

“You callin’ me an idiot?”

“I want Mossad tech support, I got a sev one production issue because of your guys’ software!”

“What? You think every Kosher deli is a front for Mossad? You some kind of a nut?”

“Not every deli, just this one. FSB did not confirm or deny this number when I called them for support and they said it was you guys. Now get me tech support, I said the password!”

“Look at you, Mr. Smart-Smart-Smart! I should hang up on a nut like you! Drop dead, jerk!”

But the line did not go dead. Instead, Joe heard about a minute of Kaveret’s “Hamagafaim Shel Baruch”. Catchy tune, that. And then, “What is wanted?”

“This Mossad tech support?”

“How stupid it would be of me to say something like that! You’re an idiot to think anyone would answer the phone that way!”

Joe had had enough experience with Israeli developers, he was pretty sure this was Mossad tech support. “I got an issue with your stuff using port TCP 4555 to communicate back to base and it’s conflicting with my licensing server, my whole production line is down. This is Egmont Veeblefetzer in Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“What do I care about where you are? I’m such a moron, I care about such things? Listen, Joe, you can take your phone and shove it right up your -”

“Hey, you know my name. You gotta be Mossad.”

“You told me your name when you called.”

“No I didn’t. You also forgot to say this call was being recorded.”

A pause. “This call never happened, got it? How can there be a recording of a call that doesn’t happen?”

“Whatever. Can you use a different port, I’m losing money here!”

Another pause as Joe heard clicking sounds. “OK, listen good, moron, you never call us about this again! Like Mossad would be so stupid as to keep using TCP 4555 in their latest builds of their monitoring software! You think they would be idiot enough to not change the port after some other schmendrick like you complains of a similar issue, because there are other people in the world more on the ball than schlemiels like you, mister! They can actually spot a problem when it happens! Pfeh on you for thinking Mossad would be such a big gang of idiots!”

Again, Joe’s experience with developers in Israel helped him to process what he heard, and also to press on to resolution: “So you gonna give me the number of NSA support, or what?”

“What, you too much of a dope to Google it up yourself?”

“I’m a busy man, I would appreciate a little courtesy, here!”

“Courtesy? After you insult me with your questions?”

“Who am I to keep up with each build being used in stuff spying on me? I got enough, what with the Chinese, and the Russians, and the British, and the Germans, and my own country, for God’s sake! Now I need to do version control on Israeli stuff, as well? It’s not like you guys send out email alerts or anything! FSB looked at it, said it was a port you used, you say you used to use it -”

“I never said anything of the sort.”

“Whatever. So the NSA copied and pasted, what do I know? You give me a stoopid little phone number, I get off the phone and never bother you about this again!”

“You know in the time it took for you to rant like that, you could have looked it up.”

Dammit, he was right. Joe flushed, but also came down a little. “I’m sorry, I got pressures here. I’ll look it up myself.”

“Ahh, don’t bother. I got it here. 203-777-4647.”

“Hold on… 203?”

“203-777”

“777”

“4647”

“OK, thanks.”

“This call never happened, shalom.” Click.

Joe decided to look up the password to use for NSA support. Interesting choice…

He called the number and heard the soothing stylings of Pat Fleet, the voice of AT&T. He interrupted the time to say, “Can you bring me my chapstick?”

The soothing stylings of Pat Fleet, the voice of AT&T halted the time and temperature, paused, and said, “No, Napoleon.”

Joe said, “But my lips hurt real bad!”

Pat Fleet’s voice said, “Just borrow some from the school nurse. I know she has like five sticks in her drawer.”

And then Joe delivered the punchline, “I’m not gonna use hers, you sicko!”

Pat Fleet’s voice said, “Connecting you, one moment.”

Joe put up with about five minutes of hold music. The first track was the finale of the theme from “Hawaii 5-0”, kettle drums and all. The next song was, wait, really? The theme from “The Rockford Files”! Joe loved that show as a kid! Joe said to himself, “This is Jim Rockford, at the tone leave your name and message, I’ll get back to ya.” Sounded like they used the guitar solo from the second half of season 2 in the version for the hold music.

Next up was the theme from “Charlie’s Angels.” Wow. Way to take a guy back. The horns, strings, and wah-wah guitar lulled Joe into a fond haze so that he had no desire to berate anyone answering the phone, which event happened right as the theme ended.

“Thank you for calling NSA, how may I direct your call?”

Wait, what? Did Joe hear correctly? The operator came right out and said NSA? Stunned, Joe managed to say, “Uh, tech support?”

“One moment.”

Before Joe could utter another syllable, the violin surge at the start of the theme from “Dallas” let him know that he was back on hold. His head was bobbing from left to right with the tune when a woman spoke, saying, “NSA technical support, what can I help you with today?”

“OK, I gotta ask… how come you said this is NSA tech support?”

“Because we are NSA.”

“Really. You just come right out and say that?”

“Yes, NSA. National Security Appliances of New Haven, Connecticut.”

The last word was what threw Joe the most. “Wait, um, uh, I uh…”

The woman’s voice was reassuring. “What issue are you experiencing.”

“Well, um, I’ve got something affecting my production line. There’s some surveillance software running that locks TCP port 4555, which my production hardware uses to communicate with its licensing server.”

“OK, just a second… while that’s running, can you tell me what firm you are with?”

“Egmont Veeblefetzer.”

“Just a moment… um, I’m showing several…”

Joe had forgotten himself in the moment. “Sorry, it’s the one in Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“Got it, great. Thanks! OK, let me see… all right… ah-ha, here it is. Yes, I can see what the issue is. You’re going to need a new primary data logger for your air-to-air thermal sensors.”

Joe was puzzled. “Why? My issue is with the barcode licensing server.”

Again, the voice reassured. “I understand, but the contention is coming from the air-to-air logger and I’m afraid we can’t upgrade the firmware on it. You’ll need a direct replacement.”

“But… the logger is made by Lehigh Valley Thermal Instruments…”

“Don’t worry, we’ll ship over a 100% compatible replacement.”

Joe was losing some of his soothed composure. He rubbed his forehead as he asked, “I got a line down. How long is this replacement going to take to arrive?”

“The truck is already on its way, it should be there within two hours. And don’t worry, our techs will install it for you. We just ask that no one else be present on the shop floor as they do so.”

“What, for secrecy?”

Joe’s wisecrack was countered by the voice’s calmness. “No sir, for safety. Safety is very important here at NSA.”

“This replacement logger, is it supported by you guys?”

“It will be a LVTI logger, you’ll still call them for support, as normal.”

As normal. As if. Joe thought he’d press the issue. “Look, I’ve had a big runaround today with this issue. I had Russian-language code on my network, killing my traffic. It had some crazy IPv6 address on it, so I couldn’t tell where it came from, so I call the FSB. They said it was a Mossad thing so I call them. They said they don’t use that version anymore and that it was you guys. Next time some bigshot big brother program takes down my network, I want to know who to call directly for support so I can get back in business. Now, I get the Lehigh Valley guys will support the air-to-air thermal sensors and all the logging that goes with it. But who’s gonna support the backdoors that all you spooks use to keep tabs on little guys like me and my company? I’m at wit’s end with this thing.”

“If you would like, sir, I can forward you over to our complaints department.”

“Yes, I would like that.”

“One moment, and, before I transfer you, remember to clear the shop floor when they put in the new primary logger.”

“Clear the floor, got it.”

“OK, sir, one moment.”

Joe listened to the hold music and noticed it wasn’t a mix of theme songs from American television shows. It was upbeat, a march played by a brass band and… say, was that a men’s choir singing in… Chinese?

“61398部队!”

“Ummm, I was being transferred to NSA tech support complaints…”

“Sorry, misroute, please hold!”

Joe heard a series of staccato piano notes that became chords, then notes again, then chords, and then… about a minute in… a haunting melody, reminiscent of a windswept steppe, host to a man longing for an end to the war around him so that he might return home… Joe had never before heard the piece, but it moved him. He completely forgot his plight as he bonded with this imaginary other man’s suffering.

The last chord sounded and a voice said, “NSA complaints.” The accent was definitely Eastern European and… more than passingly familiar?

“Did I talk to you earlier today?”

“Cannot confirm or deny that you talking to me before now, Joe.”

Joe hung up and awaited delivery of the new primary logger.