Category Archives: Complete Fiction


I had a very sad friend. His company bought all kinds of really cool stuff for security monitoring, detection, and response and told him to point it all at the firm’s offices in the Russian Federation. Because Russia is loaded with hackers, right? That’s where they are, right?

Well, he’d been running the pilot for a week and had nothing to show for it. He knows that the tools have a value, and that his firm would benefit greatly from their widespread deployment, but he’s worried that, because he didn’t find no hackers nowhere in the Hackerland Federation, his executives are going to think that these tools are useless and they won’t purchase them.

So I asked him, “Do you have any guidance from above on what to look for?”

“Hackers. They want me to look for hackers.”

“Right. But did they give you a software whitelist, so that if a process was running that wasn’t on the list, you could report on it?”

“No. No whitelist.”

“What about a blacklist? Forbidden software? It won’t have everything on it, but it’s at least a start.”

“Yes, I have a blacklist.”

“Great! What’s on it?”

“Hacker tools.”

“OK, and what are listed as hacker tools?”

My friend sighed the sigh of a thousand years of angst. “That’s all it says. Hacker tools. I asked for clarification and they said I was the security guy, make a list.”

“Well, what’s on your list?”

“I went to Wikipedia and found some names of programs there. So I put them on the list.”

“And did you find any?”

“Some guys are running the Opera browser, which has a native torrenting client. I figured that was hacker enough.”

Well, security fans, that’s something. We got us a proof of concept: we can find active processes. I described this to my friend, and hoped that he could see the sun peeking around the clouds. But it was of no help.

“They’re not going to spend millions on products that will tell them we’re running Opera on a handful of boxes!”

He had a point, there. Who cares about Opera? That’s not a hacker tool as featured on the hit teevee show with hackers on it. And, to be honest, the Russian offices were pretty much sales staff and a minor production site. The big stashes of intellectual property and major production sites were in the home office, in Metropolis, USA.

So I asked, “Any chance you could point all that stuff at the head office?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s the Willie Sutton principle.”

“Who was Willie Sutton?”

I smiled. “Willie Sutton was a famous bank robber. His principle was to always rob banks, because that’s where the money was. Still is, for the most part. Russia in your firm is kind of like an ATM at a convenience store. There’s some cash in it, but the big haul is at the main office. Point your gear where the money is – or intellectual property – and see if you don’t get a lot more flashing lights.”

My friend liked that. He also liked the idea of getting a software whitelist so he’d know what was good and be able to flag the rest as suspect. He liked the idea of asking the execs if they had any guidance on what information was most valuable, so that he could really take a hard look at how that was accessed – and who was accessing it.

And maybe there were tons of hackers in Russia, but they weren’t hacking anything actually in Russia. And maybe said hackers weren’t doing anything that was hacking-as-seen-on-television. Maybe they were copying files that they had legitimate access to… just logging on, opening spreadsheets, and then doing “Save As…” to a USB drive. Or sending it to a gmail account. Or loading it to a cloud share…

The moral of the story is: If your security policy is driven by the popular media, you don’t have a security policy.

Manual Override

As the Himynamistan diplomatic convoy made its way to the intersection, the Dassom agent noted their passing as he sat slumped and fetid, like countless other bums on the streets of San Francisco. The convoy made its halt at the stop sign, autonomous brakes holding firm against the gravity of the downward slope.

As the convoy yielded right-of-way to the cross traffic, the Dassom agent, nameless in the shadows of the alleys of dumpsters between glittering financial monuments, lifted a small infrared controller and pointed it at the 18-wheeler loaded with pig iron that was rolling along just behind the convoy.

The Dassom agent pressed a button on the IR device and shot a signal to the 18-wheeler.

You know, how that big truck got to the top of the hill with all that metal in it was a testament to the builders of the engine in that beast of a machine. Well done, lads! Such a shame that the engineering and craftsmanship were going to be wrecked soon after the truck’s driving software interpreted the IR signal as a manual emergency override to disengage all braking systems and to accelerate.

The Dossam agent did not turn to one side or the other, but kept the metallic collision between the truck and the Himynamistan diplomats in their unmoving vehicles to his back. Most of the wreckage went forward, towards the cross street traffic, but a few small ricochets bounced off the back of the agent’s hoodie.

May the Root Access Be with You

“Help me, Opee Tey-lor, you’re my last chance!” That was the message conveyed by the little robot, GI-GO, that started this whole adventure from the desert planet of Tatunisia to the bowels of the massive planet-blaster, the Non-Moon.

GI-GO and the rest of the rag-tag team of misfits had just escaped detection when the Non-Moon captured their spacecraft and inspected it. GI-GO had cleverly altered the logs of the spacecraft to make it look like everyone had already left the ship and it was just drifting around. GI-GO, being a robot and all, was rather a dab hand at rapidly modifying log files.

As the rag-tag team hid inside a communications room, the young romantic interest Dirk Dirtstomper argued with space rogue Gawain Agogo about the best way to rescue the imprisoned princess kept somewhere on the Non-Moon. Said imprisoned princess, Ura Highnessness, had sent the message that got GI-GO, Dirk, Gawain, and the very Opee Tey-lor on this crazy crusade to free her from the clutches of the evil galactic overlords. How do we know the galactic overlords are evil? Well, they built the Non-Moon, for starters, then did a proof-of-concept test on an unsuspecting planet. That’s evil.

Anyway, as Dirk and Gawain argued, GI-GO took matters into his own interfaces. He decided to start hacking.

Opee Tey-lor watched as GI-GO extended a universal spinning connector (USC) and plugged it into a corresponding USC slot in a wall panel in the Non-Moon comm room. Opee set aside his concerns about an AI system that was capable of engaging in activity that could cause loss of life and instead chose to focus on how GI-GO expended very little effort in gaining root access to the Non-Moon’s systems.

“Hey guys, how about you be quiet and watch this robot go!” Opee’s command got Dirk and Gawain to shut up and listen to the little robot. GI-GO had a perfectly good voice system that only sounded slightly machine-y, like when it had to handle unusual proper names or foreign words. Earlier models communicated only with a series of beeps, and customer feedback overwhelmingly hated that system, so the next rev had speech function and sales went well after that.

Anyway, GI-GO was happy to say, “Well, I’ve got root. I’m happy to say the staff here were as lax about security as you were, Gawain. I just plugged in, started a network capture, and got the passwords I needed. What do you want to do?”

Dirk jumped the gun, speaking before anyone else thought. “Rescue the princess! We gotta rescue the princess!”

Gawain held up his hand to hush Dirk, then said, “Turn off all the security systems. THEN we rescue the princess!”

Opee shook his head and waved his hands, the universal signal given by smart people who want the hotheads to shut up and think carefully. “No no no no no no no. We got root access. We OWN this thing. Why would we just rescue the princess and abscond out of here? Chances are, the servants of the evil galactic overlords have put a GPS on our ship, so they’ll follow us back to the armed opposition’s base and attempt to annihilate it. That’s not a good move. No, I say we take a few minutes and maybe blue-sky some ideas we’d like to do with all this power we’ve tapped into.”

Opee addressed GI-GO. “GI-GO, how much time do you calculate we have before we’re noticed here?”

GI-GO ran the numbers. “Dude. We got ages. They have no clue. I’ve already got the logs generated here suppressed and the historical information purged. I’ve re-done the work schedules so that nobody reports to this room ever again. With the bureaucracy they have in place, they’ll never even glance twice at the locked door to this room.”

Dirk looked uneasy. “I need to go to the bathroom.”

Opee pointed impatiently at the door to the toilet adjoining the comms room. “Seriously, Dirk, take some time to look around. You’d lose your head if it wasn’t bolted on to your neck.” Opee then pointed at the food fabricator slot. “And that’s where you can get some chow, so no whining about eating. Aside from it being kinda cramped for sleeping arrangements, we can last here a good long while, like GI-GO says. And my guess is that if we’re smart, we won’t have to last here all that long.”

GI-GO said, “Bingo, Opee! You got that right. Since this is the most important part of the star fleets of the evil galactic overlords, we have full access to their ERP system.”

Opee looked delighted. “Oh man, we can totally jack with everything in their fleet!”

If GI-GO could smile, it would be beaming. “I know, dude! We can put an end to the overlordship part, for sure. I say we start with creating a new approved vendor process and require all existing approved vendors to comply before they can fill orders.”

“Good one, GI-GO! Let’s also schedule a mandatory upgrade for all our XP systems to the latest version!”

“Aw Opee, that’s mean, you know every single laser cannon targeting system only runs on XP!”

GI-GO and Opee Tey-lor laughed like kids at a pie fight while Dirk and Gawain looked on cluelessly.

Dirk asked, “How is any of that going to save the princess?”

Opee looked at the ceiling and groaned. “Don’t you get the bigger picture? We can rescue the princess anytime, whatever. But as soon as we start that process, we’re going to be found out and our agenda becomes much more limited, resulting in the scenario I described previously. What GI-GO and I are doing now isn’t just saving one person, it’s rescuing the entire galaxy from overlordship, evil or otherwise, by shutting down as much stuff as we can.”

Dirk protested, “But the princess! She needs us!”

Opee dismissed Dirk with a wave. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”

Gawain put a hand on Dirk’s shoulder. “Hey, buddy, I got an idea.” Gawain said to GI-GO, “Hey, GI-GO, how about you release the princess Ura Highnessness on probation? It’ll be easier to rescue her if she’s just wandering around than if she’s in a prison deck.”

“No prob!” GI-GO paused a second. “Done. She’s getting processed for release. I’ll have her put up in a luxury suite, that’ll be fun.”

Gawain and Opee started to chuckle. Opee was glad that Gawain was starting to get it.

Dirk was still mad. “Hey, I’m sensing a disturbance in the energy field that flows through us all, what did you call it?”

Opee rolled his wizened eyes. “The FEF. Flowing Energy Field. FEF.”

“Yeah, well, I sense a disturbance in the FEF. Something is coming towards us.”

Opee paused and looked up and to the left. “Yeah, I feel it, too. The FEF don’t lie. Hmmm.”

Dirk asked, “Is it Shmarth Shmader?”

“Yep. It’s him, all right. He’s here.”

“Should we duel him in the ancient style, with weapons of starlight?”

Opee made a “Pffff!” sound and said, “No. We got modern tech. What do we want with ancient weapons?”

GI-GO said, “Check to see if Shmader is still moving towards us?”

Dirk closed his eyes to get in touch with the FEF. “No, he’s stopped moving.”

“That’s because I just stopped the elevator he’s in. Mission accomplished.”

Dirk seemed upset at the prospect of not having an ancient duel. “But his minions are sure to release him!”

“Not if the alerts generated by the elevator are suppressed. And all the blast doors leading to that shaft are closed. And all the elevator tech contractors have their contracts canceled, effective immediately.”

Opee said, “Behold the power of root, Dirk. You would do well to study up on your systems analysis.”

“But I wanna be a space pilot!”

Gawain said, “Not a lotta money in space piloting, kid. Tell me more about systems analysis, Opee.”

“Sure, after we get out of here. You’ll be able to get some sweet gigs in IT, let me tell you.”

GI-GO interrupted their chat with a rather gleeful “Oh man! Oh man! Oh man! Oh man!”

Opee asked, “What’s up?”

GI-GO laughed. “Guess.”

“Dude, could be anything. Just tell me.”

“I just totally blew up the spaceship hosting the evil galactic overlord conference. I got the Galactic Tyrant and all his chief minions, Shmarth Shmader excepted. Dude!”

Even Dirk joined in the laughter at that news. And to think that at first he was only thinking about rescuing the princess!

After that, it was kind of anticlimactic. Sure, they all had some laughs when GI-GO downgraded every ranking officer, a few hearty chuckles when all the guidance systems on the fleet’s space fighters were reset to factory defaults, and some well-earned guffaws when all fleet elements with functioning hyperdrives were ordered to converge on the system where the Galactic Tyrant had just been obliterated, but after a few hours, all the crazy stuff had been done and the group all felt a little spent.

“Well, I guess we should be going,” said Opee.

Gawain and GI-GO agreed and started to look up where the princess’ luxury suite was located when Dirk said, “Hold on! I got an idea!”

Opee realized that the FEF was with Dirk when he heard Dirk giggle like a teenager in a marijuana dispensary. “What’s the idea, Dirk?”

“Order everybody abandon ship. Why should we have to leave? Make them go, let’s keep this sweet ride!”

Opee was thrilled. “Awww yeah! Do it do it do it do it do it NOW!”

GI-GO laughed out, “Done! Just us and Shmader gonna be on this boat!”

And, ever more, the legends were told of how important it was to secure access to critical systems. ūüôā

Auditing Firewalls

There’s an old Robert Frost poem, ‘Mending Wall’, that I’d like to pirate draw inspiration from and make a few adaptations to, if you don’t mind…

Auditing Firewalls

Something there is that doesn’t love firewalls,
That opens the ports, many and varied,
And spews out the code in plain text in prod;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The developers’ work’s another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one single port blocked,
But they would have the code loaded straight to prod,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring audit-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know in the next cube;
And on a day we meet to read configs
And set firewalls between us once again.
We keep firewalls between us as we go.
To each open ports that have opened to each.
And some are ranges and some are in groups
We have to use a spell to keep them all closed:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with scrolling down.
Oh, just another dull video game,
I call out the new insecurities
There where it is we all need those firewalls:
Where contractors connect to prod boxes
Where file servers sit, shares all exposed
To outsiders’ eyes. And we accept risk.
He just says, ‘Good firewalls make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where they segment traffic?’ But no segments,
No zones define our flat, inner network
Contractors here mixed with outsourcers there,
Aren’t firewalls and segments for those neighbors?
Something there is that doesn’t love firewalls,
That wants it down. I could say ‘Scrums’ to him,
But it’s not scrums exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Auditing a rule that’s permit all all
The CISO told him to accept the risk.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his CISO’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
Once again, ‘Good firewalls make good neighbors.’


The story I’m about to tell you is true. The names and incident specifics have been changed to protect me from violating my NDA agreements.

This is the network: the RFC 1918 ranges. I work here. I’m a security vendor.

It was a cold November day at the customer site when I walked in for the workshop. I met the security architect in the lobby. Nice enough guy, I guess. His name was Ram Gopal. We exchanged pleasantries and headed to the conference room. 

Once we were all plugged in and Ram fired up my product’s GUI, we got underway. I was there to do one thing, and that was to answer the question, “What is this?” for every device on the network. Network visibility, that’s my stock in trade, and it’s an endless, glamourless, thankless job that’s gotta be done.

I know Jack Webb said that about being a policeman. Well, I’m Dean Webb, so I can say that about being a security professional.

The Windows devices were easy enough to figure out. Thousands of endpoints with TCP 135, 139, and 445 open. We passed over those. We also skipped the TCP 515 and 9100 devices: printers or print servers, for the most part. Ram’s eyebrow went up when he saw switches and routers with Telnet still open, but we knew what those things were. He’d write the email to the network team later on. 

He’d write that email later because we were now at the end of the line, the Skid Row of the network. All the IoT devices plugged in by every Tom, Dick, and Harry at the company. The devices dangling off of D-link hubs, just like ID cards hanging off of branded merchandise. The gear left behind by long-gone consultants. The things people plug in without ever thinking. And the heartbreak that comes from not thinking. No thinking at all about security, about personal information, about known vulnerabilities, about default passwords. They’re just plugged in, given a server IP address, and then forgotten about, left for someone else to worry about.¬†

The first one we looked at had a normal, unassuming IP address. Nobody ever expects trouble from It’s the IP address next door, the all-American kid with a freckled face and a country smile. We look at that IP address and think nothing of it. Well, I’ve got a news flash for you, friend: you never trust an IP address that has port 80 open. It could turn out to be who knows what – a botnet control server, a pivot to the rest of the network, an exposed database, a key to the kingdom, your kingdom, and you won’t be king much longer with devices at having that port 80 open, for anyone to stop by and look at.

I said to Ram, “Let’s put that IP into the browser. See what comes up.”

Ram had to ask, “Hey, I thought you were on the blue team, Dean?”

“Let me set you straight, Ram. I’m on the blue team, through and through. I’m not a penetration tester – coding was never my bag. But when it comes to devices that are serving up port 80 like a dealer offering that first, free hit of dope, that makes my blood boil. My red blood, if you catch my drift. And what kind of blue team player would I be if I didn’t know how the red team was going to come at me? What if I didn’t know about my blind spots, where some punk with a buffer overflow could give me and everyone on this site a really bad day?”

“OK, OK, we’ll see what comes up.”

A colorful page with a vendor logo is what came up, complete with a pair of boxes where a username and password go. Like a reflex action, I typed in that vendor name and “default password” into a search engine. Did I feel lucky? 13 years as an IT guy, do you think I was going to feel lucky? With search engines serving up sponsored pages ahead of the results I really wanted? No, I didn’t feel lucky. I felt smart, and went on to a page of results.

I saw the link to the quick start guide – may as well have been called the lazy hacker’s cheat sheet. And there it was on page 3, the default credentials. Admin/admin.

Ram typed those in and hit enter. The browser wheel spun, and he was in. “So, this looks like the admin page for some system.”

I pointed at the link on the left that read Badge Reader Status. “Looks like your badge reader system.” Then I pointed at the link to Employee Access Database. “And that looks like where the fun starts.”

Ram clicked the link to the database. We saw employee names, phone numbers, usernames, and their access behavior for the last 30 days. I may have said this was where the fun starts, but Ram’s face told a story of pain, disappointment, and betrayal. He said, “Hey, Dean, I need to put a pause on this for about 20 minutes.”

“You need to have a quick meeting with those badge reader people.”

“Yeah, you got that right.”

“Do what you need to do, Ram. I’ll be here.” I wasn’t going to leave his side. It may not have been his first wide-open system, but that didn’t matter. All the years I’ve been a security professional, it’s never been easy. We laugh, we act tough outside, but deep down inside, we’re all feeling that pit in our stomach open up as we wonder how badly that access has been abused in the past. Worse, we know that somebody in operations somewhere is using an app a developer threw together that uses that very vulnerability we just found in order to get his work done, work that makes money for the company. And when it comes down to shutting down a vulnerability or making money, who do you think is going to win out, a lone security architect or a whole operations department? 

That’s why I stand with my customers. That’s why I document my findings. I may only type 40 words per minute, but those are 40 more words every minute that make this world a little bit safer, a little bit more worth living in.

Ram came back from chewing out the badge reader team and I had another IP address with that HTTP port open. This one was the very important-looking Ram put the IP into his browser and said, “That’s supposed to be a perimeter router IP address. That’s our Rancho Cucamonga location.

“I didn’t know you had port 80 open on your routers.”

“We don’t. We turned off HTTP on every one of them.”

“Do you use the same vendor for all your routers?”

“Yeah, we’re a dedicated shop.”

By this time, the web page for the device had come up. “So you guys are a wall-to-wall Netgear shop?”

Ram glared at the Netgear home router login page. I was on the search page, typing in Netgear home router. The second autofill line offered up the other two keywords I needed. The next page gave me all the info I needed without needing to go to a quick start guide. “Try admin/password, Ram.”

One admin/password later, and Ram was on the Rancho Cucamonga perimeter router.

“You need another 20 minute break, Ram?”


“Sure thing, pal. I’ll be here.”

“Wait, before I go, can you tell me how many more Netgear boxes I have on my network?”

“Sure thing.” I applied a filter for Netgear MAC addresses. “You got 21, all with .1 addresses.”

“Can you email me that list?”

“You betcha.” Ram got his meeting together and I sent off a spreadsheet export from my product’s GUI.

There may have been 21 home routers on that list, but Ram only needed 10 minutes to tell a very interested network team the information they needed to know to shut down a Netgear ring that had been a thorn in their side for years. Every one of those IP addresses was one they’d try to get to work in their RMM tool, but their network credentials never worked on them. Now they knew why: they weren’t going with the first or second password everyone guesses when trying to pop a box for the first time.

I was glad that the network team was on Ram’s side, but I didn’t envy the arguments ahead of them. I was betting that these routers hadn’t been a problem before, and that was going to be a problem for convincing concerned parties that they were going to be a problem right now, or an even bigger problem in the future.

Ram came back from his short meeting and said, “You know, comedy works best in threes.”

“Well, maybe the laugh we get from this one will make up for what we see on the next two.”

Ram laughed uneasily. I had already set up a view with plenty of bad news in it. He asked, “What’s that you have there?”

“Well, Ram, these are Windows devices that are members of your domain.”

“OK, that’s not a shock.”

“These have RDP open.”


“Port TCP 3389 itself.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry, but RDP is also used as an acronym here. I got confused.”

“I understand. Anyway, these stood out because I needed to ask if you have any offices in China.”

“No, we’re strictly in the USA.”

“Nothing in Belarus or Russia?”


“Republic of Vietnam? India? Turkey?”

“No, none of those. What are you getting at?”

“Those are just some of the nations with source IP addresses hitting these boxes on port TCP 3389.” I showed him the network traffic view that told the whole sordid tale. 

“I gotta shut down the firewall on that port.”

“Try also the commercial ISP connection at those sites. And then look for the /32 routing statements that send traffic bound to those other nations through the dual-homed Windows boxes with RDP open and exposed to the Internet.”

Ram left the room and I knew he had another impromptu meeting to conduct. I did a little click work in my product and found the IP cameras for this building. Every one of them was open on port 80. On the fifth one I tried, I got the live feed of what Ram was doing in the other conference room with the Windows team. I had kept the other browser windows open so Ram would see that I didn’t even need a default credential to tap into every security camera in his enterprise.

What else did I find? The usual suspects. Xboxes and Playstations. Unpatched web-connected television sets. Printers that responded to the “public” SNMP community. Every iDRAC port that answered to “Calvin”. Nearly every other customer of mine had these devices on their network, and nearly every other customer of mine had a workshop where I called these out as security risks. And even though there was plenty of gore on the network, they thanked me for what I did, because I was on their side. I was fighting the good fight, right there with them, and I was damn glad that they were fighting right alongside me.

But on every network, there’s something new, a little adventure you never wanted to be on, a dragon you haven’t seen before that you nevertheless had to slay. This time the sucker punch came from a little PC on the network with the unassuming name “BURGER_WAGON”.

“So, Ram, what can you tell me about Burger Wagon?”

“Um, that’s a food truck that comes by about 3 times a week. They set up near the cafeteria.”

“So would it be reasonable to assume that a PC named BURGER_WAGON would be theirs?”

“They left a PC plugged into our network?”

“It’s online right now.”

Ram checked his watch. “How about we go get some lunch now, Dean?”

“That’s a great idea, Ram.” We grabbed our jackets and headed out to the cafeteria. If we were lucky, we’d grab an unauthorized device before we grabbed something to eat.

We went up to the Burger Wagon table. I said, “I’m Dean Webb from $VENDOR and this is Ram Gopal, security architect here at $COMPANY. We’d like to ask you a few questions, if that would be all right.”

The Burger Wagon lady said, “Sure, I don’t mind.”

“We noticed that there was a PC named BURGER_WAGON connected to the network. Would you know anything about that?”

“Oh sure, I leave that here so it’s easier to set up when we come in.”

“Uh-huh. And this PC, what is it used for.”

The Burger Wagon lady answered like what she was saying was no big deal. “We process credit card payments on it.”

Poor Ram nearly buckled at the knees with that statement.

The Burger Wagon lady asked, “What’s wrong with Ram, there?”

“He just found out that his cafeteria network is subject to PCI-DSS regulations, that’s what’s wrong.”

“What does that mean?”

If only the cafeteria staff knew what that meant, they wouldn’t have let BURGER_WAGON connect to the LAN. Lecturing the uninformed user wasn’t going to make my job any easier, so I laid it out plain and simple, without judging. “It means that we have to treat this place like a bank processing credit cards. It’s a sensitive environment, with your PC plugged in like that.”

“Oh! I’m sorry! I didn’t know!”

“We’re not angry ma’am. We just want to get the word out so that we can get things on the straight and level around here. If there’s another way for you to connect to the Internet that doesn’t involve using this network, I’d advise you to do so. We are going to start blocking access to devices like these in the very near future. We don’t want to stop you from doing business, just to stop doing it in a way that fails to comply with corporate regulations here.”

The Burger Wagon lady understood and switched over to a guest wireless connection, then and there. She fired up a VPN and Ram got the starch back in his legs. And, you know, we went back to slogging through the unsecured devices on that network after lunch, but we had an upbeat feeling about it. There was a big mountain to climb, but at least there were good people like his network team and that Burger Wagon lady that wanted to do the right thing. That didn’t just make our job easier. It made our job doable.

The Compromise Vanishes

The CIO and CISO left the room, leaving only Sandeep the temp and Avi the digital forensics expert at the table.

Sandeep said, “You know I’m not at all authorized to say anything of effect to you.”

Avi said, “I understand that completely. You are not an employee of the client. I am not to consider you, in any way, to be authorized to direct my actions or the actions of my employees in their relationship with the client.”

Sandeep stopped recording. “That will do. You know what’s going on, and what I’m about to tell you.”

Avi nodded.

Sandeep said, “Then, I really don’t have to tell you anything.”

Avi slowly shook his head.

“All right then. Just let me know when you’ve got your final report ready so we can hand that over to the cyberinsurance people.”

Avi said, “Absolutely. We’ll work long days, nights even, but we will deliver the report and I’m sure it will be complete and accurate.” That was just in case something else was recording the conversation. Otherwise, a word to the wise was sufficient.

Avi and Sandeep arose and each went back to his respective hotel cubicles. 

The client had hired Sandeep strictly as an outside consultant that would vet and approve the digital forensics report that Avi’s team would deliver. The client and its officers did not have any care or concern what Sandeep did between now and approving Avi’s report. Sandeep knew his place in the world, which was why his laptop was not visible from the aisle and his back was to the wall, which is no mean feat in a cubicle. As long as Sandeep attended his scheduled meetings and then later approved that report, nobody cared what he was looking at on his phone or computer.

Avi, on the other hand, had work to do. The client stood exposed and plundered to the world, a victim of a massive breach. As a massive multinational in a profitable sector, it had a preliminary estimate of over $400 million in damages – on the line of what companies suffered when WannaCry and NotPetya came on the scene. 

Avi’s team worked with a strict rule – no paper, whatsoever. No writing, no jotting of notes, no paper at all. The only papers involved were those in the final printout. Otherwise, all products of his team’s work would leave when his team took their laptops out of the client site. 

Avi’s team had another strict rule – no conversations of note over landlines, cell lines, email, or chat. They were to avoid speaking above whispers, as well. So many things left a digital trail, and it was best to not leave that trail to begin with. Then, it couldn’t be followed back.

When someone on Avi’s team needed to collaborate with someone else on the team, they would whisper together. If they needed to have a third person involved or a lengthy conversation, they would go outside. It didn’t matter how cold or hot it was outside or what security they’d have to go through repeatedly to complete the journey, the rule was adamant: go outside, where only nature was likely to be listening.

If Avi had to brief his team with customer representatives attending, he had a terse, formulaic presentation. “The client has been breached. We are to determine the root cause, the extent, and the origin of the breach. We all know what is on the line here, so let’s do the best work that we can do for our client.”

Each member of Avi’s team had a specialty, so there was no need to go through who was going to do what and when. They just moved forward. Avi secured any credentials they would need to get started, but that was typically a formality. His team could get those needed credentials much faster than any corporate process could deliver them. Any discrepancy between credentials used and credentials that were supposed to be used could be attributed to fallout from the breach event. Besides, those passwords were about to be changed, anyway, so it wasn’t like anyone on Avi’s team could use those usernames with those particular passwords again. The end justified the means.

In the aftermath of a breach, procedures and processes tended to be protean, plastic, verbally-approved sorts of things. This was especially true when dealing with Avi’s team’s requirements. No client had yet said, “Give them anything they want. Literally, anything that they want.” But that seemed to be the understanding at each client site thus far. 

Nobody ever called Avi in the first place unless they intended to have that kind of understanding from the beginning. With damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars, these customers could not afford any additional risk. They’d already accepted the risk on what got them there in the first place: they had to be certain about securing the means to get out of that predicament.

And that is why they called a man who spoke very little to his team when others could overhear a conversation, who would deliver one and only one document, with zero review cycles permitted. They would call a man like Sandeep to handle the document from Avi, as an extra layer of insulation. 

Sandeep merely needed the skill of being able to handle his extended boredom. Avi’s team needed some profoundly technical digital forensics skills. This is why Sandeep lived comfortably, but Avi lived comfortably and securely.

Generations ago, one of Avi’s ancestors had worked in Moscow, back when it was the capitol of the Soviet Union. Avi’s ancestor worked in a photography lab. Avi’s ancestor had but four tools at his desk: a magnifying glass, an airbrush, a razor knife, and rubber cement. He was a redactor, one of the best.

A commissar would bring a photo to the redactor and point to a face in a crowd or a man in a line. By the end of the day, the commissar would collect a photo that did not have that face or that man. The photo would not have any stigmata where the face or man used to be. There would be no streaks, no absence of background noise, no overly-softened edges, no awkward gap. Space itself would disappear as Dzerzhinsky’s Tikhii Don played on the radio. All day long, the redactor worked quietly, creating a world of illusion as the music of Socialist Realism flowed around him. 

This was a work that needed no words. A photo, a finger, that was all that was needed to make things appear to be as they needed to be for the political demands of the moment. Sometimes, a photo would return to a redactor, with a finger pointing at another person or two, and they would be gone by the end of the day. They may have been necessary for yesterday: today, they were not what the Soviet Union needed. 

Kabalevsky’s symphony played as another face vanished. The redactor filled in the empty space with a painted-in fiction of the clothes of the man behind the one that had disappeared. Two officers left the official portrait of the general staff – they stood on the edges, so only a simple cropping did the trick. A photo with a very dangerous face had turned up – the redactor knew this was a rush job from the face alone, without needing to see the stern, almost panicked expression on the commissar’s visage.

Whose was the dangerous face? It could be one of hundreds, no, thousands, but there was no reference for the redactor to turn to. All the faces that were not to be no more forever were in the mind and memory of the redactor. Their names were not important, only their appearances. If their backs were turned to the camera and nobody could tell they were in the photo, there was no need to have the photo placed before the redactor. But if they turned up after they were supposed to have disappeared, well… Khachaturian’s Toccata was proper background music for the rush work. The commissar had not even left, but collected the finished product immediately.

Always, the work of the redactor was in taking what was unacceptable to see and making it acceptable once again.

Avi did not know the name of this ancestor, let alone his job. One day, the redactor went in to work and did not return. His wife knew well enough to not ask a question and his sons had perished in the Great Patriotic War. His daughter was too young to remember her father, and mother never spoke of him.

If there was anything of an inheritable skill in what Avi did, it was surely enhanced by the environment he maintained for himself and his workers. When not on the job, they trained and critiqued each other, each member of the team fully aware that his or her work had to survive the criticism of the others if it was to be ultimately satisfactory to future clients. They would look for a broken reference here, a missed line of code there, accepting that the others were doing the same to their own work. If they made mistakes, they were in ways too difficult to be noticed by the naked eye.

There was music as Avi worked. Not Dzerzhinsky, but George Acosta; not Kabalevsky, but Armin van Buuren; not Khachaturian, but Ti√ęsto – these played on Avi’s earbuds as he sought out the things that were unacceptable to see for his clients. Silently, ruthlessly, they would find the malware and eliminate it utterly, even down to the bare metal on the hard drive. Not a trace would remain.

The log files – not a word was said – the patterns of the breach, its fingerprint, those vanished as well. Did the client have a tamper-proof protection on the log files? That had to be worked over, as well. The client did not need any evidence of the unacceptable things, and evidence of evidence was equally unwelcome. 

A finger pointed at an item on a screen and one of Avi’s team members would make it go away. The purge ran its course, but the task was not yet concluded. 

There had been a breach, after all. There needed to be evidence of such, so that the client might collect on its cyberinsurance policy. 

The insurance companies – and their backers in the reinsurance companies – never hesitated to write a policy or collect a premium. But paying a claim? Ah, the tortured screams of the money being pulled from the insurance company’s accounts could be heard the whole world ’round. How could one blame the insurance company for taking pity on its money and finding a way, any way, to prevent having to part with it?

The cyberinsurance policy would not pay out for an act of war or terrorism, a common exclusion in most policies. The problem was that if a nation had ever accused another nation of using a particular piece of malware, that malware would forever be associated with acts of war and terrorism, even if a mere script kiddie in a dirty apartment was using it to raise money to pay his or her rent. 

Avi’s team whispered, pointed, talked outside, and listened to electronica so that the ravages of war and terror would vanish… other ravages were needed to complete the picture, and Avi’s team provided complete pictures at the end of their engagements.

This business of digital redaction, it thrived on the unsaid and the unwritten. Better still if things unsaid and unwritten were handled by independent third party contractors, such as Sandeep. Let the third party temp worker not say anything or not write anything. That was best for all concerned.

The client also felt that government inspectors were best suited for government work. They had agendas often in conflict with the continuity of business and the unimpeded flow of commerce. Best to keep private things in private hands.

At the end of long days and long nights, Avi and Sandeep were again in the conference room. Avi handed Sandeep a report for his consideration. Sandeep read over it, asking questions as he turned pages. 

“So, Avi, no evidence whatsoever of a state-sponsored attack?”

“None at all, Sandeep. The breach was entirely the work of a criminal organization utilizing custom malware.”

Sandeep smiled. He’d have a few days where he could be idle at home instead of idle at a client site when this business concluded. “What if an auditor finds evidence of a state-sponsored attack, such as in inactive or deleted malware on a hard drive?”

“We called that out in section 9. We did see some malware that had been used in state-sponsored attacks before, but which was not part of this attack, as the forensic data will show. Attack and exploitation patterns common with that malware are simply absent in the records of this attack, which correspond closely with the ways in which this malware suite is utilized by criminal gangs. That state-sponsored stuff may have caused damages, but they would have been of limited scope and outside the events and claims associated with this breach.” It was almost as if Avi had said those things a hundred times before.

“Is it possible the criminals were working alongside or on behalf of a state or terror organization?”

“Given the financial nature of the targets in the breach, we disagree with that conclusion.”

Sandeep looked above the top of his readers. “What about damage or compromise to non-financial targets?”

“Collateral damage or compromise pursuant to the eventual financial goals of the criminals.”

Sandeep nodded and flipped through a few more pages quietly. Nice fonts and color scheme. Plenty of pie charts. Executives loved pie charts. If there were a church for executives, William Playfair would be the greatest prophet of that denomination, for it was Playfair’s Statistical Breviary that brought the pie chart down from the mountaintop. 

Playfair would also figure highly in a pantheon for those that see things as they are and then change their appearance to what their employers want them to become. Playfair’s employer, the British Empire, did not want to countenance a Revolutionary France flush with cash. Playfair came up with a way to make France overly-flush with cash and ruined that nation’s economy with one hundred millions of counterfeit assignats. Was such a thing a fraud? No, it was an outright service to Mr. Playfair’s employers! Besides, how could a man with a name like “Playfair” be capable of anything other than playing fair? Really, now.

And for all Sandeep could tell, there was not a hint of fraud or evidence tampering in Avi’s report. For all intents and purposes, it looked like exactly the sort of thing an executive would want to hand to an insurance company – and what an insurance company would want to hand to a reinsurance company. 

“Looks good, Avi. Everything seems to be in order. Dotted all the i’s, crossed all the t’s.”

Avi smiled. “And the good news is that, once they get their claim paid out, it’ll be as if this all had never happened.”

“Well, we’ll still show up as line-items for this quarter.”

“True, that can’t be helped. Someone had to clean up all that mess.”

Sandeep tapped the conference table twice and stood up. Avi followed suit. They shook hands and made the small talk of departing businessmen.


Men like Sandeep and Avi have never been long permanent in any place. They travel over the face of the earth, something like a caravan of merchants. On their arrival, every thing is found trampled down, barren, and bare. While they remain, all is bustle and remedial. When gone, all is left green and fresh.

Just see for yourself.

Insecurity Through Incompetence

“It’s blocking our production traffic! We have to shut it off!”

Dan Weber rolled his eyes. Why is it that developers always make me want to punch someone in the face? He unmuted his line and said to the conference call, “We can’t do that, we absolutely can’t. That’s the perimeter firewall. Turn that off and we might as well hand our data over to the Chinese and Russians and anyone else interested.”

“But we have to ship product! We can’t do that with the firewall in its current state. It’s blocking all our traffic.” Same developer as before.

Dan said, “It’s blocking all traffic from everywhere right now, so at least we’re safe. I’ve got a TAC case open with the vendor and we’ll have it resolved eventually.” Thank goodness this isn’t a video call. Dan made several obscene gestures at the initials of the developer that wanted to shut down the firewall.

A manager asked, “Do you have an ETA on when that firewall will be fixed?”

Dan’s head tilted up as he leaned back in his chair. “No. It’s a code problem from the upgrade. We’ve escalated it, but no ETA.”

Manager, again, “Can you roll back the code?”

Dan kept looking at the ceiling. “No. There’s no rollback from this upgrade.”

“Can you restore from backup?”

“No. because the last backup was on the previous version, so it’s not compatible with this version of the code. We just have to wait this one out.”

The manager put his foot down. “Unacceptable. Turn it off.”

Dan sat up, lightning going down his spine. “I have to have-“

Dan’s manager, Kelly Montlac, interrupted, “Hey, we need to discuss this offline with Raymond.” Raymond was the Network Services Director. A conversation with him would of course involve the director over the developers and probably also the CISO and CIO, if they could be reached at this time. It was late in the day in the USA and early in the morning over in Europe, where the C-levels lived.

The developer manager raised his voice. “We need to get back into production. Turn it off and then we can talk it over.”

Kelly dropped her voice into a growl. “Not gonna happen.” Silence, then Kelly drove the point home. “Not gonna happen.”

The Major Incident Coordinator didn’t speak right away after that, but eventually said, “OK, how about we end this call so we can get that meeting together? And then I’ll have this bridge back up in 60 minutes, after that meeting gives us direction on the perimeter firewall.”

All the managers agreed to that and Dan couldn’t leave the call fast enough. As he dashed down the hall for a badly-needed bio-break, he cursed the idiot developers that refused to bounce their own servers to see if it resolved the issue. Five nines, be damned! Wasn’t there a limit to what had to be sacrificed to get that precious uptime?

They’d already turned off or bypassed the IPS, the proxy, the NAC, the datacenter firewall, the load balancer, the WAN accelerator, the VA scanner, the data protection system, the antimalware solution, the, um… were there any other security solutions? If so, they probably also got turned off, because that’s how development rolled. If Dan hadn’t been on the TAC call with the vendor all day, he would have been on the earlier Major Incident call and the perimeter firewall would have been assailed from within at that point in time.

Dan reflected on which of those systems needed to be turned off as he washed his hands. He was pretty sure at least half those systems were configured improperly and the other half were running just good enough for production, but not optimized. Dan himself barely had a grip on the perimeter firewalls. So many vendors, so many rules that had piled up over the years, and only so much he could do with the firewall management platform before he violated change management procedures or stepped on someone’s shoes in Governance.

When Dan had asked for training, he had gotten it. It was neither the trainer’s fault nor management’s fault that Dan was, at best, a mediocre student. More often than not, he was just a warm body that could complete change requests. Not a clever man, our Dan.

In fact, if one made a school of the entire IT staff at where Dan worked, there would be no need for a Gifted and Talented class. There would be some call for a remedial reading course, but most of the imaginary student body would be average kids with average brains, wishing that the weekend would hurry up and get here. 

Dan had once applied to work at a vendor. He applied because his position at the time was being downsized and the vendor had an opening. What he did not know was that the interviewers said he couldn’t troubleshoot his way out of a paper sack with a pair of scissors that that the opening went to some guy with a home lab who only applied at that vendor because that’s where he wanted to work.

Dan got a different job, held that for a few years, and then moved on to this role when the previous one got downsized.

Even though Dan hated security and wanted to get back to routing and switching (developers never, never demanded that switches or routers be turned off!), he knew that his experience with firewalls – even if it was little better than babysitting them in between TAC calls – meant a good chance of getting a job whenever there was a downsizing… 

… or whenever his political sensibilities informed him it was time to move on before he was fired for incompetence. At most firms, that was around 2-3 years. He had two places on his resume where he managed to hang on for five years. Things were really bad at those places, both of which were lucky enough to be picked up in acquisitions after suffering major breaches.

Not that anyone knew about those breaches until after the mergers, when the purchasing company’s IT did an audit of the poorly-managed gear.

As Dan returned to his chair, he was thankful that he could work from home. He also cursed the fact that he wound up working from home during times when he could be watching sports at home, or sleeping at home. This outage looked like something that would rob him of sleep, but he was damned if he would miss the playoff game on tonight! Dan turned on the television and put it on the big game.

As the sports match got underway, Dan wondered how this thing would all pan out and if it meant it was time for him to start looking for another job somewhere. During commercials, he checked his recruiter spam to see which roles looked like they might be good lateral moves. He didn’t want to move up into management or architecture, as that meant only more meetings and increased chances of dealing with C-level heavies, who could be worse than developers in their demands.

Around the end of the first half, it was time to mute the television and get on the call. Dan dialed in and watched the game as everyone else joined the call. 

The CISO was on and said, “OK, for starters, we’re not turning off the perimeter firewall.” Dan smiled. Take that, developers! “But we need that resolved ASAP. Dan, reach out to the vendor and get an RMA started. We’ve got to have our firewalls up and running.”

Years of experience in IT had helped Dan to develop his most important skill of all: how to curse silently when he was unmuted on a call. He paused his staccato mouthing to say, “Sure, I’ll get on that.” Calling TAC wasn’t all that bad, except for the small talk the vendor engineer always engaged in as screens refreshed or boxes rebooted or whatever. And with an RMA call, there would be tons of stuff Dan would have to say that would distract him from the progress his team was making in the playoff game.

Heaven help everyone if the RMA didn’t resolve things and there was some mess of rules on the firewall that, in their combination, blocked that stupid traffic that only ran once a month. That would mean getting an order to review 30 days of changes to see which one put the rule in to block that traffic.

And if no such rule could be found? “Turn it off!” would be the developers’ battle cry!

Dan got off the conference call and opened up another TAC case online for the RMA. As he waited for the callback, he set “looking for opportunities” in his linkedin for salespeople profile and replied to a few of the more promising recruiter spams.

Dan had no idea, of course, that his eventual replacement was going to be as clueless and hapless as he was. Dan also didn’t know the name of the nuclear reactor that guy used to work for, or the name of the GRU agent that had found the holes in that facility’s perimeter security.

Hell, he didn’t even know the names of the GRU agents that had penetrated his current company’s network, for that matter. To be fair, not many security specialists know the names of people in the GRU that have penetrated networks, but in Dan’s case, it was definitely for lack of trying.

An email popped into Dan’s inbox. It was from Kelly. She wanted to know if Dan could log in to the IPS console.

Dan fired up the GUI and tried the vendor default username and password. Hey, they worked!

Dan let Kelly know that he could. Kelly then emailed back for Dan to check the logs to see if the IPS systems were in bypass mode, or if they had been fully shut down.

Dan checked the GUI and saw that every single IPS was down. There was also a licensing error on the server and a warning about missing critical updates. Dan only mentioned the IPS devices being down in his response. He didn’t want to make the IPS guy look like an incompetent.

Kelly then asked for when the IPS devices had been switched off.

Well, hell, that meant searching the logs, and… holy crap! Those things had been turned off two years ago, and kept off! No wonder the IPS guy always gave up quickly whenever someone asked him to shut off the IPS! No troubleshooting, no request to try something different, he just said, “OK, try it now.”

Dan wondered briefly about the times in the last two years that “turning off” the IPS had provided a solution to whatever problem was going on…

But then Dan wondered happily and joyfully about how this proved that there was someone more incompetent than he was on the network. Not that it made him quit his job search. No, it made him look all the harder. He didn’t want to be the guy tasked with taking on the IPS system and turning it back on after 2 years of it being shadow shelfware. 

On the TV, Dan’s team made a terrible mistake. Dan blamed the coach and, completely unaware of the irony, said, “We need a coach that knows what the hell he’s doing! Fire the big dope!”


Dr. Borden exhaled and dabbed the sweat from her forehead before proceeding into the most critical part of the operation. She drew a deep, competitive breath and moved the precision mouse to aim the laser directly at the point of incision. With a click, the aorta would-

The screen went black, then a logon screen appeared.

“What the plokha budding spore?!?! What the spore just happened?”

Dr. Borden regained her composure and typed in her username and password – the patient was undergoing open heart surgery, there was no time to lose!

Agony of ages as the dots blinked in their circular path.

Username and/or password incorrect. Next login attempt in 00:05.


Dr. Borden didn’t want this to be the first patient she would lose on the table, but it was looking increasingly that way. He was somewhere in Alberta, wherever the meddrone landed, and she was in Atlanta, where the workstation ran in her Midtown apartment. She was doing everything to keep her mind down-to-earth and focused, but found that rage did all it could to take over.

Her mind raced – how long had it been since things went dark? Would the meddrone AI be able to abort the operation in time to save the patient’s life? Oh God, he is so effdisked if that AI doesn’t figure out there’s no doctor on the other end.

Because this was the third time Dr. Borden tried to log on to her workstation and the third time it kicked her back, this time with a caution she only had one shot left and that maybe she ought to call tech support before using that chance.

There was no way to call the meddrone, as those things were sealed off as far as comms went. There was only one way to talk to the meddrone directly, and for Dr. Borden, it was on the other side of a logon screen.

She called the number for her hospital’s tech support. Ringing. Well, at least it’s not down. Chortu, but that’s a lot of ringing. Well, let it ring, someone might die today if Dr. Borden shrugs her shoulders and becomes fatalistic in philosophy. She waits out the machine-induced stress.

And a machine answers. On an emergency line, it takes time to explain how the options may have changed recently and offers up a universe of choices, all a press of a digit away. Effdisk that, Dr. Borden presses zero. A human eventually speaks.

“Aetilus Medical Solutions help desk, this is Raj. May I get your employee username?”

“Eborden. E as in echo, b as in bravo, o as in oscar, r as in Romeo, d as in delta, e as in echo, n as in November.” Dr. Borden hated it whenever eborden sounded like edorgom. Spelling was usually faster than going over it twice.

“Dr. Elizabeth Borden, is this correct?”

“Yes. A man may be dying, please check if meddrone A as in alpha, 3447-”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Borden, I’m not able to contact meddrones. I’d have to escalate for that.”

“Please escalate, za’chortu.”

“There will be a, uh… oh, spore, a 30-minute wait.”

What the budding spore? 30 budding minutes? Might as well be 30 budding years! Even so… “Chortu, just get me in that queue.”

46 minutes later, a human spoke to Dr. Borden. “Hello, Dr. Borden? You there?”

“Yes. Contact meddrone A as in alpha, 3447-1369-0003.”

“A as in alpha, 3447-1369-0003. Got it. One moment… I’m sorry, I’m not getting a status, I’ll try again.”

“Do you know what’s going on?”

“Some kind of outage, that’s all I know.”

“Chortu… I desoxy-ed for this. All right, that meddrone number I gave you, it’s involved in a heart operation in Alberta. I need verification that it aborted the operation successfully and the patient status. Text me as soon as you got that info. I can’t log on to my workstation.”

“Yeah, none of the remote staff can log on. I’ve got the status query queued up for the drone and your number associated with it. Can I do anything else?”

“Nope. I’m needled. Cheers.” Dr. Borden touched her phone and the call ended.

Hopped up on the desoxy, Dr. Borden started to shake as she lost anything specific to focus on. Suddenly, she became aware of her heart rate and the blood being shoved pell-mell through her circulatory system. Don’t panic, Dr. Borden. You know how to ride out this part of the desoxy run.

The door opened and closed. Dr. Borden brought herself out of her trance state to see her boyfriend Teddy. “Hey babe.”

Teddy set stuff down on the table, even though he wasn’t supposed to. “Hey Lizzie. How’d the operation go?”


“Oh God.”

“No idea how the patient is, everything just cut out on me.”

Teddy pulled up a chair near Dr. Borden. The workstation screen was dark. A light blinked on Dr. Borden’s phone. Teddy didn’t know what to say. Someone, somewhere, connected to his girlfriend, could be dead.

Dr. Borden picked up her phone, but the light was just for a FriendFace notification. Apparently, one of her associates was a real slug and had gone fascist, from the content in his post. She unfriended him. “Budding fascist loser.” No word from Aetilus tech support.

“Budding what?”

Dr. Borden shook her head, “Nothing. Someone I went to high school with is now a fascist and dead to me. Hey, I did desoxy for this operation and I need something to focus on, or I’m gonna lose it.”

Teddy reached for the string of prayer beads Dr. Borden kept by her keyboard. She grabbed them and began to run them through her fingers like there was no tomorrow. Once you give a soxer something to do, they’ll do it. They just can’t give themselves something to do.

After a few minutes with the beads, Dr. Borden felt like she could talk and manipulate them at the same time. “What do you think caused the outage?” Teddy was a nerd. He knew answers to questions like that. He was a really cute nerd and fun to have around.

“Did it affect just you or a bigger group?”

“Guy said it took all the budding remote users out. No comms to meddrones.”

“Wow. That’s big.”

“You think it was terrorists?”

“Could be. More likely, it was someone stupid.”

Dr. Borden laughed. Teddy elaborated on the stupid. “So… it could be that someone turned off your time server. That would kill off your ability to log on remotely. Or maybe your computer cert expired. No, stupider, the root cert expired.”

Dr. Borden laughed even more. “I have no budding clue what that means! God, I love you!”

Yeah, she wasn’t doing any more operations today, system restoration or not. “Well, a root cert, that-”

“Shhhh! Explaining is boring! Just list off all the stupid stuff.”

Teddy knew better than to try and argue with a soxer. Last thing you want a soxer to focus on is a budding¬†argument. “Um, OK, the VPN hub could be offline, uh… the directory service got swamped and went down… date field problem, oh spore! Do you know if your IT guys took care of your Y38 problem?”

Dr. Borden laughed harder, kinda maniacally now. It was time for the bell-1. She needed to come down off of this before she broke down.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Dr. Borden opened her eyes and looked around. There was a little drool on her cheek, which was typical of a bell-1 cooldown. She sat up on the sofa and saw the blinking light on her phone. She reached over to the desk and picked up her phone. A swipe later, then a code, then a DNA pulsecheck, and she was in. The light was for a text.

The text was from tech support Raj. Spore, it was 7 hours ago! Must have texted Dr. Borden right after Teddy gave her the bell-1 dose.

Oh, chortu. The guy died. Dr. Borden sighed and scrolled. OK, so the meddrone did shut things down gracefully, so it was just his heart failing post-op, which was always a risk, regardless of how the operation went. Poor old dude and his now-dead carcass.

Dr. Borden texted back to Raj, what was cause of outage?

Company cert expired, sorry¬†was Raj’s response.

Dr. Borden wondered why “cert expired” made her laugh a little.

Time to even things out with some zebra and ibuprofen. And some mango juice.

Teddy was in the kitchen. “Hey, I’m up.”

“Sleep ok?”

“Pffft. That spore’s not sleep.” She got the juice and then rummaged in the cabinet for the zebra and ibuprofen.

“How did the patient do, if I could ask?”

Dr. Borden downed the drugs and took a shot of mango juice. “Operation ended OK, but he died post-op. Not my fault, still sad. I’m taking zebra to even things out.”

“You also took something for the headaches, right?”

“I’m not an¬†idiot, Teddy.”

“Hey, just checking. They say what caused the outage?”

“Cert expired, whatever that means.” Dr. Borden laughed again and felt weird about laughing. Was she going psychotic?

“It means nobody was checking one of the most important pieces of computer security, the thing probably being used to establish your VPNs and channels back to the drones and stuff. And the time on it ran out right in the middle of your operation.”

Dr. Borden was level enough to want to understand that. “Hold on. You mean to tell me that a company that knows precisely how long I’m functional on a dose of desoxy and how long it takes to do an operation and how long it takes to run drones over seven continents can’t keep time on the¬†one thing¬†that’s gonna tie them all together? Holy budding spore.”

“Well, that’s how you guys make money. Nobody makes a dime watching a calendar for a cert to expire. They know when licenses are due because someone else makes money with those. But certs?”


“Yeah, Pffft. That’s when they call me up. You remember when Charleston had that power outage last month?”

“That was an expired cert?”

“Yep. So was the Athens Supermax Riot. Cert expired, all the doors opened.”

Dr. Borden shuddered at that thought. That was too close to home. She still worked remotely, but those meddrones were trauma center models, only 60 miles away. And that was just three months ago. Images of the carnage still popped up in her mind if she wasn’t vigilant about her thoughts.

Now she had a question.



“Tell me… What is a cert and how does it expire?”

Again, Dr. Borden laughed for a reason she did not know.

The Nah’wadass Sourcebook: The Wisdom of the Binyaelim People

The Binyaelim were a minority group in many Nah’wadass cities, primarily engaged in trade ventures, particularly those in the textile industry. In the countryside along the banks of the rivers of the land, there were a number of Binyaelim villages where they were able to assert their own laws on a local level, as per tradition under most of the Law-Kings of the Nah’wadass. It is known that the Binyaelim themselves arrived within the lands of the Nah’wadass early in the years of their written history. Binyaelim records speak of their flight from a powerful empire to the far south of the Nah’wadass, most likely the Early Dynasty of the Koss Empire. As one of many minority groups within the lands of the Nah’wadass, we can learn from their writings what the Nah’wadass would – and would not – tolerate among their subject peoples.

These writings, part of the Binyaelim Thalmadh, were most likely compiled around the zenith of Nah’wadass prosperity, 500-700 years after their earliest writings. These were selected from different parts of the Thalmadh and illustrate Binyaelim attitudes regarding the Nah’wadass. It is to be understood that, in the matter of a question-answer or debate section, the final opinion is the wisdom to be followed.

Teacher Ismar, Son of Elmar, said, “We sell cloth and clothing, that we may not put weapons in the hands of our enemies.” Teacher Ofed, Son of Paman, asked, “Is it right, then, that we are made to serve in the iron trade for the Nah’wadass?” Teacher Ismar, Son of Elmar answered, “They give us protection, to procure iron for the Nah’wadass is like unto giving a meal to a brother.”

Teacher Elmar, Son of Oferan, said, “The Nah’wadass revere the green under the snows. Truly, they look to the same hope of life after life that we revere. Therefore, it is not wrong to give unto them that which they ask for their rites.”

Teacher Oferan, Son of Afermar, said, “When a man of the Nah’wadass comes unto us and asks to be numbered among us, we must bring him before the Law-Master for his judgment in the matter. When a woman or child of the Nah’wadass comes unto us and asks to be numbered among us, we must bring them before the husband or father for his judgment in the matter. When a slave of the Nah’wadass comes unto us and asks to be numbered among us, we shall first purchase him and then take him as before the Law-Master for his judgment in the matter. If he is granted leave to join with our number, he shall be set free as a captive of our people is set free. If he is not granted leave, then he shall serve our people and we shall petition each year for leave, that we might move the heart of the Law-Master with our many entreaties.”

Teacher Ofrain, Son of Elmar, asked, “And what of those who we set free as captives that stay not numbered with our people, who sin and transgress our laws?” Teacher Oferan, Son of Afermar, answered, “What do we do with our own number who sin and transgress our laws? They are as the same if they have entered into our number with our ceremonies.” Teacher Ofrain, Son of Elmar, said, “We do not set them free until they have entered into our number with our ceremonies.”

Teacher Oferan, Son of Afermar, said, “Wear not the masks and the robes, as the Nah’wadass do.” Teacher Belermar, Son of Belermar, asked, “What then if the Nah’wadass wish one of us to be a student?” Teacher Oferan, Son of Afermar replied, “We are not taught by the Nah’wadass, for we are an older people and have already been taught by tyrants in the infancy of our nation.” Teacher Ofrain, Son of Elmar, asked, “What, are we not to be esteemed in the lands of our exile? Are not to show our worthiness as servants of our rulers?” Teacher Oferan, Son of Afermar, said, “When the Nah’wadass have a matter for us, are they so foolish as to not know who our teachers are? Even among strangers, the wise man shall find his brother.”

Teacher Belermar, Son of Belermar, said, “Truly we are as blessed as the Nah’wadass. Their ancestors speak through their masks, and ours speak through our writings.”

Teacher Ismar, Son of Elmar, said, “When a Master or King asks a teacher among us to lend a shoulder to a King’s task, count it as an honor and go and serve.”

Teacher Ismar, Son of Elmar, said, “When the Priest-Master of the Nah’wadass asks for a sacrifice of earth, do not give that which has been trod upon. When the Priest-Master of the Nah’wadass asks for a sacrifice of water, do not give that which is downstream or which comes from our baths. When the Priest Master of the Nah’wadass asks for a sacrifice of fire, do not give that which comes from our altars.” Teacher Ofed, Son of Paman, said, “We show respect with what we offer, but we must respect first our own baths and altars, then we respect those of our friends.”

Teacher Oferan, Son of Afermar, said, “When we are compelled to share a meal with a Master or King, eat not the meat offered, and we sin not.”

Teacher Elmar, Son of Oferan, said, “If a woman has issue, forbid her from the baths and the altars, but forbid her not from the market or the congregation. For the law of our people rules over the baths and the altars, but the law of the friend and protector rules over the market and congregation.”

Teacher Ismar, Son of Elmar, said, “When we receive money for the purchase of slaves for to free them, let us free our own people with our own money. But when our neighbor gives unto us money and says, ‘Here, go forth and purchase the freedom of my kinsmen with this money,’ then let us go forth and purchase the freedom of his kinsmen as if they were our own.”

Teacher Ofed, Son of Paman, said, “Mock not the ways of the righteous neighbor, who does good to our people. Our neighbor has not our law, he is free to do as he pleases. Teach the First Law to all those not of our people, and let that suffice.”

The Law-King Odetamewe Edatawess said, “Behold, Teacher Ofed, Son of Paman, I protect you with my laws.” Teacher Ofed, Son of Paman, said, “I protect you, Law-King Odetamewe Edatawess, with my righteous obedience to your laws.” The Law-King Odetamewe Edatawess said, “Behold, it is as you and I have spoken.”

The Law-King Odetamewe Edatawess said, “Teacher Ismar, Son of Elmar, give unto me a sacrifice worthy of my station.” Teacher Ismar, Son of Elmar, said, “Here, O Law-King Odetamewe Edatawess, is my heart which does serve thee, my mind which doth obey thee, my hands that do work for thee in thy lands, and my mouth that does teach the law in thy lands.”¬†The Law-King Odetamewe Edatawess said, “Surely, these four sacrifices that flow from thee unto me are worthy of my station, would that all my people were like unto Teacher Ismar, Son of Elmar.”