Now that she could see the endgame, it was a matter of routine execution to arrange the board just so. First, she needed to get some wheels turning. Any motion would do, as long as it was motion that would make even the tiniest impact in the larger scale hacker community. The machines in turn trade the lie for what they desire, all the way to the machine that files the quarterly report.
Some bean counter shuffles the lie into a lost revenue account and trades it to the IRS for a tax deduction.
Everyone gets what she wants, except perhaps a few shareholders who would not notice the difference if it was a hundred times larger. It's just a little money-colored vapor trail through the system. In those days, all that mattered was building up the assets she needed to buy her retirement plan.
She created three characters during a project for her high school psychology coursework, even going as far as keeping sparse journals of their supposed daily lives for a few months. She gave the name Forbes to her narcissist, Fay to the compulsive, and the erotic she called Skara. While she polished the acts, she made quick use of the digital alchemy she learned from Metal Man. A few social security numbers gleaned from employment applications, when mixed with the addresses of recently sold homes still under construction, translated very quickly into telephone calling cards.
The recipe for producing illegal copies of software called for merely a computer and a modem, plus a few queries around her high school. She had the modern equivalent of the philosopher's stone: warez via consequence-free international dialing. Tens of thousands of late-Reagan-era dollars accumulated in Sprint's FON billing system, on their inevitable way to the fraud collection department, and finally the write-off line in an annual filing. She used those invisible dollars as the grist for her power mill, providing software exchange service in trade for favors and credibility.
After automating several pro- cesses, couriering the warez cost her nothing and steadily augmented her reputation through each of her aliases. Scrimping and saving, her little bank account grew just as steadily and afforded her some privileges that would otherwise have been outside her means. Right after the lineman installed six copper pairs to her bedroom, she ran a series of splices from neighboring homes to make an even dozen. She ran around town picking up a dozen sets of equipment so thoughtfully donated by the Visa Corporation, brought them home, and set about a long weekend in geek heaven.
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Each persona got two legal phone lines, two stolen lines, and matching machines and modems. The stolen lines would only be active at night while the legitimate owners slept; since she would only bill through calling cards nobody needed to know why the neighbors could not possibly have their slumber interrupted by late-night calls.
Using her mentor's reputation for introductions, her imaginary narcissist earned an invitation to participate in a low-level northwestern operation called Brain Damage Studios. Some foreign language teacher in the next town used his classroom as a nexus for software pirates, apparently disapproving of the trend toward punishing free exchange of software and giving quite a bit of credence to the idea that teachers should serve as examples for their students.
She grinned for years thinking back on that teacher. For months, she pushed software from Copenhagen to Seattle to establish Forbes's reliability in the scene. Each night she reviewed the recent work, and ran- domly sent copies out through Fay and Skara to escalate their credits and thus their respective reputations. Not wanting to let anyone in on her multiple personalities, she worked them upward slowly through the ranks of lowest-tier bulletin boards.
Rarely did they interact, and only strategically, to create some situation that would benefit one or all. After a year of laying groundwork, she began to consolidate her power by intro- ducing Forbes's friends to Fay, Fay's to Skara, and so on. With so much credit to her names, moving up into the next tier was just a matter of time. Her break came in the form of a typo: Day Warez She noticed the extraneous characters and mulled over their significance in her mind.
The phrase appeared in exactly three places: two bulletin board entry screens where she was unwelcome and in an otherwise innocuous conversation on Pudwerx's board between people called Hacker and 6 [sic] 6. In searching the logs kept by all her machines, she found two references to a person so vain as to take the www.
She thought only briefly about the ostracism that would follow an attempt to hack the Metal Shop or Pudwerx's board, and instead narrowed her search to the secondary character.
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She hoped he would be higher up the ladder, full of information, and relatively easy to attack. When the second search finished, she sighed a little at the single result. Rather than wait around for luck to close the distance to her target, she decided to intercept his communications to see if she might be able to steal an invitation to more elite systems. She set about reconstructing the software in its most likely configuration. Since she knew some of these boards used door games and complex file archiving systems, she guessed those would be the lowest-hanging fruits. Text files guided her to the configuration process, which could not have given away the keys to the kingdom more quickly if she carded and shipped them FedEx Red Label.
Running a little test, she packaged a text file into a ZIP archive, uploaded it to the file area, and hit the archive extract command. She pondered a minute and figured that somewhere in the code it must execute commands like. ZIP She would not have moved if the upload took an hour, but she figured that the 24, bytes would go by in just about a hundred seconds.
That was most pleasant, because the little progress meter would tick just about once a second and advance about one percent each time. That made the hypnotic process even more rewarding, especially when compared to the multi-hour transfers she sometimes babysat. Just as quickly as she predicted, the file found its way onto the BBS.
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ZIP Extract which contents? From this moment forward, she was hell-bent on getting access to 6[sic]6's account. Nothing would stop her. ZIP She waited about half an hour for the transfer to complete, hoping that the sysop had not been watching thus far. She knew she could get away soon, but this was the vulnerable moment. Nothing halted the download, so she went on, optimistically assuming that she was safe. She knew he had no trace that he could use to prove she had broken his security, so she passed out in the little twin bed she called home.
Most of a day passed without her shining presence, which worried nobody. When she finally awoke, she ventured forth to retrieve supplies, namely Jolt Cola and candy. Maybe I should keep this to myself. She got passwords, dial-in numbers for high-level boards, passwords, sysop chats, and pass- www. A few days later, she dialed back into the board and saw a posted notice warning of dire consequences for the one responsible for deleting the operator logs.
She knew it was a bluff, because the message got several important details wrong and, most importantly, the file area had not been altered to remove the archive commands. She knew she could come and go at her leisure now, but that was less important.
A few hours after her exploratory call, she returned to the board to impersonate the victim. She knew he would call just about pm, so she waited to start her dialer until about five minutes later. Two minutes later, she heard the warbling sound of a modem mating call and ran for her keyboard.
His password choice sickened her; after all this work, it would have been about twentieth on her list of guesses. She hit the keystroke to activate screen logging to a local file, and began to rip through the system as quickly as possible to collect everything she had missed in the original attack.
Using his higher privilege level, she made a quick pass through all the postings otherwise inaccessible and scrolled through his personal messages. Since he was just there ahead of her and everything was already marked as read, there were no tracks to cover.
The only evidence that could hint at her activity was the discrep- ancy between his pm disconnection and the recorded end of her session at pm. That was a calculated risk, but she hoped it would pay off after reviewing the information her computer collected. She pored over the information for almost 24 hours before the grin crept across her face; she had the new user password for a second tier system and it was apparently valid for another four days. This major milestone gave her access, slight and subtle though it was, to a small core of pirates and other hackers so single-mindedly devoted to their craft that they would have a hard time resisting her.
Rather than acting immediately, she forced herself to take a long night's sleep and act with a fresh mind. All night she saw the social organization of the pirates through the metaphorical lens of a badly secured network. It had cost her very little to penetrate their circle, and she was looking at piercing the last big barrier that very week.
Even today, going over the story for the thousandth time, she reveled in the decision not to rush headlong into the next stage. With the Feds finally beginning to catch on to the system, social trust was an increasingly scarce com- modity. She refused to consider the case of failing this human challenge-response protocol. She collected the names of her most famed associates and systems, catalogued her equipment, and carefully extracted bits from the stolen conversations to give her an air of nonchalant excellence. Since she was operating under Skara's aegis when she used the ZIP attack, she decided it would be risky but acceptable to turn over the details if it was likely to tip the membership scales in her favor.
Besides, even if the operator turned her in, the story of the hack would become a calling card she could use to inflate her reputation.
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She hoped it would not come to that as she pre- pared to jump in headfirst. Breaking the cherry on a new FON card, she connected to the system in Berlin and saw just a simple prompt: ID: It was late evening in Germany, so she hoped the operator would see her and jump in. If he did not, she would have to play the game of trying to catch him later. She took to the conversation directly, and hoped that his English was better than her German.
I want to work. She listed her pair of alter egos and Metal Man, none of which would really win the operator to her cause, but served to fill the gap and be believable enough that he would take her remaining answers at face value. She rattled off her prepared answers, careful to start with a lie, the Metal Shop second, and her Brain Damage contact point last.