by Bryan Cole
“How in the name of God are you supposed to hear yourself think in here?” Hatcher had only mumbled into his sub-mastoid link, but his brain was close to screaming from the bombardment of noise coming from the casino’s various machines blaring and beeping and plinking in some orchestrated, hellish cacophony.
“I recommend against thinking while moving around on the floor. For that matter I recommend not trying to talk to anyone at all while you’re down here. That’s why I have the lounges and bars sealed off with the one way mirrors.” Dragon guided his newest employee through the crowd over towards the card tables and away from the electronic gambling machines.
The mastoid communication system was one of those pivotal ideas that made so many other things possible. By linking into certain segments of the human vocal tract, there was no longer any need for overt spoken dialogue to communicate via radio. This made it the hot item to have for military, paramilitary, government, and the hordes of paranoid corporate workers to have. The people who had invented it had probably retired to the island chain that they were able to afford after patenting and selling the invention.
In a much quieter section of the casino, Dragon and Hatcher paused to let the ringing in their ears die down. Hatcher, already on the brink of boredom with this tour of the casino, absent-mindedly picked up a deck of cards out of the tray of the unoccupied table next to him.
“What the hell is on these cards? This feels like axle grease.” Hatcher tried to rub the substance between his fingers, but it yielded no appreciable culprit.
“That’s a special derivative to keep the gamblers from using x-rays or augmentation to see what the cards are.”
“You’re shitting me.” Hatcher asked, looking up at Dragon.
“Wish I was. You’d be amazed what they’ve developed to keep gambling the game of chance it has always been. The augmented bring their own set of problems which turns out to be even more of a pain in the ass than the card shavers, card counters, or the magnetic-ring wearing slot machine tumblers. It’s getting to the point where preventing cheating is going to cost me more than what we pull in from running this damn place. Coating the cards was just one of the hundred or so preventions I had to take when I re-invested in this dump.”
Dragon looked back to the packed card table ten feet away. It looked like Lacy, or the Dragon Lady as she was known, was getting ready to clean house on a decently dressed group of touristos.
Hatcher put the odd-feeling deck of cards down and wandered over to stand next to Dragon.
* * *
“There it is again.” A young man in his mid twenties stated, mostly to himself, but loud enough for the other, older man in the room to hear him.
“Another probe on our public port?” The older man, Lewis, asked from the other side of the room.
“Yeah. Who is this dolt? He may as well drive by in an ice-cream truck throwing fireworks out the window. If this attack was any louder I’d be able to use it as an alarm clock.” Grabel, who had been in net security for 15 of his 23 years was blessed by an older man’s understanding of that virtual world while being hampered by the youthful impatience and arrogance that all must suffer.
“You want to send in the notice to the cops?” The older figure asked, knowing full well that doing so was part and parcel of getting the law at least moving. In fairness, though, the cops did use more motivation in tailing cybercrime than they did in its physical counterpart.
“Yeah, I guess we can. I’m gonna cook up something to send back to this fucker so he knows he’s been seen though.”
It wasn’t the first time the casino had suffered a hacking attempt. Far from it. But usually the attacks, at least the exciting ones, were more subtle and used less obvious methods. Still, like the financial nets, casinos had their own drawing power as a target of the console jockeys, from experienced hands looking to siphon credits into the casino for free play, to hard-line crooks looking to offload credits from the casino into a numbered account somewhere, to the inexperienced and fresh hackers who were just trying to test their toolsets on targets. Grabel was obviously dealing with the latter in this case.
“Sounds good.” The older man said, as Grabel began writing the malicious code he would be sending to the perpetrator.
* * *
Durham’s smile was as predatory as a lion watching a watering hole on the savannah.
“Good news, then?” Nixon asked, not enjoying this cyber operation as much as his counterpart.
“Oh yeah. The dope is roped and now we find out where his mail exchange goes to.” Durham typed a couple of characters, as if to emphasize his point.
“Mail exchange?” Nixon asked, his mind going over matters not germane to the work that his counterpart was performing.
“Yeah.” Durham half-sighed, knowing that his excitement would not transmit to the other man in the room. “We watch for an email coming from the site on the ports I tagged, then we track that email to the server that they use for their hosting. Once we know that server’s location and address, we can either take it physically or electronically, then it is a simple matter for me to piggyback my code onto someone’s trusted email going into the casino.”
“And that does what again?” Nixon asked, mentally balancing his checkbook.
“It lets me insert malicious code that one of their inside guys will execute, just by reading the email. The code that I’m going to wrap into an incoming email will in turn set aside disk space on one of their servers or workstations, and then it begins coding itself into a full program that will get us access. It will use a schema that I’ve programmed for it that will find a user of the casino’s mail service, then send me an email as that user containing a road map of the servers behind their firewall.
Using that, I can send email back to that particular user using a special flag to keep it from being read by anything except my program, and that will let me update the schema of the program to rewrite itself to begin probing the servers on their side of the firewall until we find the server that we want. Once we have that, it will be nothing to get a hard location on one of the debtors that the Butcher might be tasked to see. Hell, I’ll just grab the whole list of them to keep our options open.”
“So you’re saying that you can tell this code what to do simply by sending it an email and that it will program itself?” Nixon asked, the thought triggering a memory.
“Yep. Long as I flag the email correctly it will reprogram according to the updated schema I send it.” Durham responded, having successfully engaged Nixon in the conversation.
“Where have I heard this before?” Nixon sat down, his memory fully engaged.
“M-I-T. The Nikkei hack of ’26. The ‘Eight Hour Crisis’.”
“That whole mess was because of a hack?” Nixon asked, remembering the hit his portfolio had taken once word of the crisis had gotten around.
“Well, yes and no. The admins at Nikkei did the right thing by unplugging the servers, but what they failed to realize was that they should have isolated the machine from their entire network. Before they could begin restoring the machine from scratch the trojan had replicated to their offsite data center that was running a parallel machine – matching OS, databases, the works – which made
the trojan happy because it was able to replicate itself again, on their other machine.
If they had isolated the first point of infection, they wouldn’t have been out of loop for more than 20 minutes, which isn’t the complete fuck up that their eventual eight hours of downtime resulted in.” Durham knew the story very well, he had even chatted with one of the perpetrators briefly at a conference.
“This is one of the tools that corporate has made available to us. Although I can’t officially say how many times I’ve used something similar I can, in fact, tell you that we have used it. A lot.” Durham’s stare let Nixon know he wasn’t kidding.
“So this is…artificially intelligent?” Nixon asked, his interest still peaked.
“Very close to it. As close as computers will probably be able to get and still not have an organic element to them.” Durham knew full well they were working on the next phase at cloistered scientific communities, funded heavily by government as well as corporate sponsors. His technical acumen was equivalent to that possessed by only those who had worked both sides, government and corporate, and that gave him the whole of the picture, or at least enough to be able to guess about what the future held.
It also gave him the wherewithal to make sure that his dupe attack had been launched via proxy from a publicly accessible location, in this case, a Futurbuck’s Coffee Shop with a wireless access hub. He felt bad for whatever response the casino might take against the franchise coffee chain, but at least it would make for good reading in tomorrow’s newsfeed.
“So what happens next?” Nixon asked, his ardor for Durham’s love of all things technical beginning to wane.
“We wait.” Durham glanced at his screen, noticing that one of the casino’s firewall ports was active, most likely to send the outbound email he was watching for.
“But we won’t be waiting long.”