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Hacking on the Net

Michael de Mare

    Someone was hacking the computer networks. I had lunch with a system administrator and he happened to bring it up.
    “We’ve been getting calls from other schools about attacks from our computers,” Tom said.
    “Which schools?” I asked.
    “MIT, mostly. Also Brown and CMU.”
    “Are the attacks from a student’s machine which you can trace?”
    “No, these are Unix to Unix attacks from our servers which have student accounts on them,” Tom said.
    “Do you know who may be behind the attacks?”
    “No idea. Hey, what happened to that girl that you used to be with, the redhead?”
    “She doesn’t talk to me anymore since she started celebrating Drug Addiction Month year ‘round.”
    “That’s too bad. You made a cute couple.”
    Tom didn’t know about my past as a spy, so I didn’t tell him that I was going to investigate. But when I got back to the lab, I started rumors among the undergrads that I was a hacker. They would assume that I was the grand master wizard of hackers because I was a PhD candidate in computer science. It took a couple of weeks for the word to spread through the student body, but then one morning when I was alone in the lab someone rang the doorbell to be let onto the floor with the lab.
    I sighed deeply, saved what I was doing, got up from my desk, and opened the door. He came in and said, “I am looking for John Shmee.”
    “That’s me.” I replied.
    “Oh good. My name is Jason Miller. I’m a sophomore in the computer science department.” Jason was of medium height with dirty blond hair and a scraggly beard and mustache. He would have benefited greatly from a shave and a haircut. He was scrawny, wearing blue jeans and a teeshirt with the name of a rock band on it. Like most hippies, he smelled.
    “Nice to meet you Jason. What can I do for you?”
    “I have some questions, uh, technical questions, and I heard that you might be able to help me.”
    “Sure, come in the lab and we can talk,” I said.
    We went into the lab and I sat down at my desk. He pulled a chair up and sat next to me.
    “So, like, if someone changes the password on my Unix account, how can I get back in?” he asked.
    “If you set up an ssh key you don’t need a password. Just add the public key to the authorized\_keys file in the .ssh directory and put the private key in the .ssh directory of the account you want to connect from.”
    “Cool. Thanks. How do I get a key?” He was writing it down in a notebook.
    “There is a program called ssh\_keygen. Look it up in the man pages.”
    “Do you like music? I DJ at the radio station on Saturday nights. Maybe you can hang out and help me with more Unix stuff.”
    “Sure, that sounds like fun. Where is the radio station?”
    “It’s in the basement of The Pit—-I mean Hamlin. My show starts at eight o’clock,” he said.
    “Maybe I’ll stop by. I’ve always wanted to see how DJing is done.”

    At eight o’clock on Saturday night, I walked into the offices of the university radio station in the basement of the dorm known as The Pit. There were two DJ booths there, for two different radio stations, but they had glass walls so I was easily able to determine which one Jason was in. He was talking into a microphone in front of a big sound board, so I waited until the ON AIR light went out before going in.
    “Hi Jason. I guess this is the DJ booth.”
    “Yeah. Why don’t you go back in the record library and get me some music.”
    “You mean, like actual records?”
    “Leave the records alone and bring me some CDs.”
    I went through the door into the record library and found tens of thousands of vinyl records. I walked past the stacks to a wall of CDs and started looking through them. They were alphabetized by band. There were two teletypes set up against a wall. One started clacking.
    When I came back into the booth with some CDs, I asked Jason what the teletypes were for.
    “Those are the news wires. Why don’t you get the news and rewrite it to read on the air.”
    “Rewrite it? Why?” I asked.
    “You will see when you read them. Bad grammar, abbreviations, instructions, all sorts of stuff. It has to be cleaned up before it can be read on the air.”
    I went back to the teletype and ripped the paper off of it. I scanned the printout. It was mostly war news, but barely intelligible. I took a pad of paper and pencil that were conveniently near the teletype and rewrote the dispatch for reading on the air. I went back into the booth with my edited version of the news.
    “Why don’t you read it when this song is over,” Jason suggested.
    “I—-I—- sure, why not.”
    “You need a show name. Never tell them your real name. Like I am Mad Dog Jason.”
    “I will call myself The Mad Hacker.”
    Soon the song was over and Jason introduced me, “Now The Mad Hacker will bring you the latest headlines.”
    I read the news that I had copied off of the teletype. As I talked, Jason loaded a CD into a drive and programmed the song in. When I finished he hit the button and slid the lever for it up on the sound board while sliding my lever down.
    “So, you are a mad hacker,” Jason said.
    “Yeah,” I replied.
    “Well, I hack too. I have gotten access to accounts in computer science departments all over the northeast.”
    I could have pinched him then, but I wanted more information. I also wanted to know who else was involved. “What do you do with them?”
    “I collect documents.”
    “Really? What for.”
    “I’ll tell you later. In the meantime, I want you to meet my partner, Paul.”
    “Okay. When will I meet him?”
    “He will be stopping by tonight or maybe next week. I told him about you.”
    So Jason was stealing documents off of computer scientists’ accounts. It sounded like espionage. In fact, there was a name for this sort of espionage, cyberespionage. As a rule, hackers are motivated by either a desire to explore the system, a desire to impress other hackers, or a desire to make money. Usually there isn’t much money to make breaking into academics accounts, so I would assume that he wanted to explore the system. Except, he was stealing scientific documents. Maybe he found a way to make money with them. I wasn’t going to pinch him and his friend until I found out what they were doing with the documents.
    I went back into the record library to pick out another record when I saw some red hair go between the stacks. “Hello?” I said.
    “Oh, it’s you,” the girl said.
    “Listen, why don’t we talk?”
    “Why? So you can turn me in to the police? I don’t think so.”
    “Listen, I know that those Libertarians you have been hanging out with have been filling you with lies—-”
    She stomped back into the other DJ booth clutching a handful of CDs. “Well that was awkward,” I muttered.
    When I came out with a couple of CDs, there was another kid in the booth. “Seriously, you want to play more oldies?” Jason said looking at my CDs. “Anyway, meet Bob. We’ve been hacking the computers together.”
    “Hi Bob. Nice to meet you. My name is John.”
    Bob was short and overweight. His round face was topped by greasy hair. I found him repulsive. “Hi John. Jason told me about you. Do you want to join us?”
    “What do you mean join you?” I asked.
    “Help us. Hack.”
    “Uh, sure.” I was still waiting to see who else was involved. It was a sure bet that Beavis and Butthead here weren’t stealing files for kicks.
    “Good. We’ll have to introduce you to the boss.”
    “The boss?”
    “Yeah, Nick. He pays us to do this.” Bob said.
    “When do I meet the boss?”
    “Here, next week.”

    The next week, I got wired up for the meeting. This time was going to be the bust. I got to the radio station at eight. “Where is Nick?” I asked.
    “He’ll be here soon,” Jason said.
    We ran the radio station for about half an hour when Nick and Bob turned up. Nick was tallish with blond hair and a muscular build. “We’ll need time to talk, play this,” I said, putting American Pie by Don McClean on the turntable.
    “Good idea. How long is it?”
    “Long enough.”
    He cued it and as the current song faded out, faded it in. “Okay,” he said, “Let’s talk business.”
    “You are John?” Nick said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He had a slight accent which I identified as Russian.
    “Nice to meet you Nicolai,” I said in Russian. “What are we supposed to do?”
    “You speak Russian?” He was speaking in Russian now. “This is the deal. I will give you the name of scientists and pay you a thousand dollars for each scientist’s account you hack. I want all the files in their accounts, including email, paper drafts, anything.”
    “A thousand dollars is not a lot of money,” I said. “Surely you can do better than that.”
    “If you do a good job, maybe I will give you more. Drugs too. I can give you all the drugs that you need.”
    “The drug addict is in the other booth,” I said.
    I heard my ex-girlfriend yell, “What the—-” from the record library.
    “That’s her.”
    A voice in my earpiece said, “What are you guys saying? Did you make the deal?”
    “Da—-I mean yes.” I said.
    Alex said, “Is this a burn?”
    Three FBI agents stormed out of the record library and three stormed in the door, “FBI, you are under arrest.” They bagged everybody and led them out in handcuffs, leaving me alone in the DJ booth. American Pie was just finishing up so I went on the air.
    “Mad Dog Jason has been detained for the rest of the evening,” I announced. “Now we are going to play some songs that were popular when I was a kid.”

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