Archive of "Writing"

Archive for the "Writing" Category

Dystoparx — Part 18

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piratepartyca: Two more arrested for spoofing MusicBox data:

jjdavis: RT @doctorow How long will the Canadian gov’t hold people without trial?

m0rty: This is my jam:

acklas: @doctorow at least a year, remember?

wilkiz: @lucy2 They may charge them with computer crime, but that can’t hold

acklas: @wilkiz @lucy2 Crazier prosecutions have done.

Our protagonist is at his company office. So are officers of the RCMP. They’re interested in his work on the so-called “MusicBox antivirus”. Nicnus is not affiliated with that project in any way, but you may recall that he wrote the code which originally made the blocker possible.

They’d rather he come with them. Does he have to come? Is he being charged with something? No. He’d rather stay here. Is that a problem? They confer. It doesn’t have to be. Good.

They want to know if he’s aware of the recent rash of activity. What activity? People spoofing MusicBox data, targeting the RCMP data collection. Oh, that. Of course he knows about it. Everyone does.

Is he also aware that his software may be used to perform this exploit? What exploit? The one where people spoof data! That’s not an exploit. Is sending a letter with a false return address an “exploit”? Yes, he is aware that his software makes it possible to create such a letter and send it to the RCMP.

Why would he create such software? Well, he wasn’t the first to do so, if they only care about the spoofing. They are not aware of the prior art. He can show them the code and the posts. It is not a secret. They would like that.

16:00 <nicnus> cops are here

Does he know why the earlier code was written? To demonstrate the unreliability of the data. Unreliability? Surely they understand that they cannot trust anything they get from a data stream that can be spoofed.

They take anonymous tips by phone. This is at least as good as that.

16:02 <acklas> Woah! Are you ok?

16:05 <nicnus> calm down. If I’m helpful, they’re happy 😉

They’ve never needed to track down pranksters leaving fake anonymous tips, because it’s hard to do en-masse. It can be done en-masse with VoIP? Well, no one has at the least. What would they do if that changed? They probably can’t apply computer crime laws to telephone calls. Probably. It’s still impeding the work of the police. Might even be fraud. There are laws in place.

16:20 <nicnus> They’re gone.

* Your connection has been secured

16:21 <acklas> Oops. Should have turned that on sooner.

16:21 <nicnus> meh. Those anonymous kiddies following your lead are in trouble, though

16:22 <acklas> Oh?

16:22 <nicnus> Yeah. At the very least, it’s some form of fraud

* acklas shrugs

16:23 <acklas> Their fault for not being more careful

Nicnus is waiting for a bus. He only went in to the office to meet with the officers. They came to his workplace and expected him to be there. So old-school.

There’s a chilly breeze blowing. Nicnus slips his hands up inside the sleeves of his hoodie. When his phone vibrates, he waits a few minutes before checking.

m0rty: Cops were just here. Something about my computer sending them messages?

Oh, man.

@m0rty your computer is probably infected with a botnet virus.

The bus is here. He gets on, but there are no seats available. There is barely a place for him to stand. And some people think no one takes the bus around here! He keeps one hand on a bar for stability, the other on his phone.

m0rty: @nicnus A virus? I have Norton and AVG both.

Nicnus stares at the screen for a moment. The bus lurches, throwing him against some blonde in her twenties. He plants his feet and switches to holding one of the provided handgrips on the bus.

@m0rty having two probably not helping. You can get it anyway. Then your system does what it is told.

People are moving. He slides his phone closed and looks around. Someone is trying to get off the bus. They should have made their way to the door long before now. The door is sitting open, and they are pressing through the crowd. There, they’ve made it. People flow towards the back as someone boards. Now he is wedged against some hefty guy who has a seat. Good thing he didn’t bring his backpack today. He manages to slide open his phone again.

jjdavis: @m0rty @nicnus is right. Running two antivirus not a good idea.

acklas: @m0rty You should probably just always assume your Microsoft systems are infected.

m0rty: @nicnus What should I do to get rid of it?

Nicnus cannot write a reply. No way to manipulate the phone properly just now.

jjdavis: @m0rty Only sure way is to wipe and restore from backup

acklas @m0rty might not be worth it. You’ll just get infected again

jjdavis: @acklas that’s really optimistic of you

The bus lurches again. He is face-to-face with the same blonde. Suddenly aware of his surroundings instead of his phone, our protagonist realises that this is probably awkward. He turns his head. No longer face-to-face, but now he’s staring at her shoulder. That’s probably not better. He looks over her shoulder and out the window. It’ll have to do.

m0rty: @jjdavis @nicnus I don’t really keep backups. Don’t want to lose my family videos! :S

16:31 <acklas> Who is this m0rty guy anyway? Where is he?

16:31 <jjdavis> Some guy nicnus knows. I don’t this he’s near any of us, though.

Now everyone is exiting the bus. Everyone? Oh, no, just most everyone. It’s a major stop, and this is where most of the people were going. Nicnus has two more stops to go, so he finally gets a seat.

16:33 <nicnus> friend from highschool. He lives out west.

@m0rty I wouldn’t worry to much about it. Let me know if you have more trouble

His stop is next. He pulls the signal cord and makes his way to the door. Phone goes into his pocket. Bus is stopped. Door is not opening. Oh, red light. Driver is waiting to pull ahead. Whatever. Open now. Getting off.

Our protagonist trudges towards his home. His mind is on the motion of his feet. Should he take longer strides? Maybe he should try to avoid the cracks in the sidewalk. Careful, there’s something on the ground. Probably don’t want to know what it is. Now he notices the people walking ahead of him. Two abreast and blocking the sidewalk completely. Not walking very quickly. He plods behind them for a few seconds before pulling over onto the grass and walking past.

Home. His phone is still in his pocket, but he doesn’t really need it. His desktop is already on, since he hadn’t expected to be gone long.

* Your connection has been secured

16:45 <nicnus> acklas: have the cops been to see that lady on your street again?

16:45 <acklas> nicnus: yeah. different ones. They were nicer this time. Figured out pretty quick she was not the actual source of the traffic.

16:46 <jjdavis> So someone is being more careful. It’s not all kiddies

16:46 <nicnus> It’s just kiddies getting caught

16:50 <acklas> the kiddies always get caught

16:51 <nicnus> the cops I talked to likened the MusicBox data to anonymous tips. So they don’t expect it to be admissible in court, I guess

16:53 <jjdavis> I guess that answers your brother’s concerns about evidence fabrication

16:55 <nicnus> yeah, maybe

Hungry. Food. First, music. What music? Something energetic. He opens an encrypted tunnel to a computer in the United States so that he can access a music service that only works for “people in the US”. He asks it to play energetic music, based on his past preferences, and it queues up what looks like a stream of evenly-mixed Dubstep and Power Metal.


His fridge is empty. Typical. Bread. He has bread. Good. Toast. What to put on the toast? Does he need to put anything on the toast? How hungry is he? Toast first, then re-evaluate.

What is he working on today? Oh, right, the discovery process for the encryption box. Some customers have reported that sometimes the boxes cannot find each other, even if they are plugged directly in to the same hardware. That doesn’t make much sense, but he is going to try to reproduce it.

One hour passes. Then two. Nicnus remembers he put toast in the toaster. It’s cold now. Whatever, eat it anyway. He isn’t really closer to finding the problem. Well, he’s a little closer: he’s pretty sure there *is* a problem. He just is not just quite what it is, or how to make the problem happen. It happened once, but then worked when he tried again.

00:10 <jjdavis> Taking the g/f out. Will not be very responsive for a bit

* jjdavis is away: out with the g/f

Nicnus is pulled from what he is working on. 00:10 UTC? What is that in local time? He looks out his window. Early evening, looks like. Where did his day go? He looks at the code that he has been working on. It might be the cause of the problem, but it is hard for him to check since he can’t surface the problem reliably. How will he know if changing this has fixed it?

03:52 <jjdavis> That went pretty well. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this

03:55 <acklas> or maybe she’s just being nice 😉

What time is it? Probably should think about dinner. What has he eaten today? Orange juice for breakfast, and toast for a late lunch. Now that he’s thinking about it, he is very hungry. Why wasn’t he hungry a minute ago? What was he working on? He can reproduce the problem now, but it is not what he thought it was. He has no idea how to fix it, but at least he can test it. Food. He should eat food. Does he have any food? He has some frozen yogourt in his freezer, and some peanuts. Dinner!

Someone sends him a link to a funny video. He watches it twice while he eats. It’s pretty good. The end of the video contains an obscure reference to some product from Suzuki. Now he’s reading Wikipedia articles about the Dutch East India Company.

06:01 <acklas> bed time

* acklas is offline

The issue with the encryption box might be in the hardware, and not in the software at all. How would he test that? Oh! They have an all-software emulator for it, which they built so they could test the software back before the hardware existed. It’s a bit out of date, since they don’t use it anymore. After some testing, he finds that it has the same problem. The problem is definitely in the software.

His music stopped at some point. When did it stop? Seems that his encrypted tunnel to the US has stopped working. He starts up another one.

09:00 <nicnus> Woo! I think I’ve got this bug nailed. Time for some sleep

Dystoparx — Part 17

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Child Abuse Right at the Top?

Yesterday, RCMP Comissioner Robert Sandall was suspended on suspicions raised by an internal investigation. No details have been released, but a source close to the matter has told the CBC that Sandall may be implicated in several cases of direct child abuse and possibly the creation and distribution of child pornography. No charges have yet been filed.

Watch this space for updates as the situation develops.

Acklas pulls out his laptop and logs on. He has taken a bus to a neighbouring city and is in a coffee shop there, hoping no one will bother him to buy something before his task is complete. Everything that needs doing has been scripted in advance. He runs the script and watches the output, hoping that everything works on the first try. To his suprise, it does. He smiles. Good, everything is in place. He double-checks a couple of things to make sure the script has indeed done its job. It has.

He closes his laptop and waits a few minutes before heading out. No one bothers him.

Acklas boards a bus heading back towards home. He waits several more minutes before putting the battery back in his cell-phone and connecting to a chat with Jack and Nicnus.

* Your connection has been secured

17:19 <acklas> on to phase 2 😀

17:21 <jjdavis> phase 2 of what?

17:22 <nicnus> jjdavis: of his plan to take down All the Bad Guys

17:23 <acklas> nicnus: 😛 yes, sure

17:23 <jjdavis> what does phase 2 entail?

“What do you mean, it’s gone?” Bill gives the tech a smouldering stare.

“Well, uh… obviously we still have any data we saved out of the stream as it came in, but—”

A second tech breaks in, trying to save the first from some embarassment, “But nothing is coming in anymore. That source is sending literally no data.”

Bill considers this, then calms down, “That’s expected. The Comissioner has been suspended. He knows we know. He would stop anything that was happening.”

A moment, then, “Sure, but—”

The first tech breaks back in, “We called the MusicBox people. They have no record of any of the data. At all.”

Bill considers this. No record at all? But… it’s their data. All the data comes from the MusicBox people… “How is that possible?”

“We don’t know.”

Someone is calling his name. He looks around. A head pops up from another area of the office and calls him over.

They’re showing him a YouTube video. What? A YouTube video? Something is happening, he—


Clouds are rolling on the screen. A storm. Some kind of nature video? Then the voice begins.


It’s clearly just a cheap computer voice, and yet… paired with the visuals this computer voice sounds like… well…

“Good morning,” it begins, flubbing the intotation already just this far into the speech, “When the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies first got excited by the idea of circumventing privacy law by taking the data being collected by the MusicBox software and using it for their own purposes, many experts pointed out that flaws in the system could allow false data to be injected into the stream. Some of these weaknesses were exploited to produce an anti-spyware pseudo-virus, which now lives on many of your computers, protecting you from the prying eyes of those who would read your private data.

“Yesterday, I proved a practical exploitation of a much more sinister weakness. I sent false evidence of child pornography creation and distribution to the RCMP, and only to the RCMP. No one else has this data. On the basis of this data and this data alone (for there could not be any other source, especially given the timing), the RCMP suspended their own Comissioner and began an internal investigation.

“The code which I used to do this has been published at the location linked to in the description of this video. It is so simple, and yet the most important law enforcement agency in Canada started a witch hunt after just one day of its use. Imagine what would happen if they were given the power to exploit other, even less reliable, data streams? It would be just like the French Revolution: accusations flying wherever they will, and law enforcement blindly following along with everything they are told.

“I have stopped the transmission of the false data. I hope the law enforcement officers, the politicians, and the media, will see this as a sign that they cannot trust the data they have been trumpeting as their salvation. No real arrests have come of these projects, and now it is obvious that many false arrests may be their eventual result.

“If, however, this warning goes unheeded, I have no doubt that many others like me will rise up to make chaos. Too long have we sat aside while our governments slide into a pit. They have declared war on us the people, and if it is war they want, then we will bring the chaos. We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

17:50 <jjdavis> Really, acklas? An *Anonymous* video?

* acklas shrugs

17:51 <acklas> seemed like a reasonable way to communicate

* nicnus shakes his head

17:54 <acklas> either way, the ball is now firmly in their court. I may not even have to do anything more

17:55 <nicnus> acklas: you have way too much faith in the Internet Hate Machine. They get bored easily

17:55 <acklas> maybe

Later that day, Nicnus’ brother also sees the video. He shows it to his girlfriend. They have no idea. His girlfriend, however, is disgusted. She supports the legitimate actions of law enforcement to bring an end to all that is unwholesome. Or something like that.

She’s watching her favourite talkshow. Or whatever this sort of show is being called by her social group. The video has become a topic. Acklas has done a very good job of blanketing the media in awareness. Lots of messages went out. Once the mainstream is reporting it at all, then they all have to report it, or look like they’re behind. The show’s host is asking for submissions on her website, to get feedback from “you out there” on what people think of the situation. There will be a summary on tomorrow’s show.

She flips open her laptop, navigates to the website, and begins a submission.

Well, I think it’s disgusting! here’s the police, trying to do something good, get rid of the weirdos that ppl the entire internet, and what does this guy do? he just makes their job harder! stupid. i dont care if what their doing can be faked…everything can be faked…he needs to get over himself and they need to arrest him so they can get on with their jobs, maybe if we give the police the ability to collect all the stuff from the internet, they can track this guy down and make ppl like him stop and then we can finally be safe!!

She slaps her laptop closed and walks off. Nicnus’ brother sits by his computer, thinking about hiding. She’s in that mood again. Ah, well, it’ll pass. He mouses around his system a bit, trying to find the program his brother prefers he use for chatting. Normally he would just text him, but his brother wouldn’t get back to him for hours in that case. He wonders breifly if Nicnus has got Facebook, but no, still no Facebook for Nicnus. Oh, there’s the program. Pidgin. What a stupid name. They should call it “geeky messaging application”. Actually, maybe he can rename it that, would make it easier to find…

He opens a chat with Nicnus and pastes a link to the video. Suddenly another window pops up. A chat with more than one person. Looks like his brothers’ friends.

* This chat is not secure

21:50 <brann> Woah, what is this?

21:52 <acklas> we were already discussing the video, so nicnus just brought you in here 🙂

21:53 <nicnus> brann: What did you think of the video?

21:53 <brann> g/f hates it.

21:54 <nicnus> suresure, would expect that

21:56 <jjdavis> nicnus: you rag on his SO too much

21:57 <nicnus> maybe

21:57 <brann> It’s a bit creepy.

21:58 <nicnus> brann: which is?

21:58 <brann> Well, all of it

21:58 <brann> the video is… but I think that’s more just a ploy or whatever

21:58 <brann> but, I don’t like the cops faking data for themselves either

22:00 <acklas> Who said the cops would fake data for themselves?

22:01 <brann> no one, but… seems the next logical step, no?

22:01 <brann> Not enough evidence on this guy? No problem, just make some and shove it in here. done

22:02 <jjdavis> holy crap…

22:03 <acklas> yeah. brann: I hope no one *else* thinks of that 😐

Jack is relaxing. His girlfriend is over, and she’s bubbling happily. He only sort of hears what she says. He’s just happy. Nothing has happened to him yet. If they were going to come after him, wouldn’t something have happened? Maybe not. Still, he’s happy for now.

More and more datacentres are finding the same sort of activity he found. One by one, they’re turning it off. If the FBI is snooping on their population, they won’t be for much longer. At least, not in the same way.

On a whim, he browses some of the groups where discussion is happening around the efforts to stop what most people are calling an ‘exploit’. One message in particular interests him. It seems that, hidden in the guts of some Omnibus bill about kittens, there is a section dedicated to increasing the online ‘wiretapping’ abilities of the FBI and other federal agencies. The mechanisms outlined are very suspiciously similar to what is already happening. If it becomes law, though, it won’t be hidden. The datacentres will be ordered to install this software on purpose.

His girlfriend has stopped talking. She’s looking over his shoulder. Wondering what’s up.

“Uh…” Will she even get it? If she does, will she care?

It doesn’t matter. He’s trying really hard. He’s not making assumptions about that anymore. He’ll tell her what’s going on.

He starts at the beginning, in the datacentre. He hasn’t told her before because it didn’t seem important, in light of their relationship trouble. Well, sure, maybe he should have mentioned it before now. No, nothing bad has happened yet. Maybe nothing will. Maybe it will become legal, he’ll be forced to re-install the software, and he can just pretend that’s it.

Yes, he does have a problem with what it seems the FBI is doing, even if it becomes legal. No, there’s nothing much he’s going to do about it. Why not? Because he’s a guest in this country and he wants to stay here. Because she’s here. Right, she’s not that interested in leaving. But can’t something be done? Spying seems icky. Yes, that’s her word, ‘icky’. Fine. Maybe. He’d really rather not stick his neck out and find out.

Well, wait and see for right now, that’s the plan. Maybe nothing will happen.

Dystoparx — Part 16

Posted on

16:00 <jjdavis> So, we’re all secure now?

16:02 <nicnus> Yup! As long as the devices are on and we use this chat system, everything is being encrypted.

16:03 <jjdavis> That *was* pretty easy. I guess this is a good idea.

16:04 <acklas> 😀

Acklas hits a key combination and is again staring at a screen full of source code. Someone had indeed already worked out what would be needed to spam the RCMP with bogus data, but just being able to shove data down the pipe is not enough. Acklas certainly doesn’t need this backfiring on him. He is not going to run it on his own computer, or over his own Internet connection, and all the traffic needs to be masked no matter where it is he ultimately runs this. Safety first.

He quickly scans over what he’s been writing, makes a quick change, and then tries running the system again. He’s just running it locally to make sure it works, no data is actually being sent.

16:10 <acklas> Ok, I’ve got the MusicBox blocker patched to send whatever data I want

16:10 <acklas> also, it has a backdoor so I can remote control it no matter where it’s running

16:12 <acklas> and I’ve got it working so that it will send all traffic (even DNS) through a given SOCKS proxy

16:14 <nicnus> Tor?

16:15 <jjdavis> good call

16:15 <acklas> yes

Quickly, so that the reader is aware, “Tor” (or TOR, The Onion Router) is a software designed to help whistleblowers and those in oppressive nations use the Internet without fear. It wraps data in many layers of encryption and then bounces it off many different computers, in a way that makes it virtually impossible to tell what computer originally sent the data.

16:17 <jjdavis> Where are you gonna pit it, though?

16:17 <jjdavis> s/pit/put

16:18 <acklas> I’m thinking of renting some space with BTC

16:18 <nicnus> botnet?

16:19 <nicnus> hmm… that’s probably safer

16:19 <nicnus> cool

Acklas begins reading over the list he had brought up earlier of Internet hosting providers that will accept Bitcoin (abbreviated BTC), the pseudonymous digital currency he plans to use as a way to keep his name off of any space he rents. Credit cards and other forms of payment, other than cash, have a tendency to have one’s name attached to every transaction, which is a bad idea if the plan is to send a lot of bogus data to the RCMP, regardless of how you feel about what he is trying to do.

He finds some that seem promising and saves them in a file on his laptop, then packs up to move to the public library. He only lives a few blocks away, so he walks. You may think that such a close library will make it fairly obvious, still, where he lives, and you would be right. Anyone who can trace what he is about to do to the library will have a much smaller pool of people to choose from than they would if they could not trace the connection. However, he has no library card, and does not need one to get online. At a coffee shop, he would likely need to make a purchase to get online, and that’s just that much more data he’d be leaving behind.

Once online, he sets up his Tor client to further mask the source of his data. He scans the list of Internet hosts he has drawn up and keys in an email to each one, asking for some details and requesting that they reply by emailing certain email addresses he has selected at Mailinator, the free service that provides disposable email addresses to anyone. Why does he have to ask for them to email these disposable addresses instead of just replying? He is sending the emails through a service called “Mixmaster” which hides the email address of the sender. The people receiving these emails won’t be able to tell who Acklas is or where he was when he sent the email, yet they can still reply.

If they are willing to do that, then he will know they are the right sort of place for what he has in mind.

Bill is happy. He’s not sure what the exact status of the politics are, but the media seems on board. The most recent operation was just a start. They need more data. Whatever it takes to stop the abuse of children. Whatever it takes.

There is a knock at his office door. He does not hear it. He is, of all places, on Wikipedia, reading about Internet technologies. He’d really prefer some other source, but this seems to be the only place with the information he’s interested in. If they’re going to take down the pornographers, he needs to have some understanding of what’s possible. It’s no good asking for data they cannot possibly get, or not asking for data that would be easy.

Another knock, and the door opens. One of the cops who works with him. One of the more technical ones. Under him. With him. Whatever, the distinction is lost on Bill most of the time. Apparently there’s something interesting they’ve found in the data. Something worth seeing.

Bill is lead to a small meeting room. Others are already there. They wanted to be more sure before presenting this to him. They are showing him data. Some of this data is disgusting. More explicit than anything they’ve yet uncovered. As he is shown more and more data Bill is wondering, can they catch this guy? What a windfall!

It turns out they’re way ahead of him. He has a good team. They traced the traffic, but they didn’t really need to. This is the good stuff. The user was logged in to MusicBox and everything when the pornography was downloaded (and uploaded! A source!) They have his name, his credit card information, his address. Everything.



“You did WHAT?”

Acklas is smiling. It has been a good few days. “I set up some services to send fake data through the MusicBox service.”

“Yes, I got that part,” Nicnus looks around worriedly. They are in private, but this sort of discussion makes him even more paranoid than usual. No one out the window, at the least. “Repeat the other part.”

“I set one of them in motion streaming fake kiddie porn downloads and uploads for the RCMP Commissioner.”

Nicnus blinks. “You did WHAT?”

“I think we’ve been here already.”

Nicnus pauses for a long moment, then, “Are you crazy?”

Acklas shrugs, “Quite possibly. Still, I was very careful. The traffic should be untraceable, and even if they find the box it isn’t tied to me.”

“No, I know,” Nicnus stares at the wall for a bit.

“It seems reckless.”


“Then… ?”

Acklas sighs. “I’m just sick of it all. Writing MPs, signing petitions, reading proposed law, dealing with my boss, going to meetings—”

“You can’t blame your crappy ex-job—”

Acklas shakes his head, “No, I know. Look. I know. I just mean. Yeah. Hoops. No more hoops. I’m taking the direct approach.”

Nicnus sucks on his teeth a bit. This is a hard one. Nicnus also hates jumping through hoops. He also hates the feeling of powerlessness the current political climate gives him. He hates seeing the world slowly and willingly slip into madness. This is how he feels, and he understands how his friend feels. Nothing, however, is airtight. There’s a huge risk in this. What will this accomplish anyway?

He verbalizes that last thought.

Acklas is about to respond when both their phones go off.

piratepartyca: BREAKING: RCMP Commissioner temporarily relieved pending investigation.

Nicnus raises an eyebrow at Acklas.

Acklas looks up and meets his gaze. “I was going to say that what happens depends on how they respond, but I guess we know that now.”

Nicnus is shaking his head already, “You know you may have destroyed an innocent man’s life, right?”

Acklas holds up one hand in a defensive gesture, “Woah, I’m not just going to leave him! I’m going to tell them what I’ve done.” He sees Nicnus about to make a response, “Anonymously, of course. I’m being careful. Isn’t this exactly the idea you brought up when we first saw mediacrack?”

Nicnus thinks back. That seems so long ago. “Yes. I suppose it is. I didn’t expect anyone to do it, though. That’s why I built a blocker instead.”

“I know. But this way they’ll have to see how unreliable the data is. After their disaster operation recently, and then this, they’ll have to see how futile this is.”

Nicnus is thinking. It can’t be that easy. “The data is only unreliable if people keep sending bad data. They’ll just focus their attention on you and anyone else trying to do this.”

Acklas sighs. “Maybe. And maybe they shut some of us down. And then someone even shadier than me puts it on the botnets and then shutting it down becomes as hard as fighting SPAM. Believe me, I questioned the ethics of this myself, but someone has to do it. This has all gone on far too long. I will push them until they break. The whole frigging media industry, every moron bureaucrat at every level, if it comes to it. We can’t just keep hoping that letters and petitions and books and blog posts will eventually make them see the light. The time for polite suggestions is over. They need to be stopped.”

Nicnus shifts uncomfortable, but gives in, “I think it’s very risky, and I’m much less convinced it will be successful than you are, but you’re right about one thing: the whole situation has gone on far too long. I wish you luck.”

Their phones once again buzz as one. It’s time for them to head out towards the meetup they are attending tonight.

Jack is at home again. Rested. Worried. Rested and worried. Now that he’s had some time for everything to sink in, he’s begun to realise the full import of his situation. He can’t just ignore what he found, because now others are finding it too. Based on his reports online, several other systems and network administrators have identified the same spying going on in their datacentres. Some of them have been much more ruthless in getting rid of it. Others have also traced it to variously the FBI, the US military, or the Whitehouse. Jack’s guess is that the IP blocks overlap quite a bit. What this does indicate, however, is that it’s not a security breach at the US government. They’re monitoring on purpose. And it’s illegal.

Sure there are all sorts of debates going on in Congress right now about how much monitoring should be allowed, but none that have gone much of anywhere. Unless the FBI has just decided to treat everyone they tap as terrorists… but they seem to be tapping indiscriminately.

Jack hopes the wealth of reports will take the heat off himself. Maybe some of these more rash admins will get the call.

He has an appointment set up with a lawyer. Just in case he gets the call and it’s the sort of call where they let you talk to a lawyer. He wants to know one. And have the phone number tattooed on his arm. He is also considering some sort of dead-man’s switch to notify people if he disappears unexpectedly.

One thing is for sure. He’s not leaving.

Dystoparx — Part 15

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Jack is outside her apartment. He slipped into the building behind someone else so that he wouldn’t have to push the buzzer. Now he’s just standing here.

He left the datacentre mostly under control. One of the ops came in and got a run-down of what’s going on. Just keep the place running, that’s all the op has to do. The attack should be basically harmless at this point.

Well, harmless to the datacentre.

Jack’s name is now directly associated with the attack as “the guy who first reported it.” Not good if his suspicions are correct. Maybe Nicnus is right, maybe he should—

Her door opens. It’s her. Of course, who else would it be?

She seems a bit surprised, “You came?”

“Uh…” He’s not sure he was being expected, but, “Yes?”

She smiles a sort of sad smile, then, “Come in.”

He comes in. Not sure where this is going. Maybe her friend told her something? Maybe he’s caught in some sort of unclear set-up? Best to just wait it out for now. So far she’s not unhappy with him.

Now he’s sitting in her living room. She’s in the kitchen. Probably preparing beverages. As ridiculous as it sounds, in this particular case he likes it. It’s a welcome form of procrastination.

He feels his phone vibrate. No. His attention is on her now. It vibrates again. No.

She is back with the beverages. On the coffee table. Now she is across from him, sipping. Looking expectant. Crap. He probably should have had a plan. Or… he thinks back over his conversation with her friend and decides to try something.

“So… I have absolutely no plan here.”

She says nothing, but at least she does not exhibit any signs of being upset by this. He decides to sip his drink and wait. The mug contains some sort of tea he could never get the name right for. It’s her favourite, and really not his sort of thing. He sips anyway.

His phone vibrates again. He is still ignoring it. Sipping. Willing his mind not to drift elsewhere. Here is where he needs to be right now. All of him.

“I’ve missed you.” She says it like it should be obvious.

“I thought you didn’t want to see me.”

She shakes her head in disgust, “That’s always been your problem.”

He raises an eyebrow at her and says nothing. Either an explanation is coming, or else he’s going to have to make it more obvious that he needs one.

“Why did you think I didn’t want to see you?”

He sips for a few moments, as if he is thinking. She needs to see him thinking. Finally, “You said as much.”

“Did I?”

He nods.

“Probably. Sounds like something I might have said. Your problem is that you take everything at face value.” She tosses her hair and continues to sip her tea.

He’s quite impressed. They’re having what is effectively a mostly-rational discussion about what happened. He never would have expected this. As he takes his next sip he realises something: this is his problem. He doesn’t give her enough credit. That she should be discussing the situation with him in a rational manner should not be impressive.


Nor should it be expected. Huh.

“Because you didn’t want to see me then.” He says this slowly, as it comes to him, “But you didn’t want to have to tell me when that changed. Didn’t want to, because it seemed obvious that it would change somewhat quickly. You thought I should know that you would eventually want to see me.”

She is saying nothing, but her eyes say all he needs to know. His phone vibrates again.

“I know I can be hard to handle,” he pays his phone no mind, “I mean, I don’t take the world lying down. I expect clarity in communication. I want to correct errors wherever I see them—” He cuts himself off, a list of his faults is not going to help here. She knows what her problem is. “I can relax all that,” He’s sure that he can, “I mean, I can be more understanding. I can try to read into what you’re saying just a little more. Let trivialities be trivial a little bit more often…”

He doesn’t want to say what he has to say next. Things are going so well. He is realising, though, that as much as he wants this to work, it is not his whole world. So he says it. “I’m not going to change who I am, though. I’m not going to stop analysing the world. I’m not going to instantly know your every wish. You still have to tell me things. More than once. More clearly. Maybe even more than you would normally have to with other guys. Because I’m not them.”

His phone is vibrating constantly now, as though a phone call is coming in.

She finally sets her tea down and speaks, “You’re right. This isn’t all your fault, and I can try harder. Your willingness to take the first step is all I really needed.” She pauses for a moment, then shakes her head, “Now answer your phone before you go insane.”

Bill is not sure how he feels. The operation was completely successful, and yet it had been a colossal failure. Every single person they had set out to question had been easily found and questioned. None had evaded them, none of their information had led them to a dead-end. By operational standards, a resounding success.

Not a single person they had questioned, however, had ties to child pornography groups. At least, not so far as they could discern. Not a one. Well, except for the teenagers they had caught with pictures of girlfriends and boyfriends. Hardly the sort of contraband they were after.

What had gone wrong? The FBI had nailed a guy based on their surveillance, how could a large-scale operation here fail to be at least a little successful?

The techies told him it was the nature of the surveillance. People with MusicBox knew it was tapped. They were unlikely to store their pornography on the same machine. Bill knew something, however, that the techies did not know. Data was also being piped in from email and web histories in other ways. Ways which Bill did not himself understand. Then again, some of the techies knew some of these things.

Bill is now looking over the data he has on the successful FBI operation. The one that convinced him that this could work. The pervert had sent an email to his mother, that’s how they had found him. They had picked up the email on his mother’s machine.

Suddenly, Bill has an insight. They had been looking for suspicious material, and tracking that material to the machines it had passed through. Those machine were accessed who knows how, or maybe the wifi connections associated with the machines were compromised, whatever. The success with the FBI had been tracking activity from someone suspicious to a known connection, then back-tracing the activity to the real source somehow. The technical details don’t matter. Bill doesn’t really understand them. The strategy matters. Stop spying only on suspicious data, and start trying to correlate it with otherwise innocent data!

This is great. This can work. He cannot task anyone to do it, however, until the politics gets sorted out. To ask anyone to do this would be to admit that they were not only interested in raw MusicBox data. With the right spin, the operation could still provide the media bomb they need.

He dials his supervisor.

Acklas hangs up as soon as Jack answers. Soon Jack has caught up on the messages they’ve been sending him and begins to reply.

14:00 <acklas> So, I just quit my job.

14:02 <nicnus> Awesome?

14:02 <acklas> nicnus: I’ll let you know. I don’t suppose there are openings at your startup?

14:03 <nicnus> We’re “always hiring”, so maybe.

14:05 <nicnus> Woah! Have you seen this thing about the kiddie porn arrests?

14:06 <acklas> Just a sec…

14:10 <acklas> Woah. That is not how it seemed to be going down at all…

14:12 <nicnus> You mean the part about how this shows there is “more of this problem than we, as a society, want to admit”?

14:12 <acklas> Yeah. From what I understood, it was mostly a junk operation. Scaring old ladies and single mothers, instead of doing their jobs.

14:13 <nicnus> Apparently, they’d rather not remember it that way.

14:15 <acklas> Apparently, they’d rather ask for sweeping surveillance provisions. Because, you know, this proves they can totally handle it.

14:15 <nicnus> No, this proves they might be able to scare people into thinking we need it.

14:15 <acklas> Suresure. Man, I found one article that says the USA “has been doing something similar for some time”

14:16 <nicnus> First I’ve heard of it. I think it’s more that they’re also *trying* to get something in place.

14:16 <acklas> Yeah. The security community would have seen something by now if they were doing it before the laws were in place.

14:20 <nicnus> Jack!

14:20 <acklas> What?

14:20 <nicnus> jjdavis: What, exactly, did you stumble on again? The US gov’t snooping emails?

14:21 <acklas> Woah, when did this happen?

14:21 <nicnus> During your meeting.

14:22 <acklas> jjdavis: is this true?

14:23 <nicnus> jjdavis? This is a big deal, man. You can’t stay down there.

14:24 <acklas> Yeah, if they’re spying semi-illigally…

14:24 <nicnus> If it’s not even legal… yeaah

14:35 <nicnus> jjdavis?

14:40 <nicnus> Oh my goodness, they’ve got him.

14:45 <acklas> dan’t be silly. he’s at his girl’s, remember?

14:50 <acklas> Ok, I’ll call him. You know. He should at least know about this.

** jjdavis reads

14:57 <jjdavis> nicnus: like I said, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be ok

14:58 <acklas> Sure, I mean, nicnus is a bit paranoid. Still, though…

14:59 <jjdavis> From the way that article reads, it’s about to get hot up there as well.

15:00 <nicnus> maybe, but you didn’t *find* them up here.

15:01 <jjdavis> We’ll see

15:03 <acklas> How did it go with your SO, anyway?

15:05 <jjdavis> I’m still here. We’ve sort of patched things up in principle.

15:06 <acklas> I guess that’s good, then.

15:07 <nicnus> jjdavis: I’m overnighting you one of our devices, set with a key I’ll give to acklas as well.

15:09 <jjdavis> nicnus: sure

15:16 <acklas> nicnus: how hard would it be to modify your MusicBox blocker to instead spam the crap out of the RCMP?

15:18 <nicnus> Pretty easy. I think someone already did it in principle. why?

15:20 <acklas> I’ll get back to you on that.

Acklas is thinking. If the States is already on it, then Canada might not be so far behind. There needs to be resistance to the surveillance before it becomes law. After that, everything just gets harder. Even Nicnus’ magic crypto doesn’t stop spyware. Doesn’t stop email snooping. At least, not by itself.

If they were going to use their failure to tell the media why they needed more power (“they” in this case being some nameless force Acklas paints as being behind the whole mess), then Acklas could maybe use something else to sway the media another way. A battle in the media might be a battle that could be won.

Why has he not thought of this before? Man. Half a day out of the cubicle and already his creative problem-solving juices are flowing again. He has nothing else that he needs to be doing, and money is not going to be an issue for awhile.

If this is what’s necessary to keep from living in fear, then Acklas will bring the fight.

Dystoparx — Part 14

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Jack is still at the datacentre. He’s just brought all the machines running mailservers back up. The attackers kept trying at the other machines in the meantime, but it doesn’t seem like the attack was refocused. Maybe it’s largely automated?

No attacks on the— oh. The systems are starting to get attacked again, one by one. Annoying. His phone vibrates. It’s an email from his boss. Wants to know why there are still issues. Jack replies with a summary of what’s going on. Only a few of the machines he checked during the “security window” were compromised. He patched those and everything should be safe now. At this point the odds of the attackers compromising more is slim. If they were going to get in they’d have done so already. Either they’re just hoping someone on one of the boxes will majorly goof up, or else…

Or else the attack is a distraction. What else in the datacentre could they be after? Well, they’ve shown an attraction to communications services, mostly email. What can you do with a compromised mailserver?

You can send mail as the people whose accounts are on that server. No, that’s useless. Anyone can send email as anyone else quite easily, no need to hack a datacentre. What else?

You can read people’s email. Of course! Where else would it be really easy to read people’s email? The routers! The routers for the datacentre handle every single piece of data passing to any server, so reading emails from there would be easy.

Jack starts scanning the routers for unusual behaviour. While his scan is running, his phone rings. Who would be calling— oh, maybe it’s her? He is hopeful, but a quick glance at his display shows that it is not her. It’s her best friend.

“Hello?” Jack doesn’t know why she’s calling, but he hopes it is on her behalf.

“Ok,” she says, “it has now reached that point. You two have to talk.”

“I tried to call her last night,” Jack defends a little.

“Right. I know. I mean, like, not like that. Talk talk.”

Oh. “I don’t think she wants to see me.”

“See, that’s your problem. You’re dense. Of course she wants to see you.”

“What? But she specifically said—”

“Stop! Stop listening to what she says and start listening to what she needs!”

Jack has heard this kind of rhetoric before. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why should he interpret her when it’s much easier for her to just… oh. Because that’s part of the problem. She doesn’t always know what she needs. Just like he doesn’t know just quite why he wants her so badly.

“Has she said she wants to talk to me?”

“Sure, or, sort of. After last night, she knows she wants to fix this.”

“Tell me what to do.”

“Oh no. My meddling part is over. Your turn.”

With that, she hangs up.

His eyes turn to his laptop. Scan still running. Half of the routers have been checked and seem normal. He opens up a chat with Nicnus and Acklas.

09:30 <jjdavis> I called her last night. Her friend called me back this morning.

09:35 <acklas> So, she’s still not speaking to you? Or did you talk to her last night?

09:36 <jjdavis> nono, talked to voicemail. Sounded like a moron. friend thinks I need to meet with her

09:36 <acklas> Looks like nicnus is still asleep. lucky jerk

09:37 <acklas> With the friend? No, with your ex. To get her back.

09:37 <jjdavis> Yes.

09:40 <acklas> How?

09:40 <jjdavis> I don’t know.

The scan is done and Jack is going over the results. There. A single router claims to have been upgraded more recently than all the rest.

On investigation it turns out that someone, probably one of the ops, forgot to upgrade this specific router last time upgrades were done. He’ll have to track down whoever was in charge of that and scold them. The attackers have replaced the software on the router with some that functions normally, but also sends them a copy of everything that comes through.


09:45 <jjdavis> Those shifty crackers were hiding a successful router exploit behind the noise of their constant attempts to get in everywhere else.

09:45 <acklas> That’s actually sort of smart.

09:45 <nicnus> acklas: yes, I am a lucky jerk 🙂

09:45 <nicnus> jjdavis: have enough to trace them with?

09:45 <nicnus> jjdavis: That sounds good for you. I would just show up wherever she’s staying.

09:47 <jjdavis> nicnus: I think so. I’ running some trace stuff now an d also posting their monitoring code some places. Others may also be compromised.

09:47 <jjdavis> nicnus: I could do that. She’s just over at her place, I’m pretty sure. I don’t think she’d slam the door in my face.

09:50 <acklas> jjdavis: her place? I thought you two shared an apartment?

09:51 <nicnus> jjdavis: Good idea. And yeah, that should work.

09:52 <jjdavis> acklas: no, we’ve never lived together. I work from home, and she’s over a lot. Some of her stuff used to be at my place.

09:55 <acklas> Interesting

10:00 <jjdavis> Uh, guys… this trace does not look good…

Acklas spins in his chair. He’s been at work for almost an hour and hasn’t really done anything yet. He’s not currently assigned to a project. The last team he was on has completed their project and dispersed. He’s not even sure who he’s reporting to just now, since his old team is no longer together.

09:55 <acklas> Interesting

He looks up from the chat to see a new email in his work inbox. The email is not from anyone he knows, but claims to be VP of something. The message has very few details. Setting up a meeting about… something. A new project? Probably.

Woah! This meeting is in five minutes! Why is he just getting this now? He grumbles something under his breath and walks off to find the room.

He eventually finds the meeting. It’s in a part of the building he hasn’t been to before. How big is this place? What time is it? He’s 3 minutes late. Ah, well, he’ll just slip in the back and see what’s up.

Acklas enters the room and it becomes immediately apparent that there will be no slipping in. The room has just two business people and his old manager, and they appear to be waiting for him.

“Nice of you to join us.” One of the suits smiles.

Acklas just nods, “Yeah, well, someone only decided to email me about this about ten minutes ago.”

The suits seem to be ignoring him now. One is looking through some papers.

Finally, “Sit down.”

Oh, right. Sitting. He sits. His old manager isn’t looking at him. Not in an evasive kind of way. More like a distracted kind of way. Acklas thinks about making conversation, but these meetings have a way of running themselves eventually. He doesn’t have anything better to be doing.

The suit with the papers looks up, “We’ve had a new contract come in to the company. Records indicate that you are currently unassigned, yes?”

This isn’t strictly true. He is assigned to the whole company right now, which means he could be called upon by any team to help out with small tasks or hunt down bugs. Really, though, “Yes.”

The suit smiles, “Good.” A pause, “The project involves some fairly sensitive government work. We can’t reveal the exact nature of this work to you, but you will be given adequate information to complete the project.”

“And who will I be working with?”

“This will be your manager,” the suit indicates his old manager.


“And what? We’re assigning you, under him, to this project.”

“What, by myself?”

“Why? Do you require a team to operate?”

Acklas thinks about this. He certainly could work by himself. “No.”

“Good. The product ships in two weeks. We will, of course, be expecting regular status updates.” The man folds his papers into a binder.

Acklas is a bit confused now. “Two weeks? I don’t even know what it is yet.”

The other suit is smiling now, “Nor will you ever. The specification for what you are to build will be emailed to you. We will ship it in two weeks.”

This is not a completely new experience for Acklas. He’s been put on ridiculous deadlines before. Sometimes they meet them, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they just write terrible code so that they can come close. Just as he is considering this, though, the weight of dislike for his job comes crashing in. They figure him for a pushover! He’ll just take what they say and go do it. Not anymore. He’s had it with this. “Excuse me?”

The suits appeared ready to leave. Finally one asks, “Was there something unclear?”

Acklas stands up. “No, nothing unclear. Just let me get this straight. You need me for this new project. In fact, you seem to have no other resources to allocate to the project. You need it done very soon. Probably more soon than it can be done, but I can’t estimate that because you won’t tell me what it is. You waste my time by leaving me hanging and then setting up a meeting when all you had to do was have the spec in my inbox this morning. You want me to spend even more of my time updating you on the status of a project that needs to be done almost before I could make much of a status update anyway. And you expect that I’ll just do this? That I won’t have a problem with it? That it will get done and function properly?”

His old manager blinks at him. “Where is this coming from? I thought you liked it here.”

That’s the last straw. Acklas isn’t shouting yet, but he’s getting there. “Like it here! How could you think I like it here? Every feedback period I write about how much things could be improved. About how developers are being wasted and projects mishandled!”

His manager seems shocked, “But… you get paid so much!”

This is going nowhere. Why does he put up with this?

“I hope you can find someone else to do your project.”

He walks out.

Our protagonist is doing his best to keep Jack calm. Acklas seems to be gone. Probably got called to a meeting.

10:15 <nicnus> Just set up a fake datastream to send them. You said you can block their attacks now with something you found in their malware code?

10:17 <jjdavis> yesyes, but that’s not going to help me long-term! That solves the datacentre security issue, but I’ve already posted this malware online! I’ve documented the attack!

10:18 <nicnus> Well. Maybe it’s not the US government. Maybe it’s just someone using them to mask his trail.

10:20 <jjdavis> Sure. Yes. That doesn’t help me. If the government finds out I found a security hole in their stuff, they’ll come after me just as hard as if it’s something they did on purpose that I’m stopping.

Our protagonist is a bit worried now. Jack has a point. Governments in general have a history of arresting good guys for reporting bugs.

10:22 <nicnus> Maybe you should come back.

10:23 <jjdavis> I can’t. I’m just about to get things back together down here.

10:23 <nicnus> What, with your girlfriend? THIS IS YOUR LIFE WE’RE TALKING ABOUT.

10:25 <jjdavis> Well… maybe it’ll be ok. I have exit plans, still. Just in case.

Nicnus is shaking his head. Jack’s going to stay. For a girl.