The Reset Manifesto
CopyrightÂ© 2016 by Lazlo Zalezac
The funeral director entered the room after softly knocking on the door. He carefully closed the door behind him. In a distressed tone of voice, he said, “Mrs. Moore, I’m afraid that we have a slight problem.”
Upset at the idea of a problem, Rebecca asked, “What kind of problem?”
“The original room you requested for the service is too small.”
“Too small? Didn’t you say that it holds two hundred?”
“Yes, Ma’am. It’s already full, and there are more people arriving. I’m arranging for the service to be moved to our larger room. If too many more people arrive, we might have to move the service out to the great lawn.”
“Oh, my. I don’t know what to say. Are you sure they’re here for this funeral?”
Patricia said, “What was my little brother doing with his mail-order company to know so many people?”
Charles Moore asked, “Is that going to cost extra?”
“No, though it will delay the service a little.”
Charles asked, “Just how many people are showing up?”
“It’s hard to say. We’ve had to open the overflow lot to provide parking space for all of the cars.”
The town of Alexandria Virginia was founded in 1749, although its history extends back to 1730 with the passing of the Tobacco Inspection Law. The law decreed that tobacco was to be inspected in any of a number of official warehouses, one of which was to be located along the Potomac River at the mouth of Hunting Creek. While a government can issue decrees, Mother Nature holds the trump card. The land at the specified site was unsuitable and the warehouse was built a half mile upstream at what is now the foot of Oronoco Street. Taking a role in the founding of the town were such notables as Scotsmen Philip and John Alexander, surveyor John West with his assistant, the then 17-year-old, George Washington, and Lawrence Washington (older brother of George).
A number of old buildings dating back to the early days of the city still remain standing. Among the notable landmark locations is Gadsby’s Tavern. It actually consists of two buildings, the original tavern building, dating back to 1785, which is currently run as a museum. The second building, once the City Hotel, was built in 1792. Both buildings were leased by John Gadsby who ran his tavern in them from 1796 to 1808. In its heyday, it was one of the places at which to be seen, entertaining such luminaries as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette. As is often the case, the buildings fell into disrepair. In their history, they had housed lawyer offices and auction houses.
The buildings were purchased and restored in the latter part of the 1900s with the current incarnation of Gadsby’s Tavern run out of the restaurant space of the City Hotel which was leased to a private restaurateur. The restaurant boasted of serving dishes that were contemporary with the founding of the country.
Nursing a small Gin and Tonic, very light on the Gin, Alan Barton was seated in a corner table with his back to the wall at the Gadsby’s Tavern waiting for Peter Moore to arrive. He wasn’t worried about recognizing the man. His time spent on the Internet provided everything there was to know about the person named Peter Moore, currently a student at the University of Pennsylvania. That was the easy stuff. It was in probing deeper that he kept running into walls.
His curiosity was aroused. He loved puzzles and would work on one obsessively until he solved it. He hated it when he couldn’t solve one. IvanNoobie had reminded him of a failure and he had been losing sleep ever since receiving the email.
Peter arrived exactly on time. He walked over to the table. Ignoring the gesture to take the chair opposite Alan, he took a seat catty-corner to him so that his back was also to a wall. They exchanged grins suggesting they appreciated the paranoia that each demonstrated.
“I’m Peter Moore, as I’m sure you’ve surmised. It’s an honor to meet you at last, Alan Barton.”
“I want the answer to ‘TheWorldNeedsWhiteHatHackers’ problem.”
Not surprised at the greeting, Peter reached into his pocket and pulled out a microSD card. He put it on the table and said, “It’s on there as four ASCII files on a freshly formatted card. One file is a LaTex file which describes the mathematics of the solution. One is a controller script for acquiring the necessary data from the target machine. One is a FORTRAN program for extracting the private key of the far-end machine based on the data you’ve acquired. One file contains a C program for generating a string that the target machine will encrypt to whatever 32-character string you want.”
Alan looked at the card, then up at him, and then back at the card. He frowned. He started to move and then froze in indecision. Finally, he gave up and pulled out his throw away cell phone. It took a half a second to slip the microSD card into it. A few seconds later, he was looking at one of the files.
“You get the target machine to encrypt 512 known phrases?”
“That’s the minimum amount of data necessary to extract the private key from the target machine.”
He opened another file. He whistled softly. Looking up at Peter, he said, “This program is a monster.”
“It has to be. It’ll take about a day on a high-end gaming machine loaded with a monster GPU to extract the private key. It’s all computation, no guessing.”
“Why not use something bigger and better than a gaming machine?”
“I never run the program on any hardware accessible by anyone else. I’m sure that you can understand why.”
“I understand. I’ll have to study the program to understand it.”
“You’ll need to read the paper first.”
“The last program?”
“For it to generate the desired end phrase takes several days to a week, but eventually it will spit out an answer.”
Alan shook his head in wonder. He asked, “How did you manage to come up with it?”
“I didn’t. I’m not that smart.”
“Who did come up with it?”
“An alcoholic mathematician came up with the basic transformations while on a one week bender, but it was incomplete. I got the outline of it from him before alcohol took him out. I went to his funeral. I don’t believe he shared it with anyone else. At least, I’ve never come across any evidence to suggest otherwise.”
“You didn’t get the whole thing from him?”
“No. It took four other mathematicians six months to fill in the details. None of them knew the whole algorithm, just a piece of it. They each thought they were working on a signal processing algorithm.”
Alan opened up the cell phone and took out the battery. There was always the chance that the SDCard had installed a tracking program. Peter watched him with a smile.
Alan said, “I appreciate what you did for Ann. I didn’t know how to stop him.”
“How much did you know about him?”
“That’s how I stopped him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I tricked him into having a conversation with a big, ugly, angry, black man, who proceeded to inform the creep that he knew everything about him. If he ever heard about the creep contacting Ann in any way, that his bank accounts would be cleaned out, his investment portfolio turned into junk stocks, his credit cards maxed out, his loans would be defaulted, and a big, ugly, angry, black man would be forced to have another visit with him only it wouldn’t be so friendly.
“Just to make a point, half of his savings account disappeared that afternoon.”
Impressed, Alan said, “That would do it.”
“In case you’re worried, it was deposited in his ex-wife’s account. I felt she deserved it.”
“So what do you want from me?”
“I’d rather tell you after dinner. This is my first time here and I’d like to taste some cuisine from the Revolutionary time period.”
“The food here is pretty good. I eat here quite often, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
“Great. What would you recommend?”
“I almost always go with the Gentleman’s Pye or George Washington’s Favorite. The Gentleman’s Pye is beef and lamb in a wine stew with mashed potatoes and pastry. It’s pretty good. However, I’m in the mood for duck, so I’ll probably go with George Washington’s Favorite.”
“Both of those do sound good. I very seldom have duck, so I think I’ll give that a try.”
Alan made a gesture and a waiter came by the table. The two men placed their orders. There was a moment of awkwardness after the waiter left. They were essentially strangers to each other, yet each knew a tremendous amount about the other. There was an unspoken agreement not to discuss technology.
“How are you liking the University of Pennsylvania?”
“My freshman year started out pretty bad. You’d think that we were toddlers based on all of the Freshman — I mean First Year — courses we had to attend. They were brain-numbingly dull. By mutual agreement with the Provost, the Dean, and the Department Chair, I was able to avoid the ‘First Year Seminar’ and technical literacy courses.”
“I read a little about that. Lots of emails were sent back and forth with your name figuring prominently. You really hammered that woman.”
“She had it coming.”
“You can say that again. I read that guy’s journal. I’m really surprised he’s still alive.”
“If you can call being hooked on heroin being alive. His life exists from fix to fix now.”
“Are you going to do anything for him?”
“There’s not much I can do.”
Alan frowned. He said, “I run into that kind of situation in my job. Mostly I hate what I do. You and I both know that what I do is criminal, but it’s the government who is doing it. Still, I occasionally get to take down a real bad guy. That’s the only thing that makes the job bearable.
“I love taking down the bad guys, particularly those who operate in DC. Officially, I get about three of them a year. In reality, it is more like one a month. I’m always left a little dissatisfied. I can take down the villain, but I can’t help the victim.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“It’s like Ann’s father. He lost everything when his identity was stolen. I got the guy who did it put away, but I couldn’t get her father his money or credit rating back.”
Peter relaxed into the back of his chair. He said, “I meant to look up what happened to the thief, but I didn’t get around to it.”
“He went to prison. He got out and was offered a job making big bucks with one of the powerhouse financial firms. With a little help from yours truly, he was caught embezzling. He went to prison again. When he got out, none of the financial or security firms would touch him. When someone has proven they can’t be trusted in that business, they are dead. Well ... with one exception. The None Such Agency hired him. He managed to stay there for six months before it was discovered that he was selling secrets. He denied it, but the evidence was clear. He’s now locked away in a deep, dark, and very unpleasant place.”
“Good job,” Peter said with admiration.
“Ann always treated me nicely, despite the fact that I wasn’t the greatest person around. Her father is a really nice guy. He could have turned bitter, but he didn’t.”
“That speaks well of his character.”
Four people sat down at the table next to theirs. Two of the four were well known people in the news business. They were loud and obnoxious. Even worse, they were talking about the recent election. For the second time in a row, the wrong candidate won. At least as far as they were concerned.
Alan muttered, “Fools.”
“Someone needs to take them down.”
“It was a partial success. The word got out.”
Peter looked over at the table next to theirs. The people there were already ordering second drinks. Peter and Alan rolled their eyes when the news people went off on a rant about how groups like WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and crackpots on YouTube were trying to derail the current political system. They readily admitted that it was broken since the wrong person was elected to the presidency, but part of the problem was that the voters weren’t keeping to the program.
Peter asked, “Do you follow any sports teams?”
“No. Do you?”
“No. I’ve always felt that Aldous Huxley was correct when he wrote, ‘A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time, not on the spot, not here and now and in their calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those who would manipulate and control it.’ I believe that entertainment industry and professional sports are the modern day equivalents to the Roman Circus.”
“You’re ‘preaching to the choir.’ When I was in my early teens — that was back before I discovered the computer — I was into Star Wars big time. I must have watched every Star Wars movie twenty times. I could spout lines from it on demand. I dug into the trivia surrounding it. If I wasn’t in school, I was off into Star Wars.
“One day, I was talking to Ann’s father. He asked me something that just absolutely amazed me. I was blathering on about something to do with Star Wars and he asked, ‘How does knowing that crap help you?’ I was about to respond when he asked if I thought it would attract Ann’s attention. Before I had a chance to answer, he said that she detested that movie and I was boring her to tears each time that I talked about it.”
“That’s not what a teenage boy wants to hear,” Peter said with a low chuckle.
“You can say that again. I guess he knew that I had a pretty bad crush on her at the time.”
“No,” Alan protested holding up a hand. He said, “It’s nothing like that.”
“Sure it is. Your voice changes every time you say her name. It gets ... wistful.”
Irritated, Alan said, “You’re interrupting my story.”
“It was one of those moments they call an epiphany. It was like the world shifted beneath my feet. For five full minutes I saw things a lot clearer.
“He then followed through with his point. He said, ‘You have to be special, different from everyone else, but in a good way. You’ve got to have a talent that lets you stand out from a crowd. It’s got to be something that’s essential to whom you are. Sports are no good. The body ages and you lose the ability to play the game. You are put on the sideline, an observer, not a player.’
“I realized that being a movie fan like I had been was just being an observer and not a player. It made me a second-class person. I’m sure that the expression on my face proclaimed to anyone looking what I was thinking. No one wants to be a second-class person.
“Her father reached over and tapped me on my temple. He told me that I had a good brain, with a phenomenal memory, an ability to see patterns others miss, and could solve problems that intimidate others. I could be anything I wanted to be. He pointed out that it wasn’t true of the other guys with whom I talked about Star Wars stuff.
“It was a life-changing moment. Here was an adult who I thought was really a great guy telling me that I could be someone special. I think every young teenage boy has a need to hear something like that from a respected elder.
“I discovered the computer shortly after that. Everyone kept saying, that’s where the money is. I had only been using it a short time before I realized that the money was nothing. I could do things with that machine no one else could do.”
“So what about you?”
Peter said, “My story is a little simpler. I’m small and lightweight. It was even worse back when I was younger and physical strength meant so much to kids. There was a bully who kept picking on me in second or third grade. He’d hit me and I’d go home with bruises or black eyes.
“My parent’s answer was that I needed to learn martial arts so that I could protect myself. After a couple of lessons, I tried to fight back and got creamed. He pummeled me. I started for home crying along the way. Then something strange happened. It stopped hurting before I got more than a couple of blocks away. I wasn’t in pain, but I was angry by the time I got home.
“So there I was: too small to defend myself. People telling me I needed to learn martial arts, but it didn’t do a damned bit of good. All it did was making the beating I received worse.”
Alan said, “I saw that happen too many times.”
Peter said, “Taking control of my life started with something I overheard someone say. Knowledge is power. I know you’ve heard that. It’s almost a cliché among those like us.”
“It was one sentence, but it got me to wondering exactly what it meant. Remember that I was about eight or nine at that time. How could knowing something make you powerful? Could knowledge make you powerful enough to defeat your enemies who were bigger and stronger than you were?
“The second piece of the puzzle came when I went out from my room one night to tell my parents good night. They were watching a movie on television and I decided to wait to bid them good night until the commercial came on. I think I watched about five minutes of it, but it was the right five minutes. I only remember one scene and that was of a guy sinking in quicksand. The hero of the story was being chased by a bunch of bad people. He knew the area and they didn’t. He kept leading them into traps because he knew what to avoid and they didn’t. He had knowledge that they lacked and it made him more powerful than all of the bad guys combined.
“The next time I ran into the bully, I insulted him and ran. He chased after me shouting threats that he’d beat me up. I ran right to a branch that crossed over a creek bed. I slowed down and crossed the creek terrified of falling and killing myself. Today, I’d laugh about how shallow it really was, but at that time it was like I was leading him over the Grand Canyon. I got across, but he didn’t. The branch snapped right when he was in the middle. He fell and fell hard; just as I had planned. He broke his leg which was an injury that I hadn’t even considered in my plan.
“I stood there looking down at him while he was rolling around and crying. I kept thinking to myself that I would make it a point of always knowing more than anyone trying to harm me. The bully might get in a few blows, but like the song says, ‘Pain hurts, but only for a minute.’ I knew that was true before the song ever came out; I just didn’t have the trite saying that summarized it so effectively.”
“So that made you what you are?”
“That was the beginning. It was a stupid kid’s movie that provided the next great insight. I’m sure you’ve seen it – ‘The Secret of NIMH.’ You can unlock any door if you only have the key. That was a perfect validation of what I had already figured out.”
“I do remember that movie. I always thought that was a pretty significant statement, but I never really thought about it much more than that.”
“The fourth thing was a science program on PBS. They were talking about how man survived when surrounded by huge fierce predators even though we were weak, fangless, and without claws. They were bigger and stronger than us, but we were smart and used tools. A little chip of rock replaced claws. The chip of rock eventually became a knife. We were small and weak, but that knife gave us just that bit of an edge. A stick added to a knife made a spear which extended our reach and improved our chances of survival. The tools we used allowed us to overcome the strong.
“So there I was with a philosophy that could be summarized with four trite sayings. Pain hurts, but only for a minute. Knowledge is Power. You can open any door if you only have the key. Tools enable the weak to overcome the strong. I knew there was something missing in all of that.”
“What was it?”
“By the time I entered my teens, I was reading everything I could get my hands on. One day, I picked up a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince. I nearly dropped the book when I read, ‘The injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.’ That was the missing piece. It was that line in an old book about power that freed me from fear.”
“People laugh when I say that I can take care of myself. They don’t understand how I operate.”
“I can see how you used that against Ann’s stalker.”
“That’s right,” Peter said.
The waiter showed up with their meals. The two ate with only a little conversation. The table next to theirs was getting louder and louder in equal measure with the amount of the alcohol consumed. The bitch session about the disaster of the recent election got more intense. If they hadn’t been highly visible members of the press, the Secret Service would have detained them for making threats against the President elect.
Alan looked across the table and asked, “Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
“What do you think I’m thinking?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m thinking. I have the knowledge. I have the key. I know what is to be done. I’m gathering my tools.”
“Let’s finish and take a walk. We definitely need to talk.”
“I’d really like to enjoy my meal. This is the best duck I’ve ever eaten.”
“It is good, isn’t it?”
The two took their time finishing their meals. The waiter cleared the table, inquired about coffee and dessert which they refused, and then headed off to bring the bill. There was that awkward moment when the bill arrived and both men eyed it.
“I invited you here.”
“You’re a college student.”
“Money is not an issue.”
“Why isn’t it an issue?”
“Knowledge is power. I know who to watch and I do as they do. They get rich at the risk of getting caught. I just get rich. Occasionally, when they are doing something real nasty, I make sure they get caught.”
“Have it your way,” Alan said.
Peter paid the bill with cash. Seeing the look from Alan, he said, “I avoid using credit cards. There’s no use letting certain companies build a complete and accurate profile on me.”
“Aren’t you worried about getting robbed?”
“No. I can take care of myself.”
Alan laughed. It wasn’t the derisive laughter Peter’s comment usually provoked. It was more the laugh you make upon realizing you just said something stupid. He had no doubt that Peter could take care of himself.
Outside, the two men walked along quietly. There were a lot of people out on the street despite the cold weather. It wasn’t until they were nearing the river that the foot traffic thinned out.
“So what do you want from me?”
“I want you to write a second generation of the trawler. The one you wrote for me is getting dated.”
Peter stopped and waited for Alan to catch up.
“What is your handle?”
“I would have bet that you were IvanNoobie.”
“A boy has to keep some secrets.”
“Be that way.”
“It would take some time to do it right.”
“You’ll want to incorporate the script for obtaining the data for the SHA-256 key extraction program.”
“I’ll study it and see what I can do.”
“Is that all?”
“I have a search engine I want you to start using.”
“Why would I want to start using it?”
“Ann needs the results it can produce for her research for her next book. She’s too naïve about the shadow world to be safe. I want you to protect her.”
“What’s her role in this?”
Peter turned down a street that led along the Potomac River. It was possible to see little wavelets on the water reflecting the lights from the city across the way. It was a chilly night. Thanksgiving was past and Christmas was coming. The weather was making the transition to cold and windy. It was bad now, but it would be worse in January.
Peter said, “The system is corrupt. You and I both know it. White Hats have been hard at work trying to protect individual rights to privacy while forcing transparency on government. The exposures of government corruption have been remarkably broad in terms of what has been disclosed to the public. The government makes laws trying to limit White Hats, because it is impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between White Hat and Black Hat.
“The parts that form the government are not functioning properly. All three branches of government are out of control making policy outside their areas of authority. Those individuals within the system of government have no respect for the people they are governing. They exempt themselves from law, effectively giving themselves the privileges of royalty which is unconstitutional. They could use the excuse that they are doing it without bestowing a title of royalty.
“Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution lays out the powers of Congress. All powers not granted to the Federal government reside with the States so long as the laws passed by the States do not infringe on the rights granted to all persons. That is not what is happening. The federal government has been using its wealth to dictate legislation to the states.
“Congress has warped the provisions for security, commerce, and coinage beyond all reasonable interpretation of what is actually granted to it. It took a constitutional amendment to prohibit the sale of alcohol, but the Federal government is regulating all kinds of substances without restriction on its powers. How is marijuana different from alcohol? One is a plant that grows like a weed and the other is a manufactured product. The only right the federal government has over the sale and distribution of marijuana is taxation.
“It isn’t only the government that is corrupt. Our watchdog, the Press, is failing us. It has become a propaganda machine, rather than a watchdog. There is nothing in the Constitution granting the Press the right to select candidates, yet you heard our wonderful members of the press talking about how they failed to get their candidate elected, and that it was up to them to remove the elected individual from office. The Constitutional provisions for removing a President are spelled out quite clearly and they do not involve the press.
“The Constitution does not grant corporate entities civil rights or civil liberties. It does not give corporations the right to purchase legislation, donate to candidates, or influence law. The Constitution starts with ‘We the People’, not ‘We the People, Corporations, and Charitable Organizations’ yet we act as if it does. As said by Lincoln, it is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Yet the honored role once held by people has been supplanted by corporations being in charge.
“The Federal government gave up its sole right to coin money by handing it over to the Federal Reserve Bank. The Federal Reserve serves the interests of bankers, not government, nor the people, nor the country. As a result, bankers, using the powers of the Federal Reserve, are in charge of the economy, the value of money, and all monetary policy. It’s not just American bankers. It is all bankers, foreign and domestic.”
Alan asked, “Just how bad is it?”
“A number of people list the owners of the Fed as: Rothschild Bank of London, Rothschild Bank of Berlin, Lazard Brothers of Paris, Israel Moses Seif Banks of Italy, Warburg Bank of Amsterdam, and Warburg Bank of Hamburg. That’s not quite correct, though. In fact, some will say that it is absolutely wrong. They don’t own it or even a part of it.
“If you go to the website for the Federal Reserve Bank, it will tell you that the Fed has no private ownership. Then it will go on to say that commercial banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System hold stock in their District’s Reserve Bank. They argue that owning Reserve Bank stock is quite different from owning stock in a private company because they are answerable to Congress. Except, they aren’t. Not really. There’s never been a full audit of the Federal Reserve Bank.
“There is a flat out denial that foreign banks hold stock or have influence over the Federal Reserve. Are they telling the truth? They will point to the structure of the Fed, the supposed governance, and the laws under which the Fed was created. However, the GAO has no authority to audit the dealings of the Federal Reserve with foreign governments and other central banks. In other words, structurally, functionally, and legally it is a private corporation that isn’t really a private corporation; it is owned, but it isn’t owned; it is overseen, but by a body that actually can’t oversee it.
“The end result: there’s what they say happens and there is what actually happens. Banking is one of the least competitive businesses in the world. The big banks are business partners, and partner is the operative word there. All of the big banks in this country have interests in foreign banks. All of the big foreign banks have interests in the big banks here. It is one big happy family.”
“I guess I knew that, but I didn’t want to think about it,” Alan said.
“You need to think about it if what I expect to happen, does happen.”
“What’s going to happen?”
“The system is going to die if something isn’t done soon.
“If it was a computer, we’d execute a ctrl-alt-del to reboot it. This isn’t a simple thing to accomplish, but that is what is required. Metaphorically, I’m putting into place a means of executing a ctrl-alt-del.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“It starts with control. The reboot has to be controlled or else the entire system will explode. I don’t want a revolution. I want to retain the constitution. To do that, enough social energy has to be generated to force change. This isn’t the kind of thing that people do on their way to a Sunday afternoon football game. It requires people to get out and protest. It requires directed emotion and a widespread desire for change.
“Then there’s alt. An alternative to how things are currently being done has to be provided. Without an alternative in place, things will just degenerate into anarchy. That’s what has hurt every past effort to change the system. There has been no true workable alternative put forth. The Tea Party failed because they elected members of an existing political party. They had no alternatives. Saying that you want to return to how things were done in the past doesn’t work. We live in today, not the past.
“Finally, there’s the delete. To tell the truth, I’m really looking forward to the delete. That’s when the current powers are rendered powerless. It’s the day when what they say is ignored because nobody wants to listen to them. The mainstream press, career politicians, leading bankers, and corporate leaders will shout orders and no one will obey. The military will stand down and watch the current leaders fail.”
“Sounds nice, but implausible. Where do I fit in?”
“Part of my control strategy is to increase the tension within society: to feed fuel to the fire of discontent. That’s where Ann fits in. She’s one of the people who will be implementing this portion of my plan. She’s going to write some books that resonate with the discontent already felt by the American people. She’s going to help prime the pump and start the angry crowd moving.
“Your role in this is twofold.
“You need to protect her. She’s going to do research about real people, real crimes, and real conspiracies led by very powerful people. If she isn’t careful, they will discover what she is doing and go after her. She doesn’t know enough about the shadow world to survive on her own. That’s what you know best. Her queries for data have to be funneled through you so that you can provide the security necessary.”
“I can do that.”
“I need you to do one other thing.”
When Peter didn’t volunteer what it was he wanted, Alan asked, “What?”
“I need you to improve the Parasite program.”
Alan stopped and grabbed Peter’s arm. With more force than necessary, he spun Peter around until the two men were facing each other. The expression on Alan’s face was murderous. The Parasite program was dangerous. In some ways it was worse than a virus, trojan or worm. This was a program that lived only in computer memory, and would wrap itself around an operating system command, collect data, and when its mission was complete, it would unwrap itself and disappear taking the data with it. That sounds pretty innocuous, but what if it is the login or a sudo (superuser do) command? Even tracking what directories a user visits can provide insights into what people are doing. Execute an operating system command to open a file and all of the file contents become yours. Execute a script and everything that it touches can be identified. Use a compiler and it can inject code into the executable.
“How did you find out about Parasite? Only two people in the world know about it!”
“You wrote it for me. I paid you $50,000 for it.”
Alan staggered back a step. He asked, “You’re AvengingAngel?”
“Son of a bitch. I always thought that handle belonged to a chick. How many handles do you have?”
“Quite a few.”
“Alan, you’ve got to understand. I’m not a programmer. I couldn’t write a program to save my life. I use programs. When I need a program that doesn’t exist, I find the very best person to write it for me. I told you, I’m a tool user.
“I’m not a hacker in the conventional sense of the word. I’m basically a script kiddie. It’s just that I get the very best of the best to write the scripts for me. It allows me to survive in a pool of very talented people who could chew me up and spit me out without even thinking about it.”
About the biggest insult one could give even a moderately good hacker was to call them a script kiddie. Peter was saying that he was the lowest skilled kind of person who broke into systems. Until Peter had said that, Alan had no concept that his skills were so poor. He knew the reputation of the handles he had mentioned. He’d have sworn they were experts.
“What I do know how to do is collect information, organize it, analyze it, and use it to its fullest. I’m very good at that. If knowledge is power, then I’m the most powerful person alive. The rich and powerful ... humph ... I own them. I know every one of their dirty little secrets.
“You and I operate by very different rules. You break into a system looking for very specific things to take down bad guys. I break into a system to gather data to be mined without knowing what I will learn from it. I only know that I will learn something from it. I identify both the good and the bad; the best and the worst. I prevent the bad from seriously hurting the good. You want to take out the bad guys; I’m out to save the world.”
Alan stared at him.
“I know the real world identities of half the elite hackers in the world. Those I don’t know for a fact I have narrowed down to two or three people. Ann gave me your identity as Samson when she described her computer system. I knew that you were from the same area where she grew up, and I knew that kind of setup was your trademark. One comment from her, and bingo, you were busted. It is as simple as that. It is always that simple.
“You’re good. You’re one of the top ten in the world. From my perspective, the only weakness you have is that you don’t have a goal. You are aimless. You need to be given a direction. I’m the best person in the world to aim you. You’ll even like where I send you.”
He looked directly in Alan’s eyes and said, “Admit you love Ann. When you decide that you want to be on my team and write an updated version of Parasite, I’ll allow you access to the most powerful analysis tools in the world. You’ll use them on Ann’s behalf to provide her with what she needs to know in order to make her one of the greatest writers of all time. The two of you will change the world.
“You know three of my handles. Contact me when you make up your mind.”
Peter turned and walked away without looking back. Alan watched him walk off unable to make up his mind if Peter was one of the good guys or not. How much of what he’d heard was actually true? He was reminded of the phone in his pocket. If the programs on the SDCard actually did as Peter said, then he had broken SHA-256. No matter how one sliced it, that was impressive. A script kiddie wouldn’t even think of doing that.
He pulled out his cell phone thinking about the SDCard inside it. He came to a decision and headed towards his car at a fast walk. Watching from around a corner, Peter smiled and said, “Gotcha!”
At home, Alan sat down at his desk. He turned on the computer that was on one of his private LANs, one that was never connected to the Internet. He spun up a dozen virtual machines and then inserted the SDCard into the card reader. There were four files. Each file was copied to a different virtual machine. He ran his scrubber program, essentially an antivirus program that operated by analyzing source code rather than binary. Five minutes later, it came back with the message that nothing malicious was found.
Now he went to work testing the programs. He generated a private key, ran the program to generate the 512 encrypted values, and copied them onto a different virtual machine. He ran the program to extract the private key. He sat back and watched the screen for a minute. It was going to take a day or two according to Peter, but that was okay.
He ran Latex on the text file to read the mathematics behind the algorithms. His eyes nearly bulged out on seeing how complex the equations were as he sent the formatted paper to the printer. He went into the kitchen to start the coffee pot, and returned to his desk grabbing the article from the printer. He sat back and started reading.
Not many people could have understood what was in the article. Alan had a PhD in mathematics and he found it daunting. He grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil, took a deep breath, and dived into the article. This was one of the most difficult papers to read that he had ever encountered.
Two hours later, he paused to get a cup of coffee. The machine had turned off and the coffee was cold. He poured it into a cup and nuked it. Having to nuke the first cup of coffee out of the machine was a pretty common occurrence. The whole reason he got a machine that turned off after sitting there for half an hour was that he was tired of the smell of burnt coffee that tended to develop when he got into a project like this.
He sat back with his coffee and looked over his scratchings on the pad of paper. He had verified that the first two equations undid part of the encryption algorithm; at least he had verified it to his satisfaction. That had taken him through the first four inches of the article. Only a bunch more pages to go.
Twenty seven hours later, eyes blurred, needing a shave, and having to stifle a yawn, he sat in front of the computer wearing his underwear and bathrobe. He was surrounded by little balls of paper on the floor and two pads filled with equations. He still had more pages to cover, but he was finally getting into the mindset of the guy who had come up with the equations. Things would go faster from here on out.
The paper was set off to the side for the moment. He was watching the progress bar on the program for extracting the secret key. It was hung at 99.9% and seemed like it was taking forever for that last one tenth of a percent. Once again he was reminded why he hated and loved progress bars, they were only estimates, and were usually wrong. Finally, the program spit out an answer. Blinking his blurry eyes to clear them, he compared the answer with the secret key on the original machine. They matched.
“Son of a bitch! He was telling the truth.”
Phase one of testing was done. Now it was time to generate a password. He wondered what phrase he could use to test the second problem. He typed out, “EveryGoodBoyDoesFine.” It was four characters short. He added, “Real” between the word ‘Does’ and the word “Fine’. His music teacher would have had a fit, but that brought the string up to twenty-four characters. He started the second program.
He looked at the paper thinking he should get back to work on it. He looked over at the clock. He was dead tired. There had been too many nights already spent trying to figure out how someone had managed to get the encryption program to produce a specific string without the paper. He looked over at the coffee pot only to find that it was empty. He was hungry. He was more hungry than tired, and that decided him on what to do next.
Sitting at his table, he ate a bowl of cereal. It was the healthy kind with lots of grains, nuts, and dried fruits. He was going to have to get over to the gym or go for a long jog tomorrow. One of the dangers of his job and his ‘hobby’ was that he could easily become a couch potato. He’d think about that tomorrow. For now, he just shoveled cereal into his mouth, not even tasting it.
It was the following noon when he shuffled out of his bedroom wiping the sleep from his eyes. He noticed the cereal bowl on the table. He had left it there rather than taking it into the kitchen and rinsing it out. There was a ring of milk scum in it. He hated that. He grabbed the bowl and continued into the kitchen. He put the bowl in the sink under the faucet and let the water run. He turned to look at the coffee pot. He hadn’t left it ready to start. He normally left it so that all he had to do was push the brew button. He went through the process of preparing the coffee maker to brew a pot of coffee. He turned off the faucet to let the bowl soak until he was ready to do the breakfast dishes.
Not waiting for the brewer to produce a full cup of coffee, he emptied the pot into a cup and put the pot back. He wandered over to the desk. There were still balls of paper on the floor. Normally, he would have shredded them before going to bed.
“I must have been tired last night.”
He glanced over at the computer. It was still on. The results of the previous night were still showing. The extracted key and the hidden key were identical. He hadn’t imagined it. He stood there looking at the screen drinking his coffee. It had that bitter oily taste to it. He grimaced thinking back to his days in college. One of his college roommates was a self-proclaimed coffee maven and used say that one had to throw away the first half-cup of a brew since it usually contained the oils that had seeped out of the beans. He figured the guy was a kook, but he was right that the second cup usually tasted better when the first cup was tossed.
He returned to the kitchen, emptied the cup, rinsed it out, and refilled it with coffee. He took a sip. It definitely tasted better. He stood there staring at the stove wondering what he should have for breakfast: bacon and eggs or pancakes. It didn’t really matter. He’d eat it alone and barely notice the taste of the food. He took another sip of coffee finding that his brain cells were starting to wake.
Coming to a decision, he picked up his cell phone and made a call.
“Hello, Ann. This is Alan.”
“I’m thinking of quitting my job and moving to New York.”
“Wow! That’s great. I’d love to talk to you about it, but I’m on my way to meet Dr. Bowlings. I’ll call you back after my meeting. I’ll have just a bit of time to talk before the book signing session here.”
“Okay,” Alan said.
“I’ll talk to you later.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
She hung up. Dissatisfied by the outcome of the call, he looked at the phone thinking about the implications of her meeting with Peter’s professor friend. In terms of his having a real choice in his future, this was not good news. He knew the outcome that was looming over him.
He took a swallow of his coffee and moved over to the desk. The balls of paper got unfolded and tossed into the paper shredder. The pads of paper went into his safe. Hating what he was about to do, he shutdown the computer before it had a chance to finish running the program he had started the previous night, or was it earlier that morning.
After a quick change of clothes, he was headed to his car. Depending upon the traffic, it was only two hours or so to Philadelphia. He’d catch her at the university or at the bookstore. He wanted to know what she was thinking and wasn’t willing to wait. He suspected that Dr. Bowlings was another of Peter’s tools and that she’d be moving there to work closer with him.
Muttering, he said, “I’ve got a feeling I’ll be moving to Philadelphia.”
He drove off without turning off the coffee pot. That was okay. It shut itself off a few minutes after he’d left.
Edited by Morgan
Edited By TeNderLoin