Hacked Your Last

Guess what, the agent wrote to me, we’ve got your sorry ass. You can come quietly, or you can get your cajones cuffed. I replied: I don’t think you have me at all, so this discussion is entirely academic.

HackedYourLast: Not academic, my friend; this discussion is exactly about your health and welfare. You will be given only one chance.

I guess I should have been grateful for the one chance. They had been waiting for me when I connected to my orbital server — my alarms told me that — and invited me to a chat. (Okay, actually, technically I hadn’t hacked the satellite at all, but a computer that was both on the protected network for controlling the satellite and on the Internet through a tunnel to another computer I had compromised.) Since the talk session was on the machine itself, there seemed to be no additional risk in doing so. The real risk was remaining connected to the server, but I had an overwhelming need to find out how much they really knew — even though the only goal in this communication was to hold me on the server long enough to locate my place of origin.

Fortunately there were numerous zombie computers between me and the server, including a ring of machines that were interwebbed to conceal my point of entry. But I knew that this was not going to prevent them from finding me, given sufficient time.

If you really had me, I said, you wouldn’t wait to take me down. So this is clearly a bluff.

The agent replied: That’s a nice theory, but the fact of the matter is that we already know who you are and have just been waiting for you to incriminate yourself with the cameras running.

For an instant I could feel the impact of this in my heartbeat and endocrine system, a stutter in my self-confidence and self-defense. It was not implausible. But also a bit comforting: if they were my usual adversaries, I would be dead already. These were telecom cops. But who was looking over their shoulders?

DontThinkSo: So, Mr. Agent Man, what is my one chance?

HackedYourLast: We are willing to see the charges reduced to a minimal felony, if you cooperate. Written confession. Description of your methodology. Since this is a non-violent offense with no monetary loss — you’re likely to get a few months and probation. But cooperation is the key. If you disconnect now, my friend, every deal is off the table, and we make an example of you.

DontThinkSo: And what kind of example does hacking a satellite make?

HackedYourLast: Does endangering national security sound like an example? Any jury would put your balls on a spit for that.

DontThinkSo: How does the headline go? Maybe: “Lunkheads leave backdoor open on billion dollar satellite.” Smaller type: “Teenage kid takes over communications link.”

HackedYourLast: Very funny. …

I breathed through a heart-thumping pause, waiting for the give-away.

… What would your parents think?

For a moment I was relieved: they swallowed that I might be a brilliant but harmless teenaged hacker. But was this hook itself a plant? How could I know when they had played their last card?

I cut the connection.

I set the zombies aflame and retreated to my home. That was the end of my website, the hack and my access to the Net. I had to lay low for a while, given their proximity and, frankly, given the lack of effective Plans C, D, E and F. Plan G was ready to go, but it required a certain pause as well. The next few days would be difficult, as I waited for signs whether they had found their way to me. In the meantime — act as if nothing had happened, prepare the way for the new approach.

In recognition of this changeover, the next installment will be the tale that Bluthe riffed on the demented vision of Gary’s grandmother. In fact, I set this story coursing around the Internet to show that I was still alive. This prevented the most radical plan of all from being implemented, which would have publicly documented with names and contact info all the real actors in this drama. One kind of safety at the cost of another.