Plan B

It’s time to let Gary get on with his errands. We’ve got a few ourselves. It’s been a few days for you since I interrupted the story — you’ll recall why — but some things need to be cleared up. First, there’s a new twist to the alien encounter story: the details prove it was a trap intended to to compromise my anonymity. Second, the more technological of you will know that a few days ago there was a sudden interruption in this website’s service and that we subsequently emerged in a completely new guise. Thereby hangs a tale.

But first a tip of the hat to Betsy Frango of Pensicola, FL, for her tale of alien contact. When she first contacted me through the usual means, but with a difference, a tone of excitement and anguish, I thought, sure, this is possible. You’ll recall that I decided some days ago that I was better off ignoring her. But she provided so many details that lent legitimacy — I could be sure this was not the usual nethead trying his best to seem original — while not so much that I felt the story was too pat. The details came slowly, in fits, with retracings and doubt and contradictory conclusions. Even indecision can be faked, but this was nicely done. I still can’t be sure but what Betsy was — well, a patsy. Maybe she did have a contact. But the Betsy who contacted me was a front for the folks who would do anything to see this story halted in its tracks — on the assumption, now mistaken in the extreme, that if they stop me from posting more the story will simply go away. That was never a possibility, even if I hadn’t composed everything I needed, but now there is plenty more material, in strategic locations, a regular network of sleeper cells waiting for the day I disappear.

Despite my reticence, I continued to hear from Betsy, and she finally insisted that we speak real-time. Call me, she suggested, on an untraceable phone. As if that would make me safe? Still, I was intrigued with the possibilities of using voice over IP and a hacked phone switch, and I didn’t put her off completely. Give me a couple days, I said. No, it has to be now, she said, so I decided to make a test of it. I arranged for a zombie computer somewhere to make a voice call through its modem for me after I stored a voice message, disguised tonally of course. I further arranged for another computer to observe the first zombie. It was not an hour after the call — a disappointment for her handlers, for sure, since I had shared nothing about myself — that the observer computer confirmed that the zombie was being scanned, and that locally. Not long thereafter it disappeared from the network, and then the observer itself was hacked and scanned. By then I had begun erasing my many-stop trail of intermediaries, so there was nothing to find. But their confidence in springing the trap immediately and flailing around blindly was a surprise to me. I expected a bit more subtlety. I watched the pertinent newspapers and, sure enough, a rather innocent-sounding unidentified young man in the location of the zombie was arrested on federal charges for nameless acts of cyber-terrorism. All his equipment was confiscated and warrants were issued to uncover his intrusions. He himself was released to his confused parents’ custody.

This has given me endlessly more information about my adversaries, although they have no doubt benefited as well. I fear sometimes that they may have fleeter methods of tracing hacks than I know of, or they may have intrusion tools that are undetectable. I feel confident that I was faster than they were this time, but the next time — who knows? Sometimes it comes down to a race between button clicks and keystrokes, and sometimes it’s just the carousel of the CPU and your code’s execution that determines the order in which you climb off. Erasure, defeat and escape is relative in all things except logical gates; there, on those manmade silicon beachheads, once the battle is over and the spoils in the possession of the victor, the combatants simply dissipate into the nothingness of an unwritten history.

It was not such brilliance that finally got the better of our servers in that secure country somewhere. No, the siege took the shape of a government raid for alleged tax irregularities and, while that was being sorted out in the third-world fashion of greasing palms, an arsonist finished the job. The greasing could at that point no longer continue, and my valiant server team ended up in a most unpleasant prison. I have confidence that they will get out shortly, but I don’t dare ask them to continue. After the server was fried — literally — I activated plan B.

For the less technical among you, here is the rub. If I want to hide my activities from someone, I cannot let them see where I am when I am active. But every chunk of information on the Internet is identified by two pieces of information: whence and whither, the Internet Protocol numbers of the originating computer and destination computer. All the intermediary “hops” or steps are carried out by routing computers that know something about where the destination computer is: at first, only very generally (typically just: outside this neck of the woods) then with increasing specificity until, finally, the last router spits out the Internet packet as one or more Ethernet or ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) packets on some local network somewhere. The destination computer picks the pieces off the wire and stitches them together to create the original information.

Anywhere along the way the routers could conceivably stop and examine the packets in order to see if the contents are contraband. But you may find it simpler to set yourself up at the destination and wait for the right signal — a login process of some kind — and to make a note of the originating address. On the assumption that the origin may be nothing more than an intermediary, you’ll want to use the destination computer to try to hack the originator/intermediary, especially if it is behind a firewall. From a third location, you could try to spoof the destination computer’s IP address, but it’s simpler to use the real thing. A really enterprising hacker could alter the address tables in a router along the way to divert all the traffic to his own private network. But since most applications worth their salt now encrypt communications, you are severely limited in how you can fool the originating computer unless you are within that encryption shell. Again, a not insurmountable problem, but each ring of defense makes a successful assault that much more difficult.

So — the assault on a rogue preferably involves controlling the rogue’s target. That’s what the security of our server had denied these troopers and why they thought it worthwhile to eliminate the server. And if I got away, at the least I might be forced to use a less secure server and might just expose my whereabouts.

But plan B will be a big disappointment for them. There is now a plethora of self-appointed mirror sites advertised across the Internet, one of which you are probably viewing now. The source site I’ve had to relocate and mask in other ways, but the location itself is quite a hoot. I know it won’t last, but for the time being it’s quite an enjoyable ride. Imagine — I hacked into a satellite. Seem impossible? The answer is yes, and that’s why I can openly claim it. But a satellite’s a computer like any other; it needs to reboot on occasion and it needs to be able to accept new programming. There’s no magic there. Telephone switches have always been a favorite target of real hackers, and what’s so different about a giant switch in the sky? Now it’s my billion-dollar secure server. I know this little lark won’t last too long — the responsible parties will need to fess up to their lack of security some day, and when they do they’ll down that bird faster than they can say, “f— you.” But in the meantime, leave them their willful ignorance and me my platform.