Chapter 3: Hacked in Seattle

Silicon Follies: By Thomas Scoville. Chapter 3: Hacked in Seattle


Thomas Scoville
March 23, 1999 1:00AM (UTC)

The Man's cluelessness never ceased to amaze him.

Steve Hall worked the keyboard in the near-darkness of his studio apartment. Screenfuls of file listings scrolled past his eyes. Blue Power Ranger, feet glued to the top of the monitor, pumped his plastic action-figure fist up into the gloom.

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A scant 50 yards away, the last CalTrain of the evening bumped and rumbled through the darkness, wailing mournfully.

He was probing the file systems of Seattle Federated Bank's data cores. He was not liking what he had found. His thoughts were a cocktail of contempt, defiance and hurt feelings.

He muttered to himself in dark tones. "Is that the best you can do? Is that what you call security? After all I've done for you? What? You don't like little Stevie any more?"

Weeks ago he had hooked up with a SeaFed systems administrator on Usenet and helped him to performance-tune the OS in the bank's dataserver. In exchange, the admin had provided Steve with a guest account on the bank's beefy server cluster. Fair was fair, but now the admin had apparently experienced a change of heart. It appeared he had pulled Steve's account and tried to lock him out with a gantlet of security patches and tripwires.

That's what had hurt Steve's feelings. And for all his hostility, aggression and problems with authority, Steve had tender feelings. He would make his displeasure known.

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The phone rang. Steve answered on the headset looped over his ear.

"Steve's hack shack. Would you like to be compromised?"

"Uhhh, my computer's, like, stuck or something," came the voice on the other end, a Beavis and Butt-head facsimile.

"Young Paul Armstrong, all-American boy," Steve pitched in his best Golden Age of Radio voice. Then, shifting to his best angry third-world radical, "You still working for The Man, or have you come to beg for ab-so-loo-shun?"

"I've come to beg, but strictly out of self-interest. We're on a big bug hunt over at Clueless/Packrat. I need your brain for a few cycles."

"Oh, man, and here I was thinking you loved me."

Paul could always rely on his oldest friend. "Bitch. Now, get to steppin'."

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Paul characterized the problem at work as he listened to Steve tap away in the darkness. He began to recite a login and password for his client's host, but Steve waved it off.

"Never mind, pink boy. I'm in. Now, tell it all to papa."

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Sixty-eight minutes later, the bug hunt was over. Steve had traced it back to a vestigial feature in the OS stuck deep in a place neither Paul nor anyone on his project team would have ever looked. Paul tried to stroke him, but Steve shrugged it off, as if it were praise for excellence at cleaning toilets.

"This stuff ain't rocket science. You just gotta pay attention. There's this crufty old module way down in the kernel, left over from the Dark Ages of Sys3, and every time they port this stuff to a new machine, it comes back to bite 'em on the ass. Happens every time. Now go and whack your client upside the head with a clue-by-four. And do yourself a couple of times while you're at it. I swear, sometimes I don't know why I hang out with you."

"It's for all the perks. Remember?"

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"Well, you owe me big time for this one. I'm talking Chez TJ and a bottle of Chateau Margaux. And then I get to kick your ass in the simulator at Fighter Town. If I can still stand up."

"You know, young son, you could pull down some serious green if you got out of that hellhole studio and signed up for some contracting work. You wouldn't have to wear a tie. Or shoes, even. I could hook you up with the right bodyshop. You could quit whenever you're full."

"And give up this life of beautiful women and high adventure? What are you, nuts?"

"Well, at least you wouldn't have to spend your life hand-holding slime like me just for a dinner at TJs. When was the last time you got out of town for the weekend, anyway?"

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"Well, I happen to be romancing a little number in Seattle even as we speak."

"Telnet doesn't count, you moron."

They penciled in a date for TJs. Paul made one last attempt to sing the glory of Steve's talent, but in the end all he could do was say thanks and hang up.

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Steve returned to his little project in Seattle.

His worst fears were confirmed. The little worm had tried to lock him out. No explanation, no goodbye, not even a peck on the cheek.

He set to work on the bank's dataserver. Forty minutes later, he had recompiled the kernels on every machine in the bank's cluster. He savored the moment, leaning back in his patio chair, stretching his arms over his head and cracking his knuckles. A maniacal grin eclipsed his face. Extending his right index finger, he made a sweeping, histrionic arm gesture, a devil-windmill arc delivering a single poke of that index finger squarely in the center of the "enter" key.

Somewhere in an office building in Seattle, a junior systems administrator on night shift noticed some unusual activity on the central data server's console. Rolling his chair across the raised floor, he took a closer look. His mouth opened slowly, steadily into a perfect O.

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YOU'LL NEVER CATCH ME. I'M TOO POWERFUL.

... AND NOW, YOUR DATA DISAPPEARS

[POOF]

Segmentation Violation [core dumped]#

panic


Thomas Scoville

Thomas Scoville is either an Information Age savant or an ex-Silicon Valley programmer with a bad attitude. He is the author of the Silicon Valley Tarot.

MORE FROM Thomas Scoville

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Fiction Satire Silicon Valley




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