For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
“Hi, Frank? It’s Jake.” Balancing the phone between his ear and shoulder, Frank paused in his work. Jake… Jake? Best play it safe. His gaze idly moved over his EarthFirst! posters, many of which he had designed. His favorite was simple, a photo of the globe surrounded by encroaching black clouds of smog. No slogan; only an Earth First! logo at the bottom identified its source.
This poster reminded Frank of why he slogged to work every day at Titan Software Company, the fastest-rising star in the software world and a major facilitator of some of the worst environmental degradation around the globe. He smirked softly: without Titan’s software, the oil drilling would stop; mountaintop removal mining would come to a screeching halt; logging would wither up and vanish; coal-burning power plants would stop belching their hideous poison… in short, the world would be a much better place. Yet here he was, loyally coming to work every day, churning out more and more code that would prop up society’s greatest ills.
The pause probably seemed imperceptible to this Jake character, so Frank put on a friendly voice and said, “Hi, what can I do for you?” Safely noncommittal, but still amiable.
“Well, I need a favor—” Ahhh. That phrase rang a bell. This was the kid from that night class Frank had taken on Titan’s dollar a while ago. Nice kid, but seemed to mooch a little too often for his own good. “See, I’m working on a project for—” Frank heard an abrupt pause, as if Jake had been cut off for a moment, and possibly some murmuring in the background.
“Hey, sorry, I’m still here. Cell phones… Anyway, I’m doing this project for school, and we need to see copies of all the code for all the Light Box 2007 versions. I was hoping that you’d be able to help us out.”
Continue reading.Frank’s eyebrows rose, but his fingers resumed typing. He felt confident now, well-informed and in control. “Jake, please, come on,” he said, adopting a man-to-man confidante type of tone. “Any source code written by Titan Software is totally secret and proprietary.”
“I know, and my partner and I tried to go through channels, but we keep getting stalled at every point. I thought of you because we know each other, and you’ve helped me out of a few jams before.” Sure, Frank thought, like letting you copy some of my code for that complicated project. Who cares about that when it’s some lame college class? This was the real world.
“It’s more than my job’s worth” (as if, Frank thought, he have a rat’s fart about this job) “even to think about just handing even one page of source code over to anybody not in Titan Software. Sorry, man, but you’re going to have to look somewhere else.”
Jake sounded more than hopeless when he replied, “Please. This could literally make or break not just Titan, but the whole country. I’m not kidding.”
“Jeez,” Frank feigned astonishment. How could a college kid possibly have noticed that Frank’s little insertion would break a company as powerful as Titan Software? And the whole country? Jake was more right than he knew, but Frank would die before giving that particular tidbit away. “You might as well tell me what the deal is, and I’ll see if I can’t do something.” Who knows? Frank smiled. He might even come out the good guy in this situation.
“We were looking at the code for the Elite version of the OS,” Jake explained, then paused. Frank heard other voices in the background, but couldn’t distinguish words. Then Jake was back. “We just happened to stumble across this strange bit of code that’s unfamiliar to us—I have no clue what it might do, but we wanted to see if it was included in every Light Box 2007 version.”
“You don’t know what it would do, huh?”
“No clue. But it looks out of place. And it’s in the section that seems to regulate the system’s security, defining who gets to be what type of user.” He sounded sincere. Frank knew Jake thought of himself as a programming prodigy, but he couldn’t know everything. Certainly it wasn’t likely that a twenty-year-old kid and his class partner would stumble across that particular code and recognize its significance.
“Listen, I don’t think I can help you.” Jake’s sigh came clearly over the phone. “…But I will refer you to the gal in charge of security. Emily Pennyworth. If it’s in the security section, she’s definitely the person you want to talk to. Her number is 425-543-3210.”
“Thanks, man,” came the profuse reply. Frank smiled to himself: Sure enough, he came out the hero after all.
Returning to work, Frank pondered. The kid was harmless, really, but if somebody like that had already noticed his little addition to Emily’s security code, the plan might have to be moved up somewhat. White hat hackers might well notice the security flaw and bring it to Titan Software’s attention before Frank’s friends could fully exploit it. Yes, it definitely seemed like a good idea to move the timeline up.
Frank pushed back his swivel chair, leaning out to see around his cube wall. “Larry.”
“What’s up, bro?” The tall black man immediately turned from his computer—Frank noticed with some surprise that it looked like Larry was actually working—and leaned in to talk with Frank. Larry had decorated his cubicle with nature photos he had taken while backpacking in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. He was an avid outdoorsman who hated the thought of his sanctuary slowly being consumed by sprawl.
“You know that code we wrote for Emily?”
“Yep.” Larry moved in a little closer, lowered his voice a bit.
“This kid I met at the UW just called me. He was poking around the Elite version and happened to notice this anomalous section of code. He wanted me to give him source code for the other versions so he could see if it was in there, too. I told him no way, and sent him on a wild goose chase.”
“But he noticed it.” Larry’s voice was flat, his eyes glinting dangerously. This code, he hoped, would help preserve his special natural places for his great-grandchildren. Frank could almost see him thinking, ‘No upstart college kid is going to kill this dream.’ “Did he know what it’s for?”
“Not yet, but he’s sharp. I’m just concerned he might tell somebody.” Larry clenched his fists, and Frank hastened to add, “I don’t want him hurt. Seriously. We’re not trying to hurt anybody here.”
“No,” Larry agreed, hands slowly unclenching. “No, you’re right. People are part of nature, too.”
“We just abuse it. We don’t understand how to live within nature’s limits,” Frank spoke almost by rote, reminding Larry of familiar ideas. “This will force us to obey the laws of nature rather than the laws of mankind.”
“Okay. So what do you want to do?” Assessing his friend, Frank decided that Larry didn’t look likely to go rampaging out to beat Jake to a bloody pulp. “I think we just c
ook up a story for Jake—that’s the kid—and I can call him back. He’s gullible. If I have a good story, he’ll buy it and forget about it.”
Larry nodded. “And we’ll keep an eye on what people say about Light Box,” he added firmly. “If this Jake does post anything online, we might have to do something a little more drastic.”
Frank had to agree. But he felt confident, as he rolled back into his cube and started cleaning up a kludge he had noticed earlier, that he and Larry would come up with a convincing explanation for the section of code Jake had noticed. The future of the world hung on this explanation, so it had better be damn good.
Hanging up the phone in the N.U.N.S. headquarters, Jake shook his head. “He didn’t know anything, and he’s not going to help.”
“Are you sure?” Jim didn’t even glance away from his World of Warcraft battle. If Jake didn’t know better, he would have thought Jim didn’t care about this project. Instead, he knew that Jim was just letting it all percolate through, and the World of Warcraft was simply Jim’s way of twiddling his thumbs. Sherlock Holmes had his shag; Jim Dillon had WoW.
“No, but what’re the odds the one guy I know at Titan would know anything about this? He did give me a number for some chick there, though. Emily Pennyworth.”
“Think she’s cute?”
“I don’t know, but I’m the one with her phone number, so forget about it.”
“You think these calls aren’t all recorded? I could have that number in thirty seconds flat.”
“Not when you’re in the middle of a battle, you couldn’t.”
“You wanna bet?” Jim glanced at Jake, a teasing look on his face.
“What’re we betting?”
“You bring in the next six pack. I want diet Pepsi.”
“Pepsi?” Jake pretended to gag. “Anybody who wants Pepsi—diet Pepsi—clearly isn’t smart enough to get a cute girl’s phone number from our recording system in thirty seconds.”
“Put your money where your mouth is, bub,” Jim told him smugly.
“Fine,” Jake said. “If you can do it in 30 seconds, I’ll bring in diet Pepsi. If you can’t, you bring real Coke. Regular.”
“Got a stopwatch?”
Gardner stepped into the doorway as Jake fumbled in his pocket for the watch he always carried around. That broken band hadn’t fixed itself yet, but he kept hoping that it might. “Gentlemen, any progress on this strange code you noticed in those computers?”
“Just a sec,” Jake told him. “This’ll only take thirty seconds. I promise.” Fingers poised, he pointed at Jim. “Three…two…one… GO!”
Fourteen seconds elapsed before Jim said, quite calmly, “425-543-3210.”
“What?!” The screech, a most unmanly sound, caused workers across the hallway to cringe and Gardner to step back a pace. “It took you 16 seconds to hack the phone system and get that number?”
“You owe me six diet Pepsis, thank you very much,” Jim smugly told his companion. “In fact, I could use one right about now. That hacking’s thirsty work, you know.” Defeated, Jake grumblingly departed for the nearest Safeway. He’d pick up a six pack of Coke, too. At least it wouldn’t be a total loss.
When Jake had left, Gardner looked at the back of Jim’s head. “Did you really hack the phones in 16 seconds?”
“No,” Jim answered, laughter in his voice. “Jake repeated the number out loud when he was writing it down. I just had to remember it, that’s all. Have a seat.” He waved to the recently-vacated chair. “Probably still warm.”
“Great,” Gardner muttered as he lowered himself into the sagging chair. “Mind if we do some real work around here? I’m worried about that code you two noticed.”
Jim closed down World of Warcraft and turned to face his boss directly. “We haven’t gotten anywhere as far as seeing more source code for the other Light Box 2007 versions. But if they have this back door—and I bet they do—this won’t just be bad. It’ll be a disaster.”
“How so?” Gardner kept a good poker face. Years of CIA work would do that for a man, Jim figured.
“We’ve determined that this code is totally inert unless the user enters a very specific six-step key. You have to hit Control-Alt-Alt, followed by Control-Shift-X, followed by Delete. Or, handily enough, it can be triggered by sending this computer a very long, specific series of segments of binary code, so you don’t have to be there in person. That activates this particular back door. You know how we said before that it gives you the ability to become a super-user?”
Gardner nodded without looking up. He scribbled notes frantically, trying to keep up with Jim.
“Well, this isn’t just a super-user. I mean it is, technically, but when you get this level of access, you can do anything. You could plant a malicious worm in the computer and nobody would be able to stop you, or stop its spread. You could tell the computer to shut down. Or, let’s say it’s a computer that controls nuclear warheads. Using this back door, you could tell the computer to fire the warheads. You could shut down power plants, industry, the government; you could totally shut down the world’s infrastructure, basically. Any computer with Light Box 2007 is vulnerable to this kind of attack.”
Yes, Jim really admired Gardner’s poker face. Just thinking about the ramifications made Jim’s palms sweat. Coolly, the boss asked, “Is there any way to stop it?”
“Issue a patch,” Jim replied promptly. “The problem is, patches have to be installed by a user.”
“You can’t do an automatic patch?” Gardner still hadn’t looked up; his voice still sounded totally businesslike, as if asking if he could get more lead for his pencil.
“No.” If only.
“We have to alert Titan Software, clearly.” Gardner had moved on to problem-solving, although the millions of terrifying possibilities still dominated Jim’s mind. “Even if only their Elite version has it…”
“I’m confident they all do. I just have a feeling.” This drew a sharp glance from Gardner, who distrusted feelings, but to Jim’s surprise his grizzled boss nodded. It seemed all too likely.
“In any case,” Gardner said, brushing those enormous details aside, “Titan Software has to issue a patch as soon as possible. We don’t have a moment to spare.”
Just then his Blackberry rang. Ever attendant to technology’s call, Gardner answered. “Yes? Oh, Marion, how’s Moses Lake?” Long pause. Slowly his poker face dissolved into one of horror mingled with disbelief. “Drake did what?” Shorter pause, which allowed Jim to imagine Drake in a wide variety of unlikely situations. “How on earth did he fall over the Grand Coulee Dam?”
Jim’s mouth formed a perfect O. He certainly hadn’t imagined a situation that unlikely.
Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.