Quill sits alone in his apartment. Holomonitors surround him, displaying real-time code output from his computer arrays. The room is dark, aside from the monitors. He begins by checking his firewalls. Then his proxies. Then firewalls on his proxies. This goes on through several layers of proxies. Next is the anti-tracking software. All data gets broken up, sent to a dozen different servers, fed through proxies, rinse, repeat. Then each piece of data, useless in isolation is sent to ten thousand different servers, his included. Of course, his is the only hardware that will receive every piece of data, which he can reassemble and work on.
“Okay,” he mutters to himself, “Here we go.” With that he reaches out, headed for the Spark server, slowly probing the defenses looking for weakness.
The Spark server network, housed in a fortified bunker under the corporate headquarters in New York City, receives the first querying packets from Quill. The central artificial intelligence entity that monitors the network, known as Chorus, dispatches data analysis envoys to determine the validity of the incoming signal. The AI envoys are identified as Singer 3127, Singer 10245, and Singer 129. Quill’s attempt to gain access to Spark’s server will depend on him successfully bypassing this trio of Singers without alerting Chorus.
Quill begins to send out packets to each singer containing identifying information claiming to be from inside the Spark intranet with a simple request for a ping, typical server-to-server noise. Meanwhile, he’s analyzing every piece of data he can get on the singers based on what his packets get back, as well as simultaneously looking for similar Chorus-Singer setups elsewhere on the internet that may provide clues. He’s looking for command routines, what they will report back to chorus and what they won’t, general weaknesses, infinite loops
Singer 3127 considers the packet as it arrives: Internal ping request. An inoffensive request, from a server address that appears to be within the local network. In fractions of a millisecond, Singer 3127 passes the request on to Chorus, with the appropriate clearance flags to warrant approval of the request. The ping goes back to Quill, a sort of electronic handshake that includes an assignment of OPEN AND AUTHORIZED FOR BASIC INTRANET CLEARANCE to the communicating server at Quill’s apartment. Singers 10245 and 129 receive identical pings shortly after 3127, but by the time they do, the server making contact already has its basic clearances. The packets are labeled REDUNDANT and disregarded by the Singers and Chorus.
Quill begins to analyze the handshake, looking specifically at the ‘basic intranet clearance’ section of code. He sets his left hand and part of his attention on altering that bit of code to include read/write level access. At the same time, his right hand sends a basic file directory listing request, hoping his current clearance level gives him that ability. “Lets see if I can locate this data before I start spoofing clearance levels,” he says to himself.
The Singers delegated by Chorus receive and then relay the directory request. Quill receives a response with a list of folders open under the basic internal clearances:
- NEWS RELEASES
- BOARD OF DIRECTORS ROSTER
- CUSTOMER SUPPORT FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- EMPLOYEE CELEBRATIONS SCHEDULE
“That’s what I thought.” He gives his full attention to altering the handshake. Okay, just bumping up the clearance level to engineer/scientist status. Hopefully that won’t raise red flags, not going for top level admin here. He sends the altered handshake along with a directory request, then holds his breath.
It may not be top-level access that Quill seeks, but Chorus is a top-of-the-line reactive AI – part of Spark’s vaunted “evolutionary thinker” series – and when it receives a packet handoff from a Singer that asserts higher clearance than Chorus stored in memory for the requesting site, the AI flags the request. Chorus responds with a query of its own to Quill’s interface: PLEASE PROVIDE STATUS BOOST CONFIRMATION CODE.
“Crap. Okay, okay, umm…” He cuts the connection, setting in motion his prehacking procedures to prevent tracking. Let’s take a different track. Humans are the weak link in any security system. He pulls up a list of mid-level managers working for Spark, working with public social networking sites, press releases, etc… The scientists and engineers probably wouldn’t fall for this, but managers just might. He quickly sets up a log in page on a website that looks similar to spark, then sends out messages spoofed from Spark technical support. “Your network access password has expired. Please log in to update your password.” The messages link to his copy page, requiring people to ‘log in’ with username and password before changing it to a new password. Again, all with care to prevent it being traced to his location. Then he sits back and waits.
It’s been a long week for Wally Fields. The kids kept him up all night with their screaming about the bedtime story he made up about the aliens coming to Sol System to eat them all up if they didn’t eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, and go to sleep on time. At Spark, he’s behind on not one, not two, but three critical projects – including vital adjustments to the dirigible guidance system specifically ordered by Bob Busby himself. So, he’s not thinking too clearly when he gets the phishing message from Quill. Before he can think better of it, he enters the information as requested.
Quill immediately snatches the data. He knows time is short on such things, so he acts quickly. Spoofing Fields’ home network using data gathered from the phishing site, he sends the request to log in using the stolen username and password data.
Quill is now logged into the Spark intranet servers as Wally Fields. Chorus detects a brief hiccup in communication between the system and the machine operated by Wally Fields. It’s not much, the mere ghost of a signal switch. But it’s enough to put the AI on elevated alert. Chorus doesn’t lock Fields down, but does initiate heightened monitoring protocols.
Quill begins acting like Wally would. He checks on his emails, status on assigned projects, careful not to leave anything Wally would notice as out of place. While pretending to check in on Wally’s projects, he looks for the letter ‘T’ data, going through the directories.
During the search, Quill will discover a directory under RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT – CRYPTOGRAPHY AND SIGNALS labeled PINNACLE.
Before Quill opens the Pinnacle folder, he sends off a quick email along the lines of “As per our conversation, I’ll have some of my guys look over the Pinnacle data. Maybe they will turn up something.” The message is sent to another project manager, however the recipient’s address contains a typo. Meaning it should get bounced back, but hopefully provide some cover to Chorus. That sent, he opens the directory.
The mention of Pinnacle in an email transmission raises an alert flag for one of the Singers, which transmits the issue to Chorus. The AI checks the roster of Spark employees approved to review and study Pinnacle message data. Wally’s not on that list. It is possible that an authorized individual within the company gave Wally an off-the-books assignment, so Chorus doesn’t immediately shut the account’s access to the directory. However, it does alert the Pinnacle project supervisor, Dane Kovacz, that Wally is reviewing that directory and wants clarity on next steps. Luckily, for the moment, Kovacz is in the break room making coffee.
In the directory, Quill finds a distinct list of simply labeled files for each letter and space in the Pinnacle message. He may just have time to download one file before Kovacz returns to his desk and gets the alert from Chorus.
Quill quickly grabs the ‘T’ file. The file is sent through a maze of proxies, split and recombined at different points, all to keep it from being traced back to him. As soon as he verifies a complete download, he logs out, taking care to cover his tracks as best as he is able. As soon as he is logged out, he burns his IP address, switching to a completely new one for all network access.
The file is completely downloaded and, although Chorus has raised flags about Wally and probably landed him in a world of professional hurt, Quill is able to depart the system without detection. Now it’s a matter of unpacking and decrypting the Pinnacle letter data.