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Title: In too Deep Author: The Electric Sheep Scribes, A collective

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  • Title: In too Deep Author: The Electric Sheep Scribes, A collective

    Friday. 9:30 PM, Department of Homeland Security Holding Facility, Las Vegas
    “For the record, please state your name.”
    “3D33p, man. Like ‘in too deep,’ but one more.”
    “Your legal name, please.”
    “Anthony Frederickson.”
    “Thank you, Mr. Frederickson. Now, we have more than a few questions for you...”


    Wednesday. 11:30 AM, McCarran Airport Men’s Room, Las Vegas
    “Hey, buddy, what’s shakin’?” I tapped my earbud and pulled my comms out of my pocket. Charlie -- my neckbearded, Call of Duty: Black Ops 16 champ best friend -- popped up on the screen, grinning like a fracking fool. “You in Vegas yet?”
    “Just got in, man,” I adjusted my bag on my left shoulder and turned my comms around, panning back and forth, “Check it out! I’m just leaving the airport. Walk with me for a minute.”
    “Ha! Man, I’m kinda jealous you’re already there,” Charlie laughed. “Blackhat’s beyond bougie since they moved to Tahoe. Did you know they have a frackin’ golf tournament now?”
    I laughed, “Dude, seriously? Dinosaurs, man. Anything cool up there at all?”
    “Not much.” I turned my comms back to face me in time to see him shaking his head sadly, “Talks and stuff. There’s a party tonight. I gotta go schmooze with some of the gov clients, but most of the tech folks are heading back to Vegas tomorrow to get to DefCon. Can’t wait to get done with work.”
    “Sorry to hear it, man. I gotta go. Gonna get a cab over to the con. Call me when you get in. You gotta see this jacket in person, dude.”
    “Alright, D33p! I can’t wait to see this Amazing Technicolor Hack Jacket... Not to mention that other thing,” he winked, and his image blinked out.


    2 May 2034, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
    “Whatcha think, Tony?” Manny asked, grinning like his face was about to split in half.
    I held my arms out. This thing was awesome. “Manny, my man, you’re amazing. I’m never talking trash about Industrial Design again.” The jacket looked like a normal black blazer at first, but when I plugged my comms into it, the fabric would change color to the beat of the music Manny was blasting in his dorm room. That was cool on its own, but it was just one function. It could take all the information for the music playing -- song title, musician, file format, hash info, and encoding quality -- and combine them to make photorealistic patterns on the jacket. I could set it to go from a pulsing, fuzzy black and yellow pattern to a deep blue, with puffy white cloud-lyrics floating across it.
    Every other geek on campus was gonna flip. And let’s face it, at a high-rate technical institute like GT, there were a LOT of geeks on campus.
    “Anything I should know?" I asked Manny.
    “Only one way to find out, man. There’s all kinds of possibilities for this. I mean, I’m not a dev kid. You know I only made it through Code for Jocks by the skin of my teeth. I coded those basic effects, but who knows what you could do with it? Take it for a spin!”
    I had no idea what I was in for.

    Wednesday. 4:40 PM, DefCon Vendor Room, The Wynn Conference Center
    The Feds have so much surveillance tech (literally) floating around these days, it’s not even funny. They have drones the size of a fingertip and aerosol-applied tracking devices. As soon as I got to my room, I stripped down and hit the shower.
    All the external doors at the Wynn were framed with bomb sniffers. It’s not exactly unusual. The Feds consider casinos to be prime terrorist targets -- representations of all the debaucherous crap that is Evil America. But, as I’d stepped through the sliding doors, I could’ve sworn I’d felt a puff of air on my head and the back of my neck.
    Paranoid? Maybe. And, yeah, I sound like a total conspiracy theory whack job, scrubbing off the top layer of my skin to remove ultra tiny tracking devices powered by static electricity from my body heat (that might not even be there). Not something I was gonna advertise, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
    After my shower I decided to build an optic disruptor and burn out any cameras in my room. I know, they’re not supposed to spy on you in bed, but they’re not supposed to tap your phone, either. I hid my exploit comms and headed for the vendors room. I needed some gear.
    I walked around the vendor area till I found what I was looking for: a booth selling high-powered laser pointers. I got a few with 1 Watt output when running on batteries, but if you ran ‘em off wall AC and jailbroke the firmware, you could get almost 5 Watts. It wouldn’t last as long, though. Not a problem, I just needed it till my meeting with the buyer on Friday.
    With the lasers and a small mirror ball, I could rig my “Disco Dazzler” up pretty quickly. Aim the pointers at the ball and the reflections and refractions would kill any optics in the room.
    Even better, I wouldn’t have to worry about the dead drones after their optics roasted. See, it only took the government a few years of low-intensity cyber conflicts back in the ‘20s to get savvy about leaving disabled tech lying around for enemies to pick up. So most small drones will activate a self destruct mechanism and burn the firmware out when their cameras stop working. They don’t even transmit a last goodbye. In this case, The Man’s security measures actually worked in my favor.
    Leaving the vendor room, I checked out the talks for the next few days. I saw some names I recognized and a lot I didn’t. Dan Kaminsky was speaking again this year. “30 Years of Network Black Ops.” I chuckled to myself, then turned to leave, and ran right into a blue-haired girl in a short skirt and tall boots.
    I smiled at her and looked at my shoes. She smiled back and looked at the talk board. I covertly reached in my pocket and turned on the jacket function. I went from a dorky looking guy in a black blazer to a dorky looking guy in an iridescent, color-changing blazer.
    She looked me over and asked, “Is that for me?” in a British accent. Oh man, I was dead meat.
    But I kept my cool. “No ma’am, I’m just cool like that,” with a wink...Is what I wish I’d said. Instead, I didn’t keep my cool at all. I blurted out, “Yeah, I mean, no. I mean, my friend Manny in the Industrial Design department at Georgia Tech -- that’s where I go to school -- he made this for me...” and on and on and on about the history of the fabric, its functions, my major...
    “Hey. That’s all really cool, but--” she interrupted me.
    “Oh man, I’m sorry. I’m wasting your time. You gotta get back to the booth and sell stuff to other nerds. Man, I mean, it must be hard talking to dorks like me all day.” I am the opposite of smooth.
    “--But, I was going to say, I could really use a drink. Would you like to join me?” she smirked, “There’s a pub right over there.”
    I blushed. “I, uh, sure...”
    “I’m not a booth babe, darling. I’m here for a few of the bio-hacking talks. Though I do admit, I’m partially funding my trip by working at my girlfriend’s booth, selling lasers and accessories.”
    We walked over to the “pub” and continued our conversation over drinks. I had my comms out, showing her the upgrades I’d made...

    …And then my watch (Old school, dedicated time-keeping device strapped to my wrist. So cool!) read 2:00 AM. I had spent hours talking to her. Her name was Lindy, and she was from Manchester. And she knew her stuff. Mind == blown.
    “I better get to bed,” she said, catching a glimpse at my watch.
    “It was great talking to you” I smiled.
    “It was lovely to meet you, Anthony… I mean, D33p,” she smiled wryly, standing up, “Why don’t we trade hashes and meet up later? I can explain the bio-hacking stuff if you need help.” Ouch. I was a Computer Engineering major, but I didn’t get biology. A big draw to DefCon for the past 10 years has been the bio-hacking track. This year there was a presentation on how to change your dog’s fur from brown to neon purple by recoding its DNA. And the big one, the latest updates on interfacing a human mind with a computer directly. I didn’t need the, “Don’t try this at home,” disclaimer. I wasn’t gonna try that crap anywhere.
    Lindy, on the other hand, was a doctor in the UK. Her interest in hacking was ALL about improving humanity. Hot.
    “So, uh,” I gave her a half smile, “What did you mean by, ‘girlfriend’?”
    She punched my arm lightly, “Don’t get too cheeky there, sailor,” but she was smiling.
    I checked myself. I didn’t have a lot of practice talking to girls, but I knew I shouldn’t come on too strong. If I creeped her out, I’d lose her. So I sent her my contact info via an ad-hoc proxnet connection, and a second later hers flashed back to me. Her contact image was a video of her turning around to face the camera in a lab coat and smiling. So hot.
    “Don’t laugh at my vid, the office makes us do it,” she laughed. “Have a good night!” and she stood up and started heading back toward the elevators.
    "Wait." It musta been the steady stream of beer talking, but I blurted out, “You appreciate a good hack?”
    She paused.
    “I got a great hack for ya,” I grinned. “Keep your eye on the news tomorrow.”
    “I do enjoy a good show of skills,” she threw back, stepping into the closing elevator doors. Now I just needed to build my dazzler and use it on the casino floor. With no operating video surveillance, the casino would be forced to shut down gaming. This was definitely gonna make the news. I thought it was clever, especially considering she’d told me her father was a gambling addict.
    Back in my room, I assembled the dazzler and set it up. I had to cover all the cameras on my devices and fix “light leaks.” The laser is not visible to the naked eye but night vision goggles and surveillance cams could see it for miles. So I shove a towel under the door and cover all the windows. If security wandering the hotel halls saw the IR glow coming out of my room, they’d come knocking.
    It was 5:00 AM when I finished. I'd had more beer and forgotten I hadn’t eaten. Taking the dazzler to the gaming floor did seem like fun, but the sleep fairies got me. I mean, I’d been awake for 3 days, and talking with Lindy made me forget all about re-upping on my meds. I crashed hard.


    2 July 2034 Georgia Tech Dormitories
    “Check this out, man.” Charlie and I were in Deathmatch. He was in the middle of a long killstreak. We were doing more trash talking than playing, really.
    “Check out me destroying you? Killing you softly? Just take it.” He whispered “...take it like a man.” I could see his face while he taunted me, blowing a kiss.
    “So, I told you about that jacket my buddy made for me, right?” I was so excited, I didn’t acknowledge his insults. I knew I couldn’t tell anybody about this, but I HAD to tell Charlie. Besides, we’d encrypted our channel on the game link. Nobody was listening in. “The one I can code to change colors and stuff?”
    “Duh, dude. You haven’t shut up about it for, like, two months.”
    “Well, there’s something new. You’re gonna love this.”
    “What?” Charlie laughed, “Because it sure doesn’t help your skills in this game any…Ya figure out how to flash a billion iterations of your tiny dick on it to show off to the ladies?”
    “Man. Listen to me.” I took a breath. “See, I was just sitting on my bed, tinkering with the firmware a few weeks ago. I uploaded a new build that added recursive images as a display option. First of all, dude, you should’ve seen it. When I plugged in some tunes, it looked like walking down a mirrored hallway, man, like wearing one of those old carnival funhouses.”
    “Man, I knew this was just another story about your new gorrammed toy,” Charlie cut me off.
    “No, dude! That’s just the setup. Wait till you hear what happened next...” I paused, “Dude,” this was it. “I found an 0day.”
    Charlie’s jaw dropped open. “What?”
    “I know, I know. Listen, the room’s clean, I know it. We can talk about this here. I need some advice.”
    “Okay, yeah,” he shook his head like he was trying to wake up from a dream, “Tell me what you found...”
    I looked around. I’d taken all precautions, but I was still paranoid, with good reason. The supreme court had ruled it illegal to own, create, transmit, or even view code that exploited flaws in computer software without a license. It was easier to get a gun permit than it was to get an 0day license. Hell, it was probably easier to get a license to kill your own grandma, unless you worked for the feds. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t keep the exploit. But I couldn’t just sit on it.
    “Okay... So when I ran the recursive image display, the jacket crashed my comms. I mean, just for a minute, but when it came back online, I went to /tmp, saw there was a compressed file with a kernel core dump, a stack trace of the module that died and the data it was processing. It was an image from my displays camera. I opened the image, and the comms immediately died again.”
    “So you’ve got a reproducible crash in an image library. Nice.”
    “And that’s not all, man,” I continued, talking fast, heart racing. “Seriously, dude, I have become an EXPERT on comms image processing over the past two months. I mean, with that kinda bug, I had to see how much I could exploit it. You’d do the same, right?”
    “Duh,” Charlie laughed. “Tell me more.”
    “Right, this is where it really gets good.” I was grinning. “It turns out that an opensource library called highres_rec had crashed my comms. It’s reproducible with most comms in the world. I was kinda surprised when I figured it out. It's the most used library in the world for anything with image recognition. So, right.” I took a breath, “My jacket tripped it. When the camera caught it, the library blew up, taking my comms with it. So, after all this work, I have this exploit. If I use a large enough display to run it in line of sight of a camera using highres_rec, I can control the camera and the computer analyzing the video.”
    “Holy crap, dude.” His grin disappeared.
    I laughed. “Seriously, almost EVERY surveillance camera in the world uses that library. This exploit is HUGE.” I paused, “But, dude, I can’t keep it. I can’t get caught with this. What would you do?”
    “Well,” he paused, smiling, “I do know some people. I might be able to hook you up with somebody to buy it off you.”
    “Oh, really?!” I almost shouted, secretly relieved.
    “Thank me when you’re kissing your student loans goodbye, D33p. Oh, and,” he paused, cackling, “Check out that beating!”
    “What? No, man, I was...” He’d just killed me AGAIN.
    “Jerkin’ off about your 0day? Well, my man, it’s called multitasking. I beat you. Quit yer whining and take it like a man.”


    Friday. 10:00 PM, Department of Homeland Security Holding Facility, Las Vegas
    It all seemed so simple, then. Now, sitting in the detention room, it seemed a little too simple. After I told Charlie, he had a buyer contact me over an anonymous communications grid. The buyer was interested in paying me big for the 0day, but I didn’t feel comfortable sending code that could put me in jail to a random hash address over the net. I insisted we meet up to do the deal. The buyer on the other end of the encrypted tunnel agreed and set the meet: DefCon 42 in Las Vegas. I readily agreed because I had never been to the con, and I'd heard all kinds of crazy stories. Charlie was going and offered to get me a room at the Wynn with his corporate discount.
    I just had to show up.
    I was sweating the entire SST flight from Atlanta to Vegas. Felt like I was smuggling contraband... Oh that's right, I was. I had taken security precautions, of course. The comms that had my exploit code on it was encrypted in a special way: enter one passphrase, and it booted up to a disk full of family pics and other random crap. Enter a second phrase, and it booted to my exploit workstation.
    It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it would pass most scrutiny. It probably wouldn't stand up to an NSA investigation, but TSA? No problem.


    Thursday. 1:30 PM, My Room, The Wynn Conference Center
    Oh, hangovers. Science cured the common cold. Why couldn’t somebody cure Brown Bottle Fever?
    My comms’ buzzing felt like a power drill right between the eyes. I opened the call. It was Charlie. I could tell by the background he was in the contest room.
    “Looks like you got your DefCon experience for sure, buddy,” he gloated, perma-grin infuriatingly fixed to his ugly mug.
    “Blow me,” I croaked, totally sure those were the last words I would ever speak.
    “Did you forget that Vegas serves real alcohol, not that watered down swill you get in Georgia?”
    I had, actually. That explained the hangover. For a brief second, I thought that Lindy had spiked my drink so she could steal the exploit. Paranoia. I shook my head. Ouch.
    “Get down here. You're gonna miss everything...”
    “Mmmmrrpphh... Yeah... I... Shower... On my way...”
    “How long do you think?” Charlie asked, a rare break in his million-volt smile.
    “I’ll be there in 20, gorramit.” I rolled over and hung up on him.


    Thursday 2:45 PM, DefCon Lobby, The Wynn Conference Center
    I’d been looking for Charlie for an hour. No luck. He wasn’t answering his calls, and the buddy beacon didn’t have him on the grid, so I just wandered. It did make me think, for a second, that maybe he was running interference with the buyer. Maybe he’d phreaked his vid. My own fault for having a best friend I’d never actually met in person.
    I saw Lindy from across the lobby, and she made a beeline straight for me. Was Lindy actually Charlie? She was smart enough to do that, and it would be pretty cool if she’d been in love with me all these years... Stop it, D33p. You’re being stupid.
    “Was that you?” she asked.
    “If it's a good thing, then, yes," I smirked, trying to be charming.
    “Cut the crap.” She punched me in the arm, a lot harder than last night. “Did you knock out Tahoe's power grid?”
    I felt like I had been punched in the gut, not the arm. What? Tahoe? Power grid? What the hell? “Lindy, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” awkwardness rushing back.
    “When I was leaving last night, you said you had a ‘great hack.’ Twenty minutes after breakfast, all of Lake Tahoe went offline. They’re calling it an act of cyberwarfare.”
    “Okay, but why would you think it was me?” I figured the jacket impressed her, but not that much.
    “US Federal agents just barred anyone from entering or leaving the conference center. They said the hack has been traced to the DefCon public wifi. This hotel! Tell me you didn’t do this to impress me.”
    Again, I was speechless. Oh boy, did this look bad. “No..I wasn’t gonna...I built a camera killer...with the lasers...I was gonna...oh man.” I looked over her shoulder and couldn’t speak. A couple hundred blue suits were pouring in the doors, guns out. An agent with a megaphone announced a “lawful detainment” of suspects in a federal crime, compliance mandatory. Oh man, oh man, oh man. If they found me with the exploit, it was a one-way ticket to Federal Pound Me in the Ass Prison. Or, just as bad, the Auto-Mitnick. I did not wanna wear the fuzz-out anklet. Luckily I’d left the exploit comms well hidden, and I’d already dazzled my room. No drones in there, snooping on me when I got back to deal with it.
    “Take a seat wherever you are. An agent will be by to interview you," Megaphone Agent blared. Where did so many of these guys come from? I knew they were everywhere at these things, but what the hell?
    Lindy and I sat down on the floor. We didn’t talk much over the next few hours. I tried to explain what I meant the night before, but that didn’t help.
    “So you think causing untold amounts of property damage would impress me? I thought you meant you could do something like animate a tattoo,” she scowled, “I should’ve known better. You can’t even change your eye color.”
    That hurt, but the animated tattoo idea caught me more than the insult. We talked for a while about how to do that. She had some good tips, and she was right. That would’ve been a lot more impressive than vandalism, especially since the Dazzle would’ve killed a bunch of her “girlfriend’s” equipment, along with the casino games. Shoulda thought of that before. I was never gonna drink again.


    Finally, 12 hours after the Feds showed up, a different megaphone agent announced we were free to move around. Both Lindy and I had been questioned about our whereabouts the night before and if we had contact with or knew anybody that produced cyberweapons. I usually laugh whenever I hear the word cyber, but not this time.
    As soon as they dropped the comms-jamming field I called Charlie. I got him on audio only, but I didn't think much of it, right then. figured the network was taxed with everyone making calls all at once.
    “Can you believe this?” I asked, “Where are you?”
    “Yeah, sorry I went AWOL on ya, buddy. I went up to my room to take a dump. When I got back, the feds had the place locked up tight. Let's go to the bar. I wanna hear all about you getting questioned.”
    “Its not special. Everyone did,” I said. And I wondered, why would they think the perp would still be hanging around? There was gonna be surveillance out the ass here for the rest of the weekend.
    Lindy was calling her friends, too. When she hung up, we stared at each other. I fidgeted with my comms and accidentally set my jacket to reflect my body heat. She laughed and pointed at my pits.
    I jerked and clicked the jacket back to black. “I'm sorry. I was drunk, I really did just want to impress you, but nothing like that. I didn’t do this. I swear.”
    Her shoulders relaxed a little. “Its okay. I just freaked when I saw the news. I think going on a date with a cyber terrorist would get me thrown out of the country, and I do a lot of traveling to the States for work.”
    “Wait, that was a date?” Suddenly all my problems slipped away.
    She laughed, “So, are we going to meet your friend at the bar?”
    When we got over to the bar, I recognized Charlie immediately. “Dang, you’re one ugly mother!” I laughed, clapping him on the back.
    “I’m not the only one, joker! Say, would ya look at that jacket!” He laughed.
    We all had a good laugh over a few beers. I started to feel a bit better. Maybe there was something to that old Hair of the Dog cure.
    Hackers from various groups packed the place, and everyone was talking about the hack. Gossip, gossip, gossip.
    “I would have done it, but my parole officer would have had a cow.”
    “More like your mom.” It was a DefCon voice, and a DefCon joke.


    Friday. 5:00 PM, The Wynn Conference Center
    "Hey, buddy, where ya been?" Charlie's voice in my earbud.
    "Dude, I just spent four hours getting the fracking run-around," I spat back at him. "'Go to the slot machines... Now go to room 1376... Meet me at the bar... Go to the Bellagio. The dude just blew me off, man! I'm done with this."
    "Woah, dude. Chill. Maybe you just need to go take a nap. You've been going pretty hard. I think you need to recharge. The buyer’s probably just spooked from all the heat on the hotel. I’ll talk to him and call ya later. Get some sleep, son."
    I sighed. "Maybe you're right. I'll catch up with ya later." I hung up and headed back for my room, but sleep was the farthest thing from my mind. The only thing that was gonna set me straight was getting rid of this fracking 0day. And after that goose chase? And all those Feds? This just wasn't worth it. Screw selling it; I'd just rm it.


    Saturday. 6:30 PM, My Hotel Room, The Wynn Conference Center
    I was so preoccupied when I walked into my room that I forgot to cover the camera on my comms.
    “Crap!!” I remembered too late; it was already burnt out. I’d have to fix it later. Then it hit me.
    I looked at the dazzler, turning slowly over the bed in the center of the room. Charlie. I never got vid from him again after the lockdown, only audio. He knew about the 0day. He knew what it was worth. I felt like somebody’d just punched me square in the gut. As the truth hit me, I couldn’t breathe.
    Charlie didn’t get me to Vegas to help me sell it. He got me here to steal it from me. While DefCon was under fed lock and key, he snuck into my room, stole the exploit, and kept me busy until my “appointment” to meet the buyer. There probably wasn’t even a real buyer. It was probably Charlie sending me all over the place to keep me out of the way. He was probably keeping me around just long enough so he could function check my exploit; make sure he had the real thing and that it worked as advertised.
    But did he have enough time to verify it? Maybe he hadn’t run it yet. Maybe I had time to run...
    The phone rang. I've never answered a hotel phone. I'm not sure why they even still have them.
    “Hello?”
    “Mr. E-Deep?” A female voice asked politely.
    “That's 3d33p. Like 'too deep,' but one more.” I really needed to rethink that spelling. 1337 sp34k's cool and all, but repeating that speech gets pretty fracking old.
    The caller didn’t even pause, “Of course. My apologies, Mr. 3-Deep. This is Tammy from customer care. This is just a courtesy call. We’d just like to ensure that you’re having the best stay possible.”
    “I am, thank you,” I said, startled. Then I heard it. Tammy had covered the receiver, but you could hear a muffled man's voice say, “Keep him talking...”
    Feds. I knew it. Charlie had already dropped a dime on me. They were calling to make certain I was in my room. With the cameras dazzled, they weren’t sure. They were coming for me.
    I hung up on Tammy. The phone rang again immediately, but I ignored it. I grabbed the exploit comms and booted up. They might think they had a link to me and the attack with the 0day, but if I deleted it, I’d be clear...
    What...the...frack? The directory for highres_rec was gone. No trace. Sitting there, fat, happy and incriminating as hell: Tahoe_grid. I opened it and found several exploits and notes on the power infrastructure. Scanning through, I saw how crashing one station in a seemingly unimportant place would bring a cascade failure in the whole grid and shut it all down. Crap, crap, crap…
    I tried to delete the directory. ERROR. What? I was root, gorramit. I tried to unmount the partition and wipe that. Same error. No time. The feds were swarming toward me, and I had a cyber smoking gun in my hand.

    I raised the comms to smash it, but I stopped. No. Smashing the evidence was only gonna make me look even more guilty, and they’d probably be able to recover just enough info to put me away, anyway. I stared at the thing, shaking my head slowly.
    The harsh knock on my door jolted me out of my daze. “FBI! OPEN THE DOOR!” I could tell them everything, the whole truth, but they wouldn’t believe it. This was it. I was done.
    I had to hand it to him; Charlie was good. He’d won. Time to take this beating like a man.
    I opened the door to 10 blue-coated FBI agents, with guns drawn. Holding the exploit comms in my right hand, I sighed and reached for the sky.
    “You appreciate a good hack?” I asked them, “Well, I got a great hack for you.”
    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."

  • #2
    Re: Title: In too Deep Author: The Electric Sheep Scribes, A collective

    I am reminded of an old quote...

    Good Luck!
    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."

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