The Root of Compromise

The Root of Compromise
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GLOVER SHIFTED HIS WEIGHT on the stool of the bar as he ordered another drink. A shot of tequila and a double rum and coke, and the pair surely wouldn’t be his last. He’d douse his foul mood with the sterile effects of hard alcohol, then wash it down like the never ending waves coming in from the dirty sea.

He’d been there three days and she still hadn’t shown. She was supposed to appear out of nowhere, or so he thought. Glover called out to the bartender in his surly voice, asking ‘where the fuck everyone was’ or something to that effect. He was rarely tactful and often rude, but it worked well for a man in his position.

“It’s the rainy season.” The barman replied, as he handed over the shot and then poured the rest of Glover’s drink.

Indeed it was the rainy season. Even in the tourist areas of Thailand, the reality of the slow season meant all the resorts and guesthouses were mostly vacant. The rainy season brought torrential downpours and strong winds, but Glover was determined to tough it out. After all, it wasn’t a vacation.

He took the shot of tequila and chased it with some mix, then slammed the glass down onto the bar in a moment of doubt. But was it pointless? This place of all places, to launch an attack. Flying in to Bangkok was straightforward enough, and that first night in the five-star hotel wasn’t much different from a five-star hotel anywhere else in the world. But after ten hours on the bus, a few hours on the ferry and an hour long bumpy taxi ride he arrived on the far corner of a small island in the Pacific ocean, waiting for his business partner, the woman that might never show.

Between sips of rum he opened up his backpack, fired up his instant-on laptop and double-checked his code – his elegant little snippet of a program. It looked fine. He’d gone through it several times yet again in the past few days, checking for bugs in the algorithm, but there were none. More interesting was the “shell script” he’d written to launch it, which would execute a deadly sequence of commands in an if-then-else sort of way, over and over again with deadly accuracy. Even if the code was fine, a shell script could always use some tweaking to ensure his experience in real life attacks would result in a successful delivery of the payload.

The magic of his creation was that he could launch it from anywhere, track it from anywhere else, and everyone from governments and security forces to private companies around the world would attribute his work to the country of origin from wherever it was launched. At least, for a while.

If he’d wanted to revel in the brilliance of his plan, he’d have celebrated with a margarita with a slice of lime and a little umbrella. But certain aspects of his behaviour he never changed, and his drink of choice was one of them. It wasn’t time to celebrate. He drank the same drink he’d have made in his warm little basement in Wisconsin, a white Bacardi rum with Coke. Sometimes a little more Coke, sometimes a little less. As simple as that.

Glover sat at the bar and waited for other patrons to appear, but no one appeared. Time slipped by. The elderly couple seated at a table nearby, the only other had turned in. It was 10:30pm and well past their bedtime, no doubt. Glover liked to make fun of old people, an especially wide assortment of those most technically soft. He was used to working late into the night while old people slept.

She’d promised him she would be there, on that small island in the Pacific they’d agreed upon. She promised she’d come. She said it wasn’t a question of if, but when… and for how long. Of course the other question was what she looked like, but he had an idea already and figured he’d find out soon enough.

They knew each other only through the dark underworld of online forums, IRC, and a few witty comments placed deep in some open source software code. And then there was the rare, but cherished, e-mail which they’d send each other through anonymous sources. Glover favored the Tor onion routing network, developed by the U.S. military, which was slow but reliable and secure. Lofty favored high anonymity proxies she “borrowed” from all over the world, sometimes chaining them together as proxies if the need would arise. She removed the logs, of course. And the two of them argued over which approach was more secure, all the while having no idea of what country each other was truly from.

She’d sent him a photo, which he’d believed to be fake. It was too beautiful, almost perfect. Fantasy material. After looking at it a few dozen times he analyzed it electronically, only to find a cute little note she’d embedded cryptographically inside the image using covert channels, something known as steganography. It said, “hEy glover I knew you’DD find mE!” He still thought the photo was fake, but then weeks later she sent a second one, presumably of her this time, holding up a copy of the Paris Tribune across her chest. But a hand had covered her face, she was wearing baggy, nondescript clothes and a low hat. Quite unremarkable. He was fairly certain this was her, and that she was female. But he couldn’t even tell if she was fat or thin, or good looking or, more likely, butt ugly. Regardless of what she looked like, she was smart and in Glover’s line of business she was as real as they get.

Glover was a slob of course, a male hacker and too often stereotyped, sick of working like a monkey for peanuts. He’d dance around and perform magic tricks while the zoo keepers who knew very little about computers and worked even less made all the money. Some would say he was brilliant with technology skills beyond most gifted people, but it wasn’t true. Like most hackers, he only did a few things really, really well and with everything else he was only moderately gifted. Outside of that in the human realm of social anxiety, he wasn’t exactly a pornographer’s prize catch, and he knew it. His apartment had been filled with pizza boxes and leftover Vietnamese dinners before he left, that is until he’d put them all into one extra large Glad super-stretchy and then stomped on them until they all fit nicely together – then he’d dropped that bag off at the recycling center, leftover food and all. For Glover, almost everything he consumed should be recyclable in one way or another. Like his underwear and old shirts for example, which he dropped off at the Post as a nasty joke. He didn’t even wash them first. Whether or not anyone actually recycled his wares was another matter, and not quite his concern. He saw much of life as disposable.

Glover ordered another double. It was 10:42pm. Go light on the Coke, he said to his new Thai friend, but the bartender just looked at him warily and filled the glass the same as all the rest. This patron was rather rude.

At this point Glover was getting surly again, starting to tell the bartender how poor a job he was doing tending bar, that he’d offended all the patrons and now there was no one left but him. He started getting under the man’s skin. The bar was empty, but this more likely due to Glover’s rude comments to almost all of the previous patrons who appeared that night… sort of like people watching without keeping his mouth shut. At any rate, he was getting drunk and depressed and there was no one else to blame but the ugly little Thai man running the bar.

“Mee ya, we close in five minutes.” He was told. It was followed by a sickly Thai laugh, more of a snicker than anything. Glover looked at his watch, it was five to eleven. Still early, and he was drunk. Maybe tomorrow his mysterious Lofty would come walking across the beach in a white flower dress, beautiful beyond imagination and carrying a backpack with the latest laptop and the keys to prosperity. But probably not.

“Ah, fuck… what’s the point in you closing early? Fucking communiss. Gimme another drink. Uhh… Mr… uhh, please?”

To which there was no reply.

Glover took the last sip of his drink and slammed his glass on the bar again, a little harder than the rest. If there were more Thai, they’d have kicked him out. His ears were ringing from the drink and the waves seemed louder than before, the sea just a few steps away. The tropics aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, it was windy and colder than he expected. Too hot during the day, too windy at night. And too few women.

He stumbled back to his room along a winding path surrounded by tropical fawna and fumbled for the key. The door was made of thin bamboo strips on a rickety wooden frame, not quite square, and had a tiny metal lock which clasped the door shut. It could be snipped with a pair of hand cutters. Easier than that, Glover noted that a couple of quick swipes of the palm leaf door with a box-cutter pocket knife and he’d be in, if he ever forgot his key. Such irony, the total lack of security all around him… it was the perfect place to launch a massive attack.

If only she doesn’t screw him along the way – though it occurred to him, there are many different ways of getting screwed… Maybe she’s cute, although it’s unlikely. Maybe she has a killer bod, though that seems even less so. He remembered her note just before collapsing on the bed and wondered if there was more to it than at first glance. “hEy glover I knew you’DD find mE!”

The world circled around him in a gloomy haze until he became one with the bed, his laptop bag having fallen to the floor, the door unlocked and partially ajar, the light still on. Fully clothed, Glover thought for the briefest of moments about all the things missing in his life that prosperity would soon afford him, from women and cars and really high-end routers and giant yachts and designer drugs. Plus there were small islands he’d always wanted to own, mansions waiting to be lived in. He’d command it all with the power of his drunken, surly and belligerent mind, plus two backup generators, a few racks of servers, heavy virtualization and multiple redundant links to the Internet, all floating deep in a concrete bunker inside a pillar of an old oil platform in the middle of the sea. Yeah, sure.

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