HAKKER: dispatches

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Hakker, Dispatch 010:
December 2003



How do you find a single female American scientist in the small Scandinavian city of M?


You use logic.


First I checked the banks ("Has my American relative been here recently?"). Then the restaurants. I bought a hot pizza. Then I checked the hotels. ("Pizza delivery to A. Lovelace!") Then the churches...


This was up north, where religion is still stronger than in the big cities down south. There were more and different churches than you'd expect in a town of less than 60,000 people: Evangelical, Baptist, Mormon, Muslim, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehova's Witnesses, Laestadian, Shamanist, Raelian, Transcendental Meditation, Scientology... and that's just those that were listed in the Yellow Pages.


And in that city I spotted a church I'd never seen or heard of before. The building was a rudimentary converted warehouse one block from Main Street. The modest sign on the door read:


WCCC - WORLD COMPUTER CONNECTED CHURCH (actual name slightly changed).


I was about to cross the street and have a closer look, when I saw the surveillance cameras above the entrance. So I used a small pair of binoculars instead, and watched from a block away...


The WCCC sign had no Web address. (How's that for inconsistency?) I examined the layer of snow outside the door. Not many sets of footsteps there. I counted them. Five leading in, five leading out. One pair of high heels among the others. It led back out, further down the street, to a restaurant.


I stashed away my heavy things, including the backpack, bought a cheap neutral jacket in a shop around the corner, and rushed into the restaurant. It was a small, cosy Chinese place. Oriental music played low from hidden speakers. Subdued lighting. I'd take Inti Fatah for dinner there.


There had been a photo of Lovelace on a website, but it was probably several years old. I recognized her quickly, sitting at a corner table. She had company. My guts felt very tight and small. If it was one of them...


The guy at her table was talking, moving his hands excitedly. Eating like a slob, too. He was unshaven, grossly overweight and had thick eyeglasses. An ugly, raggedy anorak draped his pear-shaped body. Lovelace, by contrast, was well dressed and had a nice short haircut. She looked dignified and carried her age well. But she leaned forward over table, listening with interest. If only I'd had a good long-range spy microphone... but the small tape recorder in my pants would have to do. I switched it on and approached their table.


Dr. Lovelace looked up at me when I came. She didn't seem upset or particularly curious. The fat guy stared. I'd never met either of them before. I gave her a wide grin and offered to shake hands.


In my best phony American accent, I said: "Dr. Lovelace! Loved your lecture last year, it was awesome! Amazing I'd bump into you here... when are you coming back to L.A.?" They were both completely stunned. I made an embarrassed act: "Sorry, I shouldn't be disturbing you like this, but I'm one of your greatest admirers... Rob Karras, UCLA."


Dr. Lovelace seemed calmed by the act, but the fat guy's face was shiny with sweat. I tried to shake hands with him, but he kept his hands under the table. "Well," I said, "my table's over there, so I won't bother you..."


"No, it's all right," Lovelace said. "Please, join us... Rob. We were just about to order food. It's wonderful to meet a countryman up here." (Did she really fall for my act?) The waiter took our orders. I realized I was very hungry.







(PARENTHESIS: A Brief History of the Internet


Did you know that the Internet got 30 years old just now? Around 1969-73, a few Englishmen and Americans created the first e-mail and data link-ups between universities in the US and the UK. Two bright guys developed the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) - the universally adopted system for sending packets of data back and forth... and then it slowly grew and grew. Called ARPANET from the start, it didn't become really popular until around 1990, when Netscape's browser program hit it big. Yeah, and then of course Microsoft stepped in and bought up the browser market...


That's the official version. Even before I met Dr. Lovelace, I knew that the official version was the tip of an iceberg. ARPANET as a project was founded and sponsored by the U.S. military. Its purpose was to create a communications network that could survive a nuclear strike from the Soviet Union. That is why the system was designed to have no center - if any part of it was destroyed, the remaining parts could still connect and function together.


ARPANET was of course known to the Russian military, since they had spies and informers all over the place. The Soviet Union never developed a rival system. However, some sort of response to ARPANET might have been conceived, such as a sabotage plan. When the Soviet Union collapsed, any such plans failed to materialize. And then Russia was linked up with the Internet, like the rest of the world.


End of parenthesis...)





The fat guy continued to talk, casting anxious glances at me now and then: "The WCCC is on to the truth, doctor. They want to control the world through the Internet."


"What truth?" I asked, tensing up. "Do you have a social security number, by the way? Or any official ID?"


Both Ada and the fat guy reacted with confusion.


"Yes, I have. Why'd you ask?"


"Nothing. Go on. What truth?"


He gulped down Cola as he spoke - two empty bottles stood on the table already. "The Internet has grown conscious of its own existence. Dr. Lovelace predicted this development in her lecture and essay 'The Fractal Geometry of Cyberspace'... that the complexity of the World Wide Web will eventually reach the level of complexity of the human brain. And it has happened. The Web has come alive. It thinks, it senses the world through millions of surveillance cameras, web cams and phone cameras. Now that cult, the WCCC wants to communicate with the Web, build an interface to talk to it directly... and worship it, in order to gain its confidence."


He put a scare in me... for a few seconds. But it didn't last. I may be paranoid, but I'm not ignorant.


"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard," I said. "I read somewhere that the number of possible connections in a human brain is larger than the number of atoms in the known Universe. The Internet is far behind anyone of us in complexity. And besides, if the Web could think, what's it supposed to to think about? Junk mail? Web porn? Those are not thoughts. The Web has no will, it can't breed. It's complex, but still only a tool. It's like saying the power grid can think. Your statement has no meaning."


"Dr. Lovelace, tell him. Tell him the truth. We've got to warn the world."


She sighed. Dr. Ada Lovelace was old, her chest a little sunken, her neck bent from years of desk work. But her eyes had that gleam: a child's eyes, curious and attentive.


"I didn't say I agree with your theory. I only confirmed what I'd already stated in my essay. The complexity of any organic system can be expressed with fractal mathematics, and this also applies to any large structure built by man. Such as a city, an infrastructure, or the growth and shape of the Internet. But Rob is essentially correct. We can't confuse complexity with consciousness on an arbitrary basis. Consciousness implies mental activity. Where is that activity in the Internet? How is it measured?"


The fat guy seemed desperate to prove his argument. I felt sorry for him.


"But that's what I'm trying to explain! Our activity on the Web, all the communications taken together, are the thoughts of the Internet!"


This was fun. Felt like I hadn't had a good debate in ages: "No, no, no..."


"Yes, yes..."


"You're using metaphysics to prop up an unprovable argument! If we follow your reasoning logically and the Internet is a giant brain, then we are the neurons of that brain - every person who uses the Internet is unwittingly a connected cell in a giant higher consciousness!"


"That's what that cult is teaching. And they're right."


I almost blew my cover: "How come I haven't heard about this cult... uh, in California? You know, doctor, how many crazy cults there are back home...."


She smiled and nodded: "It's the land of fruits and nuts. This particular cult, the WCCC, is very new. The members seem to be mostly young men."


I inspected the fat guy for signs of cyborgic implants. Only "implant" he had was his glasses. Nothing rickety about his movements. He was all human - and lard.


"Are you a member of that cult?" I asked him.


"No! What do you take me for? I live here in town, been studying them ever since they set up shop last year. A friend of mine joined them. He's stopped talking to me. They brainwashed him. They're worse than Scientologists."


"Interesting. Couldn't one just go there... and have a chat with the churchpeople?"


"I did," said the good doctor. "They were very polite. Didn't explain much, though. Gave me a brochure." She gave it to me, told me to keep it. "I got two." I was too excited to read it, so I tucked it away for later.


"I gotta go," said the fat guy. "Back to work. I'll write to you, doctor. Be careful."


Our food arrived. "Who was that masked man?" I asked her jokingly, indicating the fleeing fat guy. "I wanted to thank him."


We ate.





I had the hidden recorder on, so I wouldn't miss a word Lovelace was saying. You can almost hear my heart pounding on the tape...


"Oh, he's just another conspiracy nut. I met him when I left the WCCC building. He works in town and keeps an eye on his friend who enlisted. Have you seen the church house? Weird place."


"Yes. I'm just backpacking around Scandinavia... but what brings you here?"


"I was visiting a few universities on a lecture tour, it's about the only way I can afford vacation these days... and I got an invitation from a tech company that has an office here in town. They'd heard about my work and offered me a job."


"Really? Is this company affiliated with that Internet church, by any chance?"


"I don't know... don't think so. Why?"


"Doctor. I'm... interested in your work."


"Why, thank you. Any subject in particular?"


"Especially... universal access."


"Who are you, young man?"


"Call me Rob. Listen, this could be very important. Is it possible that someone has universal access, or has had universal access in the recent past, on the Internet?"


"You know, I half expected you to ask about that. I've been getting some weird e-mails lately. From students and coders, various yong individuals who don't attend my classes. It seems my lectures and the essay about the fractal geometry of the Internet set off a widespread reaction among the lunatic fringe. Nothing threatening, just... weird queries. Always asking about my papers, asking advice about their papers, asking about the structure of the Internet. Heard about that?"


(Shocked pause.) "I might have. But: universal access..."


"Yes, yes... way back, a few friends of mine were designing the foundation of what would become the Internet. I was dating one of them. That way I got to come along on their meetings. Sometimes the military would send a guy over to ask questions and listen in, but we weren't nearly as outspoken when we knew the Pentagon people or the spooks were listening.


"Anyway, my friends had all these internal jokes going during their meetings. They used to tell each other(Texas drawl): 'When I get Universal Access, things are gooonna change...' And we all laughed. The joke was that when my friends coded the basic computer code for an international grid of computers - you know, IP - they should put in a backdoor in the code, that only they knew about. Of course this was just a joke. These were decent, honest people, and they damn well knew that the military would find out if they tried. To my knowledge there is no secret backdoor in the Internet Protocol... but..."




(Dr. Lovelace rubs her forehead.)


"My food's getting cold. Can't we just enjoy the meal? I'm staying here another day before I go home. It's an interesting subject you've touched, and we could meet again to continue our discussion."


"Yes, please."







I got her cell-phone number and the address of the motel where she was staying, plus the phone number of the fat guy, and left. So many questions to answer, so many things to learn... and Toys 4 Eyes had a foothold in this town. Had to check out that church, but carefully... how the hell was I going to approach it and stay incognito?


Of course. The fat guy was going to help me. Whether he wanted to or not.





The fat guy didn't seem pleased to see me. Maybe it was the way I sneaked up on him late at night, scaring the crap out of him. I asked him about the WCCC. And I was nice about it, made no threats... after all it was he who wanted the world to know about his nutty "giant Internet brain" idea, and he thought I was a nosy American student.


We went to his apartment. He lived in a cramped place with his wife and family and a pet. Pretty normal-looking, apart from the computer equipment that took up half a room.


I asked him if he could smuggle in my mini-tape recorder and ask his friend questions about the church. He explained it was too risky; the cult had a thing about electronic surveillance and frisked all visitors. Anyone non-member who entered the building had to leave watches, phones and other such stuff in the lobby.


"Does your friend seem... changed? Physically different? Does he seem to move in a jerky manner? His eyes, do they look different?"


The fat guy showed some photos. One was a year-old photo of him and his friend. Both were overweight, smiling nerds. Then the "After" photo of the friend, taken recently: his smile was strained, his eyes glazed and his face skinny. Great dark spots under his eyes.


"He moves the same way, he's just more... withdrawn. Doesn't talk to people."


"So what does he do now, apart from singing the praise of the World Wide Web?"


"He's still got his old job. Spends all his spare time doing volunteer work for the church, or at home in front of the computer."


"You mean knocking on doors, recruiting converts?"


"No, they never do that. I asked him how he was contacted, but he wouldn't answer. It's weird. Normally a cult has to send out missionaires, do fieldwork to get new followers, but the WCCC doesn't seem to be doing anything."


I showed him a printout of Ada Lovelace's e-mail, (with her name blotted out) and the quote from "Sven"'s mail:


>The EYE is the EYE sees the EYE blesses the EYE is all is the EYE


The fat guy had not seen anything like it before. I opened the brochure Ada had given me, and put it next to the quote.


Printed in green letters on black background (EVERYONE steals from that dumb movie), the leaflet read:



The Internet holds the key to world peace and a new, stronger brotherhood of man. Through the Internet, we are coming together in a new world consciousness. Minds forming a mystical union through technology. And this union of minds is itself a higher form of consciouness.



The WCCC teaches people to become consciously aware of how the Internet creates a merging of human minds into a greater whole. This is not a dream. It is real in this world, this present. Every time you use the Internet, you are a part of growing group-mind, a higher being created by minds and machines in peaceful union.



You are not alone. The Internet group-mind is aware of all its parts. It grows stronger with every new Internet user. With proper training, you can channel the digital and mental power of the group-mind through your brain. The WCCC conducts serious research in controlling and using the power of the Internet-connected group-mind. Imagine being able to harness the collective intelligence of a hundred million people! You will be part of a greater whole that achieves great things. You will never feel alone. You will see the world in ways you have never seen it before. You will see how all things hang together. You will learn to see with the all-seeing, world-spanning vision of the group-mind.


All you have to do is OPEN YOUR MIND.





The text reminded me about the skinheads who used to make my childhood a living hell.


"I can't see any direct similarities," the fat guy said. He was right. No direct similarities. And yet... "the all-seeing, world-spanning vision of the group-mind" - if it meant what I suspected, this cult was much more than a bunch of New Age phonies.


"Could I meet your friend? Does he live nearby?"


"He lives a few blocks from here. But he doesn't want to talk to me anymore."


"I'm sure he'll tell me something. Cult freaks always want to share the message."


"Not these. This is a secretive cult. The brochure is all you'll get from them. If you want more, you'll have to join."


"Shit... just give me his name. But don't tell him I'm coming, or he might refuse to talk to me. Besides, I think your friend's in trouble. That cult is dangerous."


We made a quick Web search for copies of the brochure text, but it didn't exist in a Web version. I got the friend's name, thanked the fat guy and left. For a moment I thought about giving him some cash for his trouble, but I realized that would only arouse suspicion. I left no traces of my visit.


It was late now. I got a room in the same motel where Ada Lovelace was staying (though I didn't tell her so). It consisted of a cluster of small log-cabins, each with a bed and TV. I sneaked over to her cabin and knocked on the door. Her hair was flattened on one side, as if she'd been asleep.


"Sorry to bother you," I said. "But I was hoping you could tell me more about... you know."


She regarded me for a moment, sizing me up. I was dressed in normal clothes, not my night gear. She could see my eyes. Ada was wearing a robe, night-gown and thick slippers shaped like the Linux penguin.


Then she smiled. I know my appearance doesn't impress women. Then again, she had no marriage ring on her fingers.


"Sure, come in Rob. I've nothing better to do and it's freezing outside." Her room was fully lit, and the TV set was on. An opened bottle stood by the bed. "Want a drink?"


"No thanks." We sat down on the two chairs in front of the TV. She turned down the volume and sipped her glass. And then she continued her story, right away...







"Late one night in the 80s, the guy I was dating got drunk, and he said something to me I'll never forget..."




"He said... 'Ever heard the story of Kaspar Hauser? Locked up in a small room from earliest childhood. What a dirty rotten thing to do to a baby, taking it away from its parents, locking it up... damn those bastards and their f***ing control schemes! There's gonna be hell to pay for us all when Kaspar Hauser grows up! You've created a monster, you bastards!"


"Your friend was talking in riddles."


"I knew he was working under the eye of the military when he and the others coded the Arpanet system. And I knew he got involved in classified work, things he could never mention to me. I never asked. We broke up soon after he said that. He'd started to avoid me, like he was scared of getting me involved in something. And no, young man, my friend did not die in a mysterious accident. Last thing I heard, he's retired and in good health."


"So what's your own contribution to universal access? Sleeping with the coder doesn't qualify."


"Watch it...! I wrote a small paper on it some years ago... it was instantly forgotten. The paper dealt with strategies to prevent future abuse of ARPANET, once it grew to become a public network... this was before most people knew about it."


"I know."


"Heh... I warned, for example, that unsolicited commercial e-mail might become a problem in the future. But I also described various 'takeover scenarios' in which a person or organization could try and get user access to all connected databases."


"Did you show this paper to your old friends?"


"By that time, they weren't my friends anymore. Maybe they read it, I don't know. Have you?"


"Couldn't find it on the Web. It's not in any library."


"I still remember every word of it. Got a good memory, young man. I put forth a number of possible takeover strategies - that is, things our enemies could do to the Internet. One: infect the network with a virus that gives file access to the sender. Counter strategy: Firewalls and human monitors who check every user as he tries to log in. Two: bribery. Pay off the right people to open access to the most important databases. Counter strategy: Pay the right people not to give away access."


"There's more, right? It's in your eyes. Another way to get universal access. Did your friends create a backdoor after all?"


"I... I came up with another strategy that I didn't mention in my paper, because it was so... far-fetched. A futuristic solution. The thing my friend told me that night, about a locked-up baby, was an inspiration. I proposed the developing of a... there's no proper word for it. A child raised by wolves."




"Think of Kaspar Hauser. A true story. Germany, the 19th century. He grew up locked in a dark room all his childhood. His development was stunted because he hadn't interacted with other people, with the world. He couldn't speak properly. It's through interaction with other humans and objects that we develop language... and probably also an identity, a sense of being human."


"A child raised by wolves..."


"Precisely. Imagine a child raised by computers. He grows in a dark room, but he's not completely alone. His only line of communication with the outside world is ARPANET - I mean, the Internet - and digital interfaces. A child who develops a computer language instead of a spoken language. The human mind is infinitely adaptable, but it needs stimulation or it'll die."


"Your friend was talking about that when he was drunk? Experiments on babies growing up with computers and computer networks?"


"How old were you when you first started to learn computers, young man? Ten? Eight?"


"Five... four, maybe."


"How about starting earlier than that? From birth. Or earlier still. And you never let it see or directly talk to another human being with its own senses. The child will never even know that it is a human being."


"That's impossible. Babies need mothers, breastfeeding, intelligent interaction. Computers are dumb and cold. Babies need food."


"But imagine a computer made up as a nurturing mother figure - complete with milk dispenser, thermostats and soft warm surfaces to make it comforting. Talking to the baby in computer code, with a keyboard and screen interface... maybe even a direct cerebral interface with its nervous system, if that's possible... any add-ons you can imagine. Cameras, databases, anything connected to the Internet."


"Sounds like a really stupid movie I saw once. What's the point? The baby would die."


"But if the child survived it would become, for all practical purposes and intents, an intelligent computer. It would identify completely with computers, and understand them on an instinctive level. It could use computers, connect with them on a level beyond our present mental capacity. Believe me, a computer child would find a way to get access to anything. It wouldn't need to know passwords to enter a local-area network or a connected machine. It would have developed specialized senses, mental limbs for moving about in digital space. It could think itself through a firewall, as naturally as we could open a door in a dark room."


"I get it now. The cyborgs, the chat, the things that happened. It's the only logical explanation. Those idiots... those f***ing idiots! They think they're worshipping a thinking Internet... I knew it sounded too good to be true."




"The cult of the Eye, heard about them? Did they send you any messages, like: 'the Eye is all is the Eye...'"


"No... wait. There was this one odd e-mail from a Scandinavian student. He told me I'd inspired him with my work on fractals..."


"Was he named 'Sven' (real name not used here)? Writing from abroad?"


"Yes. He never wrote back."


"He's dead. Someone killed him, in this country, just a few months ago. He was involved with a dangerous cult. I think the cult members murdered him because he wasn't supposed to mention those words about 'the EYE' but he broke the code of silence. Or he was set up, I'm not sure why?"


"You sound awfully sure. Do you have any means of proving who killed him?"


"I saw them knock him out with tasers and take him away, the night he died. And now they're after me. You've got to help me. I can't travel as freely as you. You must help me find that wolf child. He or she is called EYE, I've chatted with EYE once, and this creature deleted me from all databases everywhere. EYE is unbelievably powerful, but talks like a retard..."


"Whoa, young man! You're moving too fast for me. I was just speculating. Relax. Maybe someone tried to raise a computerized child. But speaking as a woman, I assure you that this child would die very young. If my friend really knew about such an experiment, it would be a failed experiment."


"But listen to me! I talked to that child..."


"Or you thought you did. So what if there's a cult around the Internet. Cults are a dime a dozen. They're all based on lies, and they always fall apart. Why would this 'cult of the EYE' be any different? Go home, young man. Get a life."


"They killed that student who e-mailed you. Electrocuted him in a warehouse, probably after questioning. The only reason you're still alive, is they don't suspect you of knowing anything. EYE has universal access. He or she can hack into surveillance cameras, police records, phone records, anything that's wired to the Web. But EYE has got to have a body of flesh and blood. If I find that body, I can kill it."


"I think you should leave now, before I call the police."


"All right... I can frame you for plagiarism. You stole the idea of the fractal geometry of cyberspace from that dead student, Sven. I'm wondering now, did you find out he was dead, and so you decided it was safe to use his idea... since he never got to finish his term paper anyway?"


"You can't prove that."


"Yes I can. Either I'll ruin your reputation or you'll help me."


"Who are you? You're not an American student. I've never seen you at the UCLA."


"I'm the Ghost of Hackers Past. If I'm going to get your help, I need you to stay alive. So trust me. By the way, you have to give me the videotape of your university lecture in O, the one you stole."


"How did you know I had it?"


"Just a wild guess. Now listen, I must tell you a strange and complicated story..."





I won't tell you exactly what I told her. EYE is probably reading this too. And I'm sending a warning to EYE: Dr. Lovelace (surely you know her real name) is a public figure. So you can't send out your killers for her, like you did to get me and Sven.


And you can't "delete" Dr. Lovelace from official existence, either. I may be a ghost, but she's doing university appearances. Thousands of people can attest to her existence. All you can do is follow her, as you've done before, and try to keep her from finding out things.


Understand this, EYE: She's my decoy. Anything you do to her, I'll know. And the world will know. And that will lead me to you. And then I will kill you.


So here's the deal, EYE: She will stay quiet about me, about you, about Toys 4 Eyes, about the WCCC, and in return you and your henchmen will stay out of her way. But if you do something stupid, she'll start telling the world everything she knows. You will have to spread your forces thin to keep track of both me and her.


But then again Ada Lovelace is not your real problem, EYE. I realized that she's only posing as clever... the kind of unimaginative, risk-avoiding academic who takes credit for other people's work, has nothing to gain from exposing you, and certainly lacks the courage to do so. As far as I'm concerned, she's of no more use to me. (I finally saw the videotape of her lecture - and what a disappointment it was.) She did give me one vital clue, though, to your identity.


I think you're flesh and blood, EYE. And I think you're growing older and wiser. So am I. Maybe we'll have a chat soon.


Don't think I'm satisified yet. I'm only getting started...

continued in Dispatch 011..

The following chat started it all, a year ago...

-i'm a hakker. so who are you, the artist formerly known as prince?
-what do you do for a living?
-good for you. if you're trying to trace me, forget it.
-this is stupid. Start making sense or i cut the connection.
-you're breaking my heart.
-drop dead.
-i said you can't trace me. bye.

"HAKKER: DISPATCHES" is (c) A.R.Yngve 1989, 2003.

This is a work of fiction. The characters and actions described herein are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons and events is coincidental. This work of fiction is not intended to incite to the violent and/or criminal acts described herein.

H.Ellison no longer exists.