HAKKER: dispatches

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Hakker, Dispatch 013:



It's expensive to be homeless. Overnight shelters, safehouses, last-minute housing solutions, bribes and throwaway camping equipment... it all adds up. And since I don't have a bank account (EYE's got Universal Access, remember?), my money doesn't collect interest. Use it or lose it.

I needed more cash for my little preparations - my "Spring Offensive," if you want to call it that - so I took another assignment for the rich guy who paid me to rub out spammers last summer. Turned out my last hit didn't send a strong enough "message" to the spammer community - the spam problem is just getting worse. If this goes on, soon 70% of ALL e-mails sent, worldwide, will be spam. (Makes one wonder if all those "Make Your Willie Longer" messages really helped anyone, or caused more impotence...)

The rich guy got in touch with me through one of his clever devices: my nickname was never used. He merely dropped hints in the media, enough that I would take notice. I called him on his personal number, the one that few people know.


"It's the trashman. I just called to ask... if maybe you wanted me to take out some more trash?"

"Yes... the smell is getting terrible. I want you to... go into the backyard and clean up a mess. I'll pay you twice the amount you got last time."

"You know I'm not available in America. There are not that many.... garbage heaps here, and they will take some time to find. Could you maybe... give me a few names or something? Not on the phone, of course."

There was a pause, and the sound of paper being shuffled. Then: "Go to my company website in a few hours, click on the following link (he named a URL), and read the text carefully. It's in your general area. Will that do?"

"Perfect. I'll get back to you."

"Oh, and one more thing. I want proof of a job well done. It's not enough that this garbage just changes label and is moved elsewhere, or lies around for too long. It needs... getting rid of, and soon. Each case is paid for."

"Of course. I'll get back to you. By the way, it's a pretty huge estate you're building for yourself. Plenty of land you bought just to isolate yourself. Don't take this the wrong way, but, has someone been threatening you lately? Someone with... universal access?"

He went silent for two seconds, and answered in a somewhat confused tone:

"I really don't understand the question. What do you mean by...? Never mind. Bye."

And he hung up. I still can't figure out if he was hiding anything or not. It goes without saying that he's receiving threats from various sources on a daily basis - no way of knowing if one of them was EYE. But I had a job now, and a name to go on...

I waited a few hours, looked up the URL he'd given me, and found a page of plain text. At a glance it was just a long, long list of hardware and software items, in apparently random sequence. I held a paper over my laptop screen, and read the first letter of every item on the list, from top to bottom.

The letters formed the name "M-O-R-G-A-N D-U-C-K" (not the actual name, but you get the idea). Scrolling down the list, the letters formed a postal address and a city name. There were also copies of the server addresses he'd been using, and copies of the typical messages: phony claims, promises of riches, obscenities... and an attempt to pose as a representative of the Rich Guy's company, sending people "anti-virus software" which was of course another e-mail virus.

Judging by Morgan D.'s characteristic spelling and grammar errors - his "fingerprint" - which also appeared in everything he'd ever posted on the Web under his own name - his spamming activity dated back at least four years. He was a pro.

I'd never heard of the guy, but the name was unique enough. He lived in the city of Q, some distance from where I was holing up.

Almost from the start I decided it was going to look like an "accident." I packed some basic stuff, padlocked my hideout, and was off. As I left, I wondered if sleeping near those powerlines might be unhealthy in the long run. But then again, what was the chance that I'd live long enough to have kids...?

Morgan D., spammer, was going to die.



It was a long ride to Morgan D.'s address. On the way, I used the available wi-fi links to search for more data about him: appearance, phone number, e-mail, known day job, relations and so on. I found that he had a family. Damn. I wasn't going to kill anyone but him. Computer criminals used to be socially deficient young loners, but this has changed. I didn't expect a spammer to be capable of procreating (how else do you explain all those Viagra e-mails?), but there it was: he had a wife and kid. Damn.

This meant I couldn't do the task quick and cheap. I had to think out a means of getting to him alone.

I had some gear with which I could keep track of Morgan D.'s habits: the usual night-scope, videocamera, and a small digital camera with remote-control for taking discreet snapshots. The camera has been useful in the past, when I needed to tape someone punching in a door key code, for instance.

The city of Q. lay in Denmark, so my train went over the big bridge across the Strait. I wasn't carrying any obvious weapons - I don't like guns, anyway - but I was nervous about surveillance cameras. You find them everywhere nowadays: on boats, trains, buses, in shops, in every public space, parking lots, roads with lots of traffic, in taxicabs, and so on. I try to be careful, but when I'm not in night gear I'll have to risk exposure to cameras. I can do a few things about my appearance, but on a trip in broad daylight a crude disguise doesn't really work. The Sensei's old tricks to escape human attention are still effective (and I won't tell you what they are), but cameras are different. And there I sat on the train, with tiny camera lenses in all major doorways.

The best I could hope for in that situation was that EYE was overwhelmed by the sheer number of surveillance images, plus the delay in which images are stored and filed away on servers. There is of course facial-recognition software, making it faster and easier to find a face, but first you have to know who to look for.

After deleting my official existence in 2002, did EYE keep a personal file on me for him/herself? How the hell could I know? Should EYE have bothered saving any files on me, when he/she seemed so determined to delete me in the first place? Since he/she had to be a human being (or several ones), how well could he/she remember and recognize my face by now? Was "deleting" the same thing as "forgetting" to EYE? How did his/her mind work?

It nagged me, that I didn't really know how my opponent was thinking. When Spring came, I was going to aggressively find out more about EYE as a person. Very aggressively. He/she couldn't exist in total isolation, not for long anyway. Someone had to be seeing EYE in the flesh. I of all people should know how hard it is to stay unseen.



But... back to the assignment: I arrived in the city of Q, Denmark. This brought back nice memories. I'd been here in my childhood and other times, on hacker parties when I was younger, and on holidays. I stopped by a hot-dog stand to buy a whole bunch of red frankfurters with extra mustard, then a Tuborg. Weather sucked, but I didn't care. I got a room in a small local hotel, took a rest and watched TV, then went out to scout for Morgan D.

He lived in a suburban two-story house, surrounded by other houses, near a school and a kindergarten. F***! To make it all worse was in the middle of winter, which meant there were no bushes worth hiding behind, and I'd leave footprints in the snow and slush.

F***, squared!

To spy on the house, I walked through the neighborhood, took a local bus passing by, then a taxi, then a rented bicycle. It got dark early, which made it easier to walk by unnoticed. But there were too many kids playing in the street, tossing snowballs. I couldn't place the videocamera anywhere without being noticed by kids. (Ditto with concealed microphones.) But every time I passed by I took snapshots or taped footage with my concealed cameras.

Morgan D.'s house looked fairly expensive but badly maintained - the paint was peeling. Morgan himself didn't come out all day. Pizza guys and other catering services dropped by several times, delivering food, and that's when I got my first glimpse of my target. Picture a Peter Jackson lookalike, only fatter and with brownish-blond hair instead of black. He wore a t-shirt which might have been white once, and jogging pants that seemed to remain forever stuck in the fold under his huge belly. I swear the first thing I thought was this: Wonderful! I'll just wait here and send him free pizza and burgers, and watch him eat himself to death. How the hell do you make a woman pregnant when you have a belly that size? Artificial insemination? Please, God, tell me he scared his family out of the house.



Obviously, I considered poisoning his food deliveries. But I changed my mind when I saw his family come on a visit. A rather ugly-looking woman and a little child drove by and rang on the door. Morgan D. hugged them and let them in. I taped it on camera, and on the playback I thought I saw and heard him offer them to share dinner with him.

So he was divorced - big surprise there - but I couldn't poison the food and risk killing a guest. And getting into the house unnoticed was next to impossible. It had to be happen when he left the house. Stakeout? In the winter? With lots of witnesses? No thanks.

Then I had an idea...



I'd read in the news about how cops tricked wanted felons into the police office, by promising them a lottery prize - "come to this address to get your luxury yacht!" - and it was worth a try. I went back to the hotel, and websurfed the Yellow Pages and local maps for an address that might do. It wasn't that easy to find a secluded location for the scam - Denmark is small. (Lots of good, cheap public transportation, though.) I found a used-car lot not too far away from town, and composed a Photoshop letter, with the address and company name of the site as a letterhead.

Quote: "CONGRATULATIONS, MORGAN D! You have won a mint-condition (brand name of car) in our car lottery. Yes, it's yours. The only condition for getting your free prize is that you do not remove our advertising sticker from the car's bumpers. As an extra bonus, we pay a full tank of gasoline without extra cost. But come soon!"

The number given in the letter was, of course, my cell phone number at the time. (And yes, it was a stolen phone.)

I bicycled past Morgan D.'s mailbox and dropped the letter there - wearing surgical gloves, like I did when I composed the letter - just before the hour when Morgan usually went out for his mail. I bicycled one block away and waited for him to open the door. When I saw it open - hopefully he was alone in the house that day, which was a Sunday - I waited five minutes, and then I rang him. This is a guarantee that a scam will work, reinforcing the message. Just a single letter is not strong enough, especially with a professional spammer.

I took deep breath and mentally assumed the "salesman" mask: "Good morning, I'm calling from the (name of used-car lot) - is this our lucky winner, Morgan D.?"

Morgan had a moronic voice I can't recreate here... try to imagine Gumby on Valium: "Yeah, that's me. I didn't know I was in a contest. Has this anything to do with the store where I bought my last car?"

"No, this is our own offer. It's part of our marketing drive here in town... the bumper stickers provide us with free advertising, which is we have picked the best car for you. We want our customers to see you happy in your new car. Everybody wins!"

"Yeah, I see that... so when can I come and pick it up?"

"You can leave your old car at home, and take the bus over here... I suggest bus number (X), and you'll be here in twenty minutes. All you have to do is sign your ownership document, and you can drive away. But don't wait too long! This offer expires in five days."

"Right, right... I'll try and be there today then. Thanks."

"And thank you! Bye!"

Now, for the used-car lot...



Since I couldn't bring any large weapons across the Strait to Denmark, I had to improvise something... and it had to work on the first attempt. The day before I'd bought some cheap small kitchenware in a shop, and brought it along to the lot.

There was a CLOSED sign up front, on the padlocked gate fence. I spraypainted over the sign, and glued the printed OPEN sign on top of it. Then I waited, hiding among the junk and rusted cars. Within an hour, Morgan came walking down the slush-covered street.

I was standing behind a pile of used tires, right outside the padlocked gates, ready with my throwing knife. He only had to come within a few meters' distance, and I'd plant the first knife in his throat. Dense snow was beginning to fall, obscuring my aim. That's right, try to open the locked gate... I tensed my throwing arm, holding two more small knives in my left hand... Morgan put his hand on the gate fence... I held my breath to make the throw...

And the damn gate opened. The padlock snapped open - it must've been unlocked - and Morgan walked right in! I didn't know what to do. I put away the knives and stalked after him, walking in his footprints. He was too far away for me to throw a knife, and I didn't want him to see me.

He turned a corner and dropped out of sight. I waited. A minute later, I heard a car engine starting up. And another man's voice, screaming and swearing. Morgan's voice joined in the shouting. Damn! He'd tried to steal a car from a staff member who worked weekends. While Morgan yelled about getting his "prize," I fled the place.

I waited around the edge of Morgan's suburb, until his bus arrived, and bicycled past his house just in time to see him walk in. The sun was setting. He slammed the door behind him. I had to think up something else... and I couldn't waste too much time about it.

That same night, I dirked a door-lock and, wearing a face disguise, sneaked into a small pharmacy. The alarm was triggered, and I only had the time to rush for the PRESCRIPTION DRUGS shelves and refrigerator, grab the stuff on my shopping-list that was available, and flee the scene.

I ran into an alley, made myself invisible - there is a trick to it, which I learned when I was ten - and saw the police car drive by, looking for the burglar.

I bought some stuff at a night-open store, returned to the hotelroom, and went through my plastic bag of stolen medicines. Naturally the police would send out a warning through the media, as they always do, about dangerous drugs. They should expect junkies to try and sell the stuff, and go looking among the local junkie community. Which suited me fine.

On the floor in front of me I had a handful of potentially dangerous medicines. It was like the old creativity test, except the Sensei wasn't here with his electronic stopwatch. I let my mind go blank... thought about nothing... and reached for the two bottles that caught my attention. They were filled with P***l tablets. P***l? How was I going to kill Morgan D. with antidepressants? But I stayed with the impulse, let my mind work on it. The human brain has vast untapped resources, and your "consciousness" - if there is such a thing - is merely the top of the iceberg.

Then it hit me. I did a quick web search about the drug, and came up with the reports that my subconscious had remembered. The tricky part would be make him take all the pills. I went through my notes about Morgan D.'s habits, and came up with a plan. It was going to be a bit tricky, but far less risky than my other options...



I had already noted the name of the supermarket that delivered food to Morgan's door. Overnight, I hacked into the store's database and opened the delivery-list files. The hacking required next to no effort on my behalf, because the store's computers had one of those nifty backdoors left by the MyDoom/NOVARG virus. (And no, I didn't create that virus. Honestly!)

The files showed that Morgan was a creature of habit: he always ordered the same stuff every week, with little to no variation: frozen pizzas, instant coffee, boxes of Jolt Cola, snack bars, frozen ready-made burgers, Gorby's pirogs, beer, more candy... and finally, a wafer-thin mint. (OK, not the wafer-thin mint.)

I tasted one of the P***l pills, chewed on it and tasted it. Typical medicine taste. But it might pass in the... yeah, a man of his discerning, subtle taste might not notice that.

After I'd made a copy of the delivery-list, I altered the files in the supermarket's database, sending Morgan's weekly shipment to another address.

I went out early next morning, and bought the most important item on Morgan's delivery-list: a jar of instant coffee and some stuff to process it. Using a pepper mortar, some glue, a bottle of brown food-coloring, and a heat source, I managed to mix the drugs into the coffee jar and re-seal it. One had to look real closely to spot the brownish powder among the coffee grains.

Then I bought the rest of the items on the delivery-list, waited for Morgan to leave the house on an errand, and delivered the things in a carton on his doorstep. I left the suburb quickly, and the same evening I was traveling back across the Strait, leaving Denmark behind.


For weeks afterward, I checked the Danish news websites for anything about "Morgan D." There was no way of telling how soon he was going to use my prepared coffee, of course... I would have to wait. Maybe it wouldn't work, but at least I'd tried. After the car-scam fiasco, I couldn't risk anything more audacious than poisoned coffee...

A full two weeks had passed, when I came upon a news notice: Morgan D., 35 years old (he looked older to me) had hanged himself. I was kind of surprised, but it must have worked: every time he made his instant coffee, he overdosed himself with the antidepressant. The pharmaceutical companies are trying to cover this up, but it's a fact: overdoses of antidepressant can trigger suicidal impulses.

I sent a snail-mail letter to the Rich Guy in the U.S., referring to the relevant news item on the Web, and asked for my payment. A drop was about to occur in a specific location, at a special date.

I waited around the location late one night, and sure enough... at around the given time, a passing car stopped and an envelope was dropped in a waste-bin. The car left, I went and picked up the padded envelope. Out of it I dug a printed note:

Sorry: according to the news, it was suicide by hanging. My people even asked the police, and they had found no absolutely evidence of foul play. No evidence of a job done, therefore no money. Better luck next time - or should I say LESS luck... ;-)

I tore the note apart and cursed the Rich Guy, then myself. I'd been too clever for my own good...

continued in Dispatch 014..

"HAKKER: DISPATCHES" is (c) A.R.Yngve 1989, 2003, 2004.

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.