HAKKER: dispatches

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The middleman always gets squeezed...

Hakker, Dispatch 004:

September 2003


That young hacker "Sven" and his girlfriend who got killed last month made the local news in the days that followed. Their hacker friends are still chatting about it on their newsgroups. Several of them remember me from the party in G-Burg, and how I'd robbed the girl of a CD-ROM with Sven's map program. They suspect me of being the killer. No one else got a copy of his creation, because when his body was found the computer equipment was missing. Which meant that only two parties possessed the program now: Sven's killers... and myself.

So now there are several witnesses accusing me, the "nameless mystery guest at the hacker party," of the only two murders I DIDN'T commit. Someone even phone-cammed me as the girl sat in Sven's lap - I'm the short neck and broad back turning away from the camera. And he posted that photo on a website, and sent it to the police. Wonderful.

I did some nosing around among the other hackers who claimed to have been at that hacker party, and checked the communication to and from Sven's university, in case there were more messages referring to "the EYE." It was the obvious thing to do, right? It's hard to imagine a guy like Sven, who barely had the patience to finish his latest program before he rushed to show it off to his friends, that he could keep absolutely quiet about such a weird statement. It has occurred to me, it has, that the message was planted in Sven's e-mail by someone else. Just to draw me out, or for some other reason. But my gut feeling is that there has to be a connection between the e-mail, Sven's Internet map program, and the weirdos who murdered him.

Sven's Internet map program was a brilliant creation - the kind of breakthrough that makes every coder slap his head and say, "Why didn't I think of that?"

A simple, logical assumption: If I could intercept the communications between Ada Lovelace and Sven, then so could the kidnappers. They might've been just spies and thieves who knew nothing about the reference to "the EYE." But there was still that line from his letter:

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

So far I haven't found that line anywhere else on the Web. Maybe "EYE" erased it from the Web, like he/she erased everything about me. Which means it's pointless to try and find more leads on the Internet. Gotta search the physical universe instead. Sven's Internet map is my best lead. I'll check all the nodes belonging to that company, Toys 4 Eyes. Where the company's nodes are located, there's got to be a chance of finding people who were involved or know something. Just my instinct...



After I started my life as a non-existent computer criminal on the run, it took some time to get jobs. Many of the people I first contacted refused to believe I wasn't a crank caller, or a police spy trying to "entrap" them. That's the problem with not officially existing: If suddenly no one knows anything about you, you don't have a reputation. Rep counts.

So I had to build a rep for myself. I pulled a few stunts that were never mentioned in the news or even on the Web, but they were things I could use as a "merit list" later on. For example, the "Salmons In Oil Prank" last year: I hacked the server of a container terminal in Vancouver, and shuffled the loading schedules.. with the result that several containers packed with frozen salmon were loaded onto the deck of an oil tanker. I left the note "SALMONS IN OIL, DELIVERED BY A. HAKKER" in the server's mail file. It never made the news - the companies involved covered it up - but the legend lived, and it gave me cred later. Still, that was easy. Shutting down the power grid on the East Coast, now THAT was hard. (Just kidding.)

But before I made a name for myself as "Hakker," in the first few weeks, it came to the point where I nearly starved. So almost the first computer caper I pulled was to rob the bank where I'd previously been a customer - the same bank whose ATM had chewed up my credit card. That time, I was hungry and short on cash, so I chose a crude, risky method. I'd heard about some guys in Sweden who tried to rig up a small camera and a magnetic scanner ON TOP OF an automatic teller machine, but of course the setup was found out.

That gave me an idea, though. I found some computer junk in a dumpster... among other things, a whole box full of discarded webcams. I visited several ATMs at night, wearing a phony mustache and sunglasses (so the ATM cameras couldn't take a recognizable picture). And I superglued one useless webcam to the ceiling (above the button panel) of every machine. Must've glued several dozen ATMs in one night.

The customers were the first to react in the early morning. They saw the cameras and thought they were being photographed by thieves when they tried to punch in their PIN codes, and of course they complained to the bank. The bank managers panicked and thought the cameras were functional. So around six thirty in the morning, they ordered all their ATMs to be shut down, and sent in a security firm to fix the machines. A whole army of security people. And it just so happens that the security firm has keys to open the money boxes in the ATMs.

I tailed two of the security-firm guys who were sent to fix a machine on the outskirts of the city of Z. One of them had a gun in his belt. Not that it mattered. When they came around the ATM and were about to slow down for a stop, my watch was reading 6:47 AM.

I raced alongside on my bike... and stabbed the van's left front tire with the razor-capped tip of my umbrella. Then I slowed down and let the van wobble past me. It stopped on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. I raced up to the van, and smashed an empty bottle over one guy's head as he stepped out the door. The driver came out, and he had the gun. I threw a shuriken into his arm. He didn't die from that, but he dropped the gun and I beat him down.

Then I cut the keys from their belts, unlocked the ATM with the keys, emptied the box in a canvas bag, and drove off. It took a few minutes and I earned a sizable sum of cash, enough to live off for a while. But surely the bill numbers were known, you wonder? If this had been a year or two earlier, yes... But, while the ATM system was shut down, the money wasn't extracted by using a card, so my little "transaction" wasn't registered and the bill numbers were not scanned and stored in the computer. Therefore they were safe to use.

Oh, yeah... maybe a surveillance camera caught a picture of me as I left the location - but I was wearing a scarf over my face, and mirrorshades over my glasses.

Under the old banking system - before the ATMs - the bill numbers would have been kept on record before the bills were used. But with the advent of ATMs, more and more banks simply stopped doing that - to save up on expenses - and relied on the computers to check the bill numbers on each individual ATM transaction. Never underestimate the power of stupidity.



There are SO many ways to hack a bank's or a company's accounts, and I'm not going to give away my best tricks. The simplest method, that everyone understands, is to pay an insider to give up the access codes. Then you do the actual breaking in, while he goes to work as usual and does nothing suspicious... and later he gets his share of the take. I learned quickly, in that tough first year, that this is the worst method. You cannot trust the other guy.

Let me tell you about Hans O'Dell (not his real name), middle manager in the big company of The X-Y-Z Corporation. I knew he feared he was going to get fired, because I'd wiretapped the phones of his company and heard talk about it:

SOME GUY: "O'Dell's got to go. He's incompetent. Getting old, too."

OTHER GUY: "Yeah, we all know about Hans O'Dell. But let's do it the nice way. At the next budget meeting due December."

SOME GUY: "Is that nice? Firing him around Christmas?"

OTHER GUY: "Here in (name of country), we don't fire people like you Americans do. The law forces us to give O'Dell three months' notice. Think of it as a Christmas bonus."

SOME GUY: Ha ha! You (nationality)s are nuts!

I sent O'Dell an e-mail - not to his job, but to his home:


To: hans.odell@(name)

From: hakker943504@yahoo.com

Subject: The management will fire you at Xmas

A little bird told me that the management is going to fire you. They say you're "incompetent" and the ax will drop around Xmas. I suggest we teach them a lesson. You and all the other managers have the access codes to the company's classified research files. Give me the codes. I'll get a copy and no suspicion falls on you. We can sell the files to a competitor and earn a cool fortune. How's that for a payback?

I'll call you soon.

A Hakker


A few days later I called him.


"This is A. Hakker."

"It was you who sent me that message."


"Let's meet. Say nothing more on the phone."

We met, in a car park at midnight. I sneaked up to his car and almost scared the living daylights out of the man, when I popped up my head and said: "Hi." O'Dell stared at me, at my gray quasi-military clothing and my big, thick-rimmed glasses with the mirrorshades, at my blank expression.

"What's with the uniform?" he asked. "You look like a Nazi."

"And you look like Quisling." (Well, not really. More like a cross between Quisling and William H. Macy, equal parts depraved and guilty.) "You got the passwords?"

"Wait a minute. I need guarantees. I won't let you double-cross me."

"What kind of guarantees? I'm not giving you my bloody address." (Of course, he couldn't know I had no address.)

"I'll give you the codes, if you let me choose the time and location for the login. I want to be sure you're using a safe location."


"I've done some scouting. A friend of mine always leaves his computer on. He's out of town for a week. You can break into his place, it hasn't got any alarms. It lies above his shop in this city."

"And where do I deliver the files once I get them? I can't e-mail them to you."

"Store them on a floppy disk. Then we'll meet and you deliver it to me... I'll hand you the first payout in cash. Thirty thousand. There'll be more to come when I sell the files. You'll need me to sell the stuff for a good price. If the files came from you, why would the buyers believe you had the real stuff?"

"You have a point there."

With great reluctance, he handed me an envelope with the passwords to his company's most prized secrets. We shook hands on it and parted ways for that night. I noted all the things that'd been left unsaid between us, such as: "Don't make your own copies," or "I don't trust you." I'd anticipated him to try and get me under surveillance. Luckily, I was prepared for that... or so I thought.  



The location O'Dell had given me lay in the inner city. I didn't like it. Cops are too close by, and too many people.

But like I said, I was nearly starving then and new to the game. Sometime past midnight, prepared for the worst, I bicycled into the inner city, to the street O'Dell had pointed out to me. Some traffic passed by; any one car could be following me. Damn, I should've taken a sneakier route. I broke into the back of the shop and walked softly upstairs, scattering a boxful of tacks over the steps in my wake. I saw faint flickering light from an open door near the top of the stairs. Listened for human noises, heard none save my own.

The computer was switched on in the dark room, like he'd said: screensaver fish were swimming lazily across the old-fashioned cathode-ray screen. A window by the desk offered a good view of the street below. I checked the room for hidden cameras, and found none. Then, feeling very queasy, I nailed a tripwire to the doorway with the last few tacks, and sat down by the computer desk. I left the room dark.

I logged on to the server of O'Dell's employer, and used the passwords to get "executive access." As I copied the research files onto a floppy disc, I kept thinking that this was too easy, I had to anticipate the next step O'Dell was going to take. He seemed the cowardly type to me, not prone to pull a gun and shoot. I had considered other options, though. If he could hire one middleman, he could hire two. Maybe his friend wasn't out of town at all.

In the space of thirty seconds, the files had been stored to the floppy disk. I took out the disk and made to leave. Someone howled in the staircase outside the door, and another man swore and screamed. They'd found the tacks. (My first thought when I heard them: Maybe I should coat the tacks with poison?) Then the two thugs came clamping up the stairs. I heard the oily click of the safety mechanism of a gun, and hid behind the doorway.

Where do hired thugs come from? Is there a Henchman University? Do they advertise in the Yellow Pages under "Muscle?" I don't know... but I believe I'm smarter than a thug.

The first one rushed in with a drawn pistol - a blond moron with "white supremacy" badges on his jacket - and tripped on the tripwire. He fell on his face, on top of his gun, and I stomped on his neck. It was thick and didn't snap. I heard the other guy move outside, and I ducked down. Couldn't get to the first guy's weapon. The second guy appeared in the doorway - standing up - and sprayed the whole room with bullets from his little submachine gun. The walls flickered; the computer screen exploded; fragments of plaster and glass rained over the floor. I was crouching down on the floor right behind the doorway, umbrella in my hands. The gun was still spitting bullets when I dove at the guy from underneath - and shoved the sharp tip of my umbrella up into the soft underside of his jaw. He gargled blood and I pushed the metal tip further up. There came a bone-cracking noise from his mouth, it reminded me of when my dentist had pulled out a troublesome wisdom tooth. Then he coughed and went limp. I had to pull the bloody umbrella out of his head.

I don't like guns. They make too much noise and run out of ammo. I was so stressed out, I nearly didn't notice the first guy was still breathing. A witness. My first impulse was to kill him, but in an instant I got a better idea. Why kill him? He'd never seen me before, and hadn't seen my face. I turned him over and zipped open his jacket, found his wallet and ID, and left.

Had to run quickly... and stepped on one of my own tacks on the way down the stairs. Swearing and cursing, I found the bicycle and made my escape. Police sirens sounded in the distance. It was my first kill since I was a kid. That jerk had spat drops of blood all over my cap and jacket. Spent the better part of the night washing it off, and then I still had to throw away the jacket.

Next day, O'Dell got a phone call at his office. It was me.


"Yes... who is this?"

"I've got the files you asked me to steal."

"I... I don't know what you're talking about."

He hung up. I called him again immediately. After a few rings he picked up the phone and let me finish.

"Your friend's computer at (name of address) worked just fine. But the two thugs you sent me got into a fight... seems one of them... sort of... died. The other one survived... I think."

"I'm warning you..."

"Says here his name was (name of thug)."

"Shut up, shut up...!"

"Oh, you're afraid the management is listening in on your phone calls? You're right! Someone tipped'em off. You just can't trust anyone nowadays. (Simpsons-Style:) HA-HA!"

I sold the files to a Russian company a while later. Can't say they paid me all that well, but they didn't try to doublecross me. In fact, they offered me a full-time job. I told them I'd think about it. I dug down most of the cash somewhere safe. It would come in handy later. And what did I learn from this early caper that almost cost me my life?

One: Always work alone.

Two: Plan carefully.

Three: Carry a tube of spot-removing solvent at all times. Blood stains on your clothes are just impossible if you don't work on'em real quick.

























"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.