Queues, Cues and Clues
by Dal Merlin Jeanis


October, 2000.

It was a chance comment on a newsgroup that got IB2Tap thinking.

"What kind of person would let unsolicited signals from their television control what their home computer was doing?"

The answer was obvious, at least to IB2Tap -- an idiot or an average American.  But, he was repeating himself.  Or herself.  Or itself.

IB2Tap did its best to think of itself as genderless, at least to the degree that the English language allowed.  English did not allow a being without gender to have a pronoun which allowed it the status of a sapient being.  So, often IB2Tap would default in its thinking about itself to "he," or "she," or occasionally "they."  More often, it would use "I", which in English thankfully was without gender reference.  Luckily, IB2Tap did not often need to correspond in Japanese, where that was not exactly the case.

But today, IB2Tap was considering millions of normally gendered people, who had a different problem.

What kind of person would allow a stranger to send signals into their home to tell their computer what to do?  Millions of people who were succumbing daily to the marketing of a little item called "cue cat."

IB2Tap had analyzed a sample of the handheld scanner.  It was cute, it was simple, it was free.  It was even useful.  It was the ultimate marketing item to Americans.

And it was a Trojan Horse.

Really, the ultimate Trojan Horse.

Suppose, for a moment, that you had complete control of all the personal computers in the world.  That you could make them all report to you everything on their hard drives, every site and password, every financial detail, everything.

Suppose, for a moment, that you could make them all blink subliminal messages.  That you could make their owners all decide to sell all their stocks, or all buy the same stock, or sell the same stock.

Suppose that you could make them all connect to a single address, either to create ad revenue or to inundate a government computer with requests.  That you could make them all destroy all copies of a single document, or a document type, or all copies of a particular program.  That you could destroy the equipment, or upgrade the software.

Suppose that you could choose any one thing, between all the global possibilities.  What would you do?  This is what IB2Tap was contemplating.

It often thought about such things when it was breaking into an agency or corporation, either for fun or for profit.  But now, for the first time in its relatively short life, the question was no longer academic.  And someone else obviously knew their own answer to the question, because they had gone to a great deal of trouble to create and market the cue cat.

IB2Tap had also gone to a great deal of trouble, to decompile and analyze the programs.  In essence, on command the cue cat would download and run any program it was told to.  The command could be from swiping a bar code in a newspaper, on a product, in a brochure or magazine, or from hearing a tone on the television.

And now, IB2Tap had the code.

This was going to be fun.

******

"Good Work, Allison!"  A dark head popped into her door and congratulated her in a booming musical Haitian accent.

Allison Drake turned to George Mutalebi with a degree of puzzlement.  What was he going on about now? "Thank you, George.  To what do I owe the compliment?"

"Your upgrades to the security.  Excellent work -- I know it took you all the weekend."  He smiled, showing broad, white teeth in his dark, handsome face.  "The latest cracker report says the upgrades are in place and impenetrable."

Allison glanced at the unopened diskette mailer on her in-box, then back at George.  "Thank you."  Inside, she seethed.  "If you don't mind, I've got some pressing work to tend to."

"Of course, of course.  So many computers, so little time."  He laughed, a big musical laugh, and withdrew his head from the room like a magic trick.  Everything George did was bigger than life.

Breathing in, and holding it through tight lips, Allison began to check her systems.  They had indeed been upgraded, and as nearly as she could tell, with the latest versions of all her defensive software.

Except that she had not done it.

Oh, yes, Allison had been working all weekend.  She had been doing capacity reporting for her next capital expense proposal.  She had been planning to start the security upgrades next week, once the latest round of budget negotiations had completed.  After all, the security problems could be used as a bargaining chip, an example why upgraded equipment was necessary.

And now...

She seethed.

And, in her email inbox, was a note sent from her own email account.

"You're Welcome.  IB2Tap."

Since the door was closed, Allison went ahead and screamed.

******

IB2Tap had finished her planning.  This was going to be so fun.

It had taken all her willpower to decide not to take personal advantage of the situation.  It was just too dangerous, since there would be all kinds of Congressional investigations into the capabilities of the cue cat system, and into any monetary transfers that the systems initiated.

Then, of course, there was the ever-present possibility that the cue cat system was initiated by a US government agency.  In which case, the official investigations would go round, and round, and round...  Hmm.

IB2Tap chuckled.  Perhaps there was another way.

******

Allison was under no illusions about the altruism of IB2Tap.  Yes, he had done her a favor, but a favor that extended his control of her systems.

Ever since he had been hired by George to test her systems, IB2Tap had been a thorn in her side.  It wasn't just that he found holes that had been published for years, and reported them to George.  He also discovered completely new undocumented bugs, where her particular implementation of combinations of software and hardware components opened the way for exploits.  It made her look... well, less than competent.

But what pissed her off the most was that she hadn't a clue who he really was.  IB2Tap was known in the industry as one of the top five crackers in the world.  Somewhere in the world -- it was not even known what country that he worked from.

Or even what his gender really was.  Most people assigned him the masculine gender.  Three of the other four top professional crackers were men.  Probably ninety-seven of the top one hundred were men.

And he was so infuriating, he had to be a man.

His avatar, during the rare times when he actually chatted online, was a honeybee with one beer spigot on its belly, or sometimes two on its chest.  I Bee 2 Taps -- very funny.

Honeybees were female.  Beer is a masculine pastime.  So many clues, all probably intentionally misleading.

Bah!

She moved through the directories and the protocols, testing everything for correctness of feel and fit.  Everything checked out.  The problem was, she couldn't trust it.  Since the security upgrades had been installed by IB2Tap, they could have dozens of hidden doors for the cracker to enter at his leisure.

After two hours she even found one.  There was an extra user id in a coded base file on several of the Windows 2000 machines in the Marketing department.  The user name was "cuecat0."

Allison frowned.  What the hell?

******

November, 2000.

IB2Tap activated the command that started the cascade.  Across the United States and Canada, cue-cat-infected systems began to react.

In New York, computers began randomly buying and selling stocks.  On the average, the unattended computers did a little better than their owners.  On the whole, however, the winner was an account which slowly sold off a particular stock as its value rose.  An account based in Fort Worth, in the name of ERDA.

In South Florida, thousands of computer screens began blinking subliminal messages:

"Vote for Nader." (Blink.)

"Vote for Buchannon." (Blink.)

"Vote for Nader." (Blink.)

"Vote for Buchannon." (Blink.)

Over the following month, people would swear that their votes had been unintentional.

And all across the United States, people returned home to their computers to find the following message -- "Cue cat has requested that all your bank accounts be transferred to the Energy Resources Development Agency.  Do you wish to Proceed?"

Inexplicably, a few clicked the "yes" button.

******

IB2Tap watched the results of the election with amusement.  The other project would take a few days to reach epic proportions, but this should tip the scale significantly toward the lesser of the two mainstream weasels pushed forward by their respective parties.

He was astonished as the election was almost immediately called for Gore.  What the ding dang diddley was going on?  The polls weren't even closed in Florida yet!

He quickly hacked into the election databases maintained by the supposedly neutral Voter News Service.  They showed obvious signs of tampering -- the results from Volusia County couldn't be right.  There weren't that many socialists in the State!

IB2Tap dispatched an urgent email to a VNS database tech, ostensibly from a San Jose Mercury News reporter.  He waited impatiently while the time ticked away, until finally the networks began retracting their calls for Gore and putting Florida back into play.

The network mistake threw off all of IB2Tap's calculations.  About ten thousand people in the panhandle were likely to stay home, leaving the entire state in a statistical dead heat.  It was going to be a long night.

******

It was going to be a long week.

******

It was going to be a long month.

******

December, 2000.

Finally the United States Supreme Court stepped in and forced a close to the bloody legal warfare between the two mainstream weasels.  George W Bush "humbly" accepted the mantle of President.  Meanwhile, Congressional committees seemed to be vastly more interested in the machinations and the minutae of the Florida election than in the machinations of a small government agency.  The business in Florida had swept Cue cat off the front page and back to page 17, then off the papers altogether.

IB2Tap fumed.  It had set up a perfect trap for those annoying ERDA agents, but it had been ruined by a few network pundits that were ignorant of Florida's polling hours.

It sighed.

******

Allison frowned.  No one in the government had been interested in her proof that IB2Tap had been involved in the Cue cat incursion.

The fact that one of her Marketing people had loaded the software himself made the FBI very leery of accepting any accusations against the supposedly white hat cracker.  Even those ERDA guys didn't seem particularly impressed with her evidence.  And George - he just laughed musically and walked away.  It was so frustrating!

She closed her door and let out a low scream.  All this, and that pampered frat boy Bush was in the Oval Office.

What in the hell had made her vote for Nader?
 

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