The Hunter and the Hunted

It was a regular Wednesday evening for a lot of people. Bored housewives were watching Celebrity Wife Swap, laughing about how Margaret Cho and Holly Robinson-Peete struggled with their temporary new lives. More sophisticated people would be gearing up for a night of Criminal Minds or The Mentalist, others would delve into some comedy or another. Wednesday was just that, Wednesday.

For Sidney, Wednesday usually meant pretty much the same as any other weeknight. Call of Duty. Weekends were usually reserved for some other games with longer playtimes or bigger maps. But Call of Duty was ideal for short online multiplayer battles. Tonight, he had excused himself from his online community and dug out his laptop instead. This was one of those laptops that you didn't just leave about. Installed with Kali, the hackers Linux distribution of choice, it held all imaginable tools one could need if one were to take up a job as a hacker. And tonight, Sid needed it.

Somehow, and this was still unknown to Sid, the CEO of the company had worked for had managed to find out about Sid's skills. Not the data analyst skills, nor the meticulously correct and blazingly fast entering or checking of data. Those were known to more people, including former employers. No, Mr. Matthews had found out about his more hidden and private online skills, varying from the by-passing of licensing codes of proprietary software to breaking online banking encryption codes. Not that he had ever gained anything from those skills for himself, but he did possess them. And now he was using them.

The request had been pretty straight forward. He was to remove any incriminating evidence from one of the computers at work. He was not allowed to do so from within the corporate network, as that could raise too much suspicions with the IT Security department. And he was not to use the found evidence for his own good. To secure his loyalty, a handsome reward would wait for him once his task had been fulfilled. And even though Sidney did not care for the lures of materialism as others, he could still use an upgrade of his sound system and his gaming consoles. So after some deliberation, he had agreed to the terms and promised to be done with it by the end of tonight.

At first, things had gone smoothly. He had booted his laptop, ran all the necessary updates and had gone online via a whole host of proxies and tor networks. At the first day of his career at Clarke Industries, he had made sure that the corporate network was available for him to approach, even from the outside world. That hadn't been hard and had cost him less than five minutes. At that point he had been discussing whether to tell on the very bad security people or not, but had decided against it. How would he have found out, other than by wanting to do something that should have been secured in the first place? He was sure that some people would loose their jobs, and he would be one of them. So, he decided against telling and just used the flaws to his own good.

The PC he had to work with was his next step. He hadn't been told whom the target actually was, which was more of a formality than a 'you cannot know' kind of situation. Immediately after getting inside the PC he saw the personal details of the main user. Violet Albright. He didn't recognise the name. Not that he thought he would, he didn't know any names from the people he worked with and barely remembered the name of his manager. He didn't need to, no one ever paid attention to him when he was at work. He doubted whether they'd actually miss him if he wouldn't be there. As soon as he had found out his target, he had run an enhanced background check on her to find out her connections with online communities, laying bare any possible hacker relations. He had found out that, while she was good with Social Media and Photoshop, her skills did not really exceed that. Good, one less thing to worry about.

His principal had mentioned images and video footage. That was good intel, as he could narrow his search down a tenfold, being able to exclude any files based on file extension. He ruled out any advanced ways of hiding the files locally, as that would clearly be well beyond her knowledge. It took him a few minutes to search through all the search results, followed by ten minutes more to sift out the potential hits from the false positives. He used a small script that he had engineered a couple of years ago to replace all the incriminating files by duplicates of images that she had already stored on her PC, matching their file size in the process. This way, even if she would be very watchful, she wouldn't notice a change in her disk usage either by deleting all the files or replacing them with smaller or larger files.

Then he moved on to the company's central storage servers. He checked all locations that miss Albright had access to and reran his script on the server. Somebody should seriously be fired. This security is a disgrace for any IT n00b, let alone a well paid specialist. Out of habit, he tracked his way back to the PC to get rid of the script and monitor the logs for outgoing connections, just to check if any trace of him having used the PC would be visible. That's when his interest peeked.

In the logs, he did find outgoing connections. Apart from the usual ones - Bing,, Facebook to name a few - he found a steady stream of data being uploaded to an online storage facility which was not condoned by the company. Not even for private use on the corporate PCs. He tried to follow the trail and ended up on some privately secured server using ridiculously difficult encryption and very tight firewall rules to protect itself from outside influences. Very naughty, miss Albright. What are you hiding? He knew he could break the protection if he wanted to, but it would cost him time. Judging by the complexity, probably not much longer than two days, but he had vowed he would fix this by the end of the night. He recognised the encryption method as one used most often by a certain group of people. The type of people that would frequent Silk Road, when it was still online. Drug lords, arms dealers, child pornography, you could find anything there. What would a social media manager want with that grade of protected server... How did you get it in the first place? In his search he had found nothing that pointed to Violet being a crook, not in any kind. She was of legal age too, so that couldn't be a reason either. Maybe something happened before she turned legal?

And that's when things had started to turn sour. He had logged in on a private server, created a few hashes and checksums that were only live for fifteen seconds and had entered a hidden part of the server. Then he had visited a seemingly normal website of a bagel shop local to a small village down in Texas, US. According to the Under Construction notice, the website had been due some months ago, but that didn't stop Sid from staying on the site for thirty seconds. Then he moved his mouse to the centre of the first 'o' on the page, which now formed a clickable link asking for a username and password. He switched back to his terminal session and generated one more passphrase. He used it to log in to the site, typing Pegasus for his username.

From there he had chosen to fire off a few questions for other people to see once they'd come online via a similar route. Pegasus was a respected member of the small community and had helped a fair few members in their own quests, providing them with coding knowledge or complete scripts, advise or assistance. He rarely ever asked for help himself, which, when it did happen, resulted in a small competition between different members all competing to be The One to help Pegasus. The same happened tonight and within minutes he received a message from a fellow member going by the name of Sleipnir. Screen names in this community were all based on mythical creatures, with Pegasus being the famous flying horse and Sleipnir being the eight legged taxi between earth and Asgard.

"hey u! been a while. whats up?"
"Working on a job which turned out more of a challenge than I expected. Did you read my request post?"
"yh I did, wot r u working on?"
"Not important just yet. Do you still have the decrypting mechanism to Silk Road or not?"
"probs ill look. 2ticks"
"Take five and make it worth my while. And for fuck sake, when will you ever learn to spell properly? They give you a shift and caps key on that keypad for a reason!"

While he was waiting for his reply from Sleipnir, he strolled into the kitchen and grabbed a can of coke from the fridge. Upon opening it, foam erupted from the metal lid and he remembered then that one of the cans had dropped a few feet earlier that evening when he was putting his left overs in the fridge. He cleaned up the mess and made his way back to the living room, sipping the drink straight from its can. When he sat down, he noticed a second chat window had appeared, started by a member unknown to him.

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Published: 4 weeks ago

Posted by: Sidney Trabellous

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