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The Alexandria Project, Chap. 18: More than One Can Play that Game

Alexandria Project (a Cyber Thriller)

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Library of Congress CIO George Marchand sat uneasily in the witness chair of the hearing room. On a raised platform in front of him stretched a semicircular table, dotted with microphones. Behind those microphones sat all but one of the members of the Inquisition also known as the Congressional Subcommittee on Cybersecurity.    Crouching like a pack of hyenas on the floor between the subcommittee and witness tables were dozens of photographers, polishing their lenses in anticipation of the kill. To George’s right, bored looking C-SPAN video engineers peered at him from beside their cameras, like vultures waiting for a dying wildebeest to get on with it, already.   George glanced at his watch with a sigh. It was almost 10:00, and therefore time for today’s orgy of Congressional ego gratification and wrathful citizenry appeasement to begin. George hoped his introductory role in the hearing would be brief.  

Just then, Congressman Titus Steele, the Chairman of the Subcommittee, entered the room through the single door that penetrated the wall behind the table. Taking the center chair, he rapped a gavel decisively three times, and stated, “This hearing will come to order.”

Aging but still forceful, Steele was an elder statesman with little patience for anyone that didn’t know how the game was played. George noted with resignation that the Congressman was looking even more irascible than usual, which was saying a great deal indeed. Ever since Steele’s party had lost control of the White House after eight long years in power, he had been smarting over his loss of influence. Today, it was George’s misfortune to play warm-up catcher for Steele’s irate questions and accusations. He was grateful that the heads of the CIA and FBI, seated next to him, were scheduled as the main event.
 
The Chairman paused for only a moment for the hubbub to die away, and then launched into his opening remarks, peering over his spectacles at the standing-room only crowd of journalists and spectators packed into the hearing room.
 
Monty Python's Memorable "No one Expects the Spanish Inquisition!" Vignette“This morning I learn that we have been attacked yet again by those calling themselves The Alexandria Project. This time, the scoundrels have had the temerity to seize control of the computer systems of the Home Shopping Channel, Walmart and Disney World – in short, they are assaulting the very foundations of our culture and society.
 
“Needless to say, the members of this Committee demand that these attacks must stop! Immediately!
 
“Now the purpose of today’s hearing is to find out for the American people why those responsible for protecting this great nation from its enemies have not already brought these brazen Internet vandals to justice. 
 
“Call the first witness.”
 
“George Marchand, Chief Information Officer, the Library of Congress.”
The light at the microphone had barely turned red when Chairman Steele barked out his first question.
 
“Mr. Marchand, I understand that the Library of Congress was the first Federal office to be attacked by this Alexandria Project. Is that correct?”
 
George leaned forward as all eyes and cameras swiveled in his direction. “That is my understanding as well, Sir.”
 
“When was that?”
 
“We believe that it was the evening of November 29th of this year.”
 
“And when did you discover the attack?”
 
“The next day, Sir.”
 
“What was the nature of the attack?”
 
“A single file had been deleted in my personal security directory. When I tried to open it, the “contribution” screen that everyone has by now seen in the news came up instead of the file.”
 
“I see. Now what did you do then?”
 
“While the file deleted wasn’t particularly important, the directory it was in was highly sensitive. For this reason, I personally performed an internal investigation of the intrusion using our established protocols in an effort to determine how the attackers had gained entry.”
 
“And were you successful?”
 
“No sir, I was not. After I finished my investigation, I completed our standard incident report so that if the intrusion was repeated we could pick up where I had left off.”
“And that is all that all you did?”
 
“Yes Sir. Like every major enterprise user of information technology, we’re under constant attack by all manner of intruders. This intrusion was novel, because of the screen, but otherwise unremarkable.”
 
“So you didn’t report this attack to anyone in the CIA or FBI?”
 
“No Sir. There are no interagency protocols in place at this time that require any departmental head to report cyberattacks to any central government security agency.”
 
“Are you trying to tell me that if an agency of this great nation is attacked by some unknown nemesis that someone like you doesn’t contact the CIA and FBI to get to the bottom of it?”
 
“I’m afraid that’s right, Sir. Allowing me to do that would require Congressional action. As a matter of fact, the Inter-Agency CIO Council has been recommending to your Committee for some time that a rapid response unit be set up within Homeland Security that we could report…”
 
At that, Steele interrupted him in an angry voice.
 
Joe McCarthy (C) and Roy Cohn (R) at the infamous HUAC Hearings“MR. MARCHAND!”
 
George stopped in mid-sentence and waited.
 
“Mr. Marchand, I believe that I’m the person asking the questions here, and I don’t recall asking what you or any other government employee may have recommended.   Am I correct?”
 
“Yes Sir, that’s correct, Sir, but I thought that it would help solve this problem if…”
Steele interrupted him again. “Approach the Committee table!”
 
Startled, George stood and walked slowly forward as Steele glared at the C-SPAN camera man. When George reached the table, Steele angrily flipped the switch on his microphone to the off position and leaned towards George.
 
““Mr. Marchand, I don’t believe you really understand what a televised Congressional hearing is all about. Well, I’m going to do you a favor and tell you before I resume my questioning.”
 
George knew exactly what a televised Congressional hearing was all about, but wisely decided to keep his mouth shut. 
 
“A Congressional hearing is about allowing those on this side of the table to express outrage and condemnation about things that we should have prevented but didn’t so that no one holds us responsible. In doing so, we are free to humiliate those on your side of the table to our hearts content and for as long as we wish if it will help us get reelected. Do I make myself perfectly clear, Mr. Marchand?”
 
“Abundantly, Sir.”
 
“Good! Now as originally planned, you were not the focus of this hearing, but I can change that in a heartbeat if I wish, and I am only one heartbeat away from making that decision. So I would ask you to listen to my questions very carefully from now on and answer in exactly the way that you can tell I want you to answer them. Do that, and I’ll move on more quickly to the next witness. Do you understand me now, Mr. Marchand?”
 
George nodded, and Steele flipped his microphone back to the on position as George returned to his seat.
 
“Now Mr. Marchand, at what point did you dutifully report this incident like a good civil servant to the CIA and FBI, and why do you think it took them so long to do anything – anything at all – to protect the American people from this terrible menace?
 

- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

 

Ever since Frank’s email exchange with Yoda he had been working night and day on the honeypot he hoped would attract the Alexandria Project. But now that it was done, all he could do was wait and hope that they would take the bait. 
 
But would they? After all, there were millions of potential targets in the world, and Frank had no way to know how the Project was selecting its targets. If they were choosing their victims one by one, then Frank’s strategy was doomed to fail. He was betting, though, that this was no longer the case, now that the Project was publicly humiliating more system owners and everyone was scrambling to beef up their defenses. 
 
Frank believed that in response the Project would turn to the more traditional hacker strategy of deploying a botnet against the systems of the world generally, robotically storming the Web to seek out those with weak defenses. The Project could then pick and choose their targets for more public and aggressive attacks from among their many successful penetrations.
 
But still…the Internet was a very big place indeed, and perhaps Frank hadn’t done a good enough job creating the illusion of an enterprise-level system with his honeypot. 
 
Soon he grew tired of pacing back and forth inside the limited confines of the Solar Avenger and busied himself rigging up an alarm system that would allow him to venture outside. First he connected the scanning programs he’d loaded on the honeypot to a sound generator, and then set the generator to react only to the type of input that represented the type of file-probing intrusion he had monitored back at the Library of Congress – the tip off that an Alexandria Project’s bot was testing it’s success. Finally, he connected his computer into the camper’s sound system. That way he could pace around outside in a progressively more hyper-caffeinated state as he listened for the tell-tale sound that would signal success.
 
For the rest of the day, Frank spent his time trying without much success to work on the next steps of his plan. It was not until late afternoon that he heard an electronic squeal emanate from the speakers, and dashed madly back into the camper. Jumping in front of the computer screen, he pulled up the intrusion reports – Good! The scanners hadn’t identified the attack to any known malware. That meant that this might be the real thing. The next question was whether the Project – if it was the Project – had taken one of the files that he was relying on their removing for the rest of his plan to work.
 
Frank called up the honeypot’s text file directory, and held his breath as he called up the menu of the directory holding the decoy security architecture files he had doctored. He clicked on the first file and it opened without a problem. So also with the second. And the third. And the fourth.
 
But when he tried to open the fifth, nothing happened. Then, a familiar, warm glow began to suffuse the screen. Scrub jays shot off in all directions from the pines over head in response to Frank’s whoops of joy and relief.  
 

- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

 

For the first time since he had arrived in his Nevada mountain refuge, Frank was relaxing. With his back to everything man-made in his mountain refuge, he sat in a folding chair with a cold beer in hand and watched the colors of a magnificent sunset as they imperceptibly morphed and then faded in the far distance. 
 
For one of the first times in his life, he felt strangely at peace. Perhaps it was the huge separation he felt between the world he had left and this far away place, suspended between the dark purple waves of mountain ridges stretching away below and the darkening sky above. Or perhaps he had simply never been able to empty his mind sufficiently to allow the stillness of a beautiful evening to connect with his city-bred senses.
 
Whatever the reason, Frank found himself lost in a very different line of thought than he had ever considered before. Maybe he was crazy to be immersing himself in this Alexandria Project madness at all. The iBall revenues were still rolling in, and if he could design one successful game app anonymously, why not another?  What would be so wrong with making an offer to Jenkins for the Solar Avenger the old man wouldn’t refuse and then spend the next year up here just contemplating his navel?
 

As an increasing multitude of stars emerged overhead, Frank was well on his way to persuading himself, at least for tonight, to do just that. But then, an unexpected, discordant sound erupted from the camper’s speakers, destroying his mood and the stillness of the evening: a second intruder was attacking the honeypot.

 

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Comments

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"The iBall revenues were still rolling in,...."

 

I would have expected iBalls to be bankrupt by now?

 

Winter