No matter what culture you come from, what language you speak or what religion you follow, there are some universal truths. At this particular moment Vladimir experienced one of those truths. He jumped so hard when the phone rang he knocked over three empty soda cans and a glass of iced tea. Cursing, he answered the phone.
“I’m not used to hearing that as a customary greeting,” said the man in the suit.
“Sorry. The phone gave me a start and I spilled a glass of iced tea. What can I do for you?”
“We need you to modify your Trojan horse to pull in every sent email from every email client it lands on. Need them to all be sent to the ping server for analysis.”
“It will be difficult since many access email via a browser in a library rather than an email client. What is your objective?”
“Have you seen the news lately?”
“Our primary asset has been exposed to the world. We need to snag a new communications center while they are still in chaos.”
The Trojan horse had been written very small and simple so it could work across a wide range of computers and operating systems. When it detected that the user had opened the email via a Web browser, it obtained as much information as it could about the machine and passed it onto the ping server. Depending on which Webmail back end was being used, the Trojan could also attach itself to any messages sent during that session. Each time an instance was created and attached to an outgoing message, it was given a unique ID number based upon the ID number of the parent creating the new instance. The ID number came back in the packet of information to the ping server.
It was via these Ids and the IP addresses that Vladimir was able to map the groups. Eventually they managed to obtain location information for each of the IP addresses (those who weren’t really good at ghosting anyway) and he plotted them on an interactive map. Clicking on one of the dots would bring up the date(s) of ping and email messages that had been part of the ping. They didn’t always have the email message, but they had most of them. Sometimes they got the message from only one side, and sometimes they got it from both.
You could click a button on the Web page and ask the page to show you date- and time-ordered message routing. This was a really cool feature. Of course, when they didn’t have location information it had to simply pick a location at random and plunk a different colored dot down, but it allowed you to track the communications flow.
Only a few people on the team knew about this page on their internal Web site. Even fewer were authorized to look at it. As always, Vladimir analyzed every piece of information he could find in every way he could think of. Information had always been his friend.
When Vladimir first started putting this database and visualization tool together, he was doing it out of a simple desire to know. Since he was supposed to be storing copies of the data he collected on this “team” server, he created a Web page on it to communicate with the man in the suit. It was far easier to send him an email and tell him to click here, double click there, and watch the screen, than it was to try to explain his analysis.
Lately there had been a significant increase in ghosted IP addresses in the middle of message paths. Quite a few of these paths came from IP addresses that formerly communicated via Nedim. Being in a wheelchair gave Vladimir a lot of time to analyze this data. It looked like someone was training new communications hubs. One link in the chain defied all attempts to punch a hole through to it.
The other ghosted IP addresses weren’t ghosted so well. Vladimir managed to send them a special virus with the information he obtained from the ping server. He used a standard spam email offering Viagra without a prescription, but with a subject line that was sure to make them open the email. Once the virus was there, it started sending Vladimir email with information about the activity of the machine. He was able to fully penetrate two notebook computers this way. He even knew the model, brand, and serial number of the notebook thanks to their running a totally insecure OS known as Windows.
If you send an email out correctly on the Internet, it will contain the full path in the message header. Most end users never see this information because their email client or Web page interface has the display of it turned off by default. Each hop an email message makes along the way will add information to the message header with respect to the IP address, name of the server and name of the organization hosting the email server. The emails coming to Vladimir from this special virus contained a full path back. He paid close attention when the first path he uncovered changed and he discovered a new machine using the old path.
That single piece of information told Vladimir he knew where the next email hubs would be. As long as they didn’t get wise to his virus he would be able to identify their location. When the DNS and gateway addresses came back the same for the second machine, Vladimir was positive al-Qaeda was training new communications hubs. Perhaps they had suspected what was going on with Nedim or maybe they had just decided to spread the traffic out. The reason behind it didn’t matter. What mattered was they were training beginners when it came to ghosting. Vladimir would bet half his life savings the person doing the training was the same person whose machine had been completely impenetrable.
“Would you settle for three communications centers and no modifications to the existing Trojan?” Vladimir asked the man in the suit.
There was a pause in the conversation, then came the response, “You have not filed any reports about these.”
“You never read my reports or look at the Web page I set up on your internal server. If you did, you would already know the general location of each,” Vladimir responded.
The man in the suit did not respond immediately. He had read some of Vladimir’s reports and thought the man to be crazy. The Web page had been interesting, but he hadn’t visited it much since he had originally been shown how to use it.
“So, where will we be setting up operations next?” “India.”
“Something a little more specific would be nice,” the man in the suit wise-assed back to him.
“Do you want the senior communications person or the two he has recently trained? I would recommend you latch onto the first one he trained rather than taking out the trainer, but it is your call. The second one hasn’t completed training yet.”
“How do you know this?
“He is still operating from the location of the trainer. If he completes training as fast as the other he will be setting up his own communications center inside of two weeks.”
“Will you know where they set up operations?” “I already own the machine.”
“Why do you suggest we leave the trainer alone?” “Odds are small that is the last communications hub they have. If the new trainee stays there long enough, I should be able to get the real IP address of his machine and his primary email account. Once I have that, I can own his machine as well. We got this one by pure accident. If you take it down now, they probably won’t make the same mistake of doing a mad scramble to another hub. It will be a lot harder to crack this chestnut if they start going point to point. Trapping and turning each person this one trains will let you play the network out. If this one is starting to do training, they are probably trying to get out of the task themselves or al-Qaeda is trying to set up a grid. We won’t know until we have more of the communications hubs.” “Grid?”
“It’s a geek term. Neither Windows nor any flavor of Unix actually clusters. The marketing people and some big vendors all throw around the word cluster when they are describing capabilities, but they are committing fraud when they do such. You cannot actually cluster unless your operating system provides for a common user authorization file and a distributed lock manager to support a distributed transaction manager. The best you can get with either OS or their derivatives is a grid. Autonomous machines network together and agree to let other machines in the network use some of their resources.”
“What good would that be?”
“An email grid can be set up to use encrypted email addresses. All you need to do is to put up N email servers on the Internet and either have them assigned fixed IP addresses you send out with your teams, or actually register them in the global DNS. When email comes in for one of the special email accounts, determined by pattern in the name, it runs a decryption utility on the corresponding encrypted address and routes it there. The encrypted address lists can be changed on a per message or manual basis.”
“You are making no sense.”
“Think of it this way. I register a domain called MyServer.com. I also register the email servers MyPop3Server.com and MySMTPServer.com. When you send email to an account on this server or through this server, it checks the destination email address for a naming pattern. That name corresponds to an entry number in a list which has today’s real destination address. The email address is automatically changed. All the sender knows is they sent to xxx1234@MyServer.com. Email could come in from any email system on the Internet. When it gets to the email servers on MyServer.com, they will translate the destination and route the message appropriately, removing all header information and without creating a log.”
“What advantage does that have over what they are doing now?” “You can set up a domain for under one hundred dollars. If you have the correct kind of Internet provider, you can set up your domain behind a dynamically assigned IP address. You will get a new IP address each time your cable modem or satellite box resets. The DNS registry will update within a matter of minutes to reflect the new IP address. All you have to have is the domain registration. There is no hand routing of messages. One person living anywhere in the world could have the Admin account to log into your server and change the email address routing. If they strip out all header and trailer information before sending it on, they will strip out any chance anyone has of tracking the thing. There will be nobody to turn because you will never be able to trace back and find out who is logging in, especially if the domain is set up for dynamic rather than static IP. They could boot different machines at different times of the day.” The conversation had gone well beyond the technical capabilities of the man in the suit. He did understand the gist of it, though. If al-Qaeda had thought to set up their own domains the email servers could change location hourly and they would be all but impossible to track down.
“How easy is this to do?”
“I’ve done it three times for various clients already.” “We certainly don’t want to give them any incentive to make spying on them more difficult. Email me all of the location information you have. We will attempt to squeeze the first one who has been trained, then set up operations on each one to follow. We will put some surveillance on the trainer to ensure they aren’t going to try disappearing. It may be something as simple as the trainer having too much work or they are trying to spread the communications out so we can’t nab as many at once. It may also be that the trainer is now a living martyr and we have to stop an explosion.” “You will have it within the hour. You should coordinate the information I give you with the map on the Web page. All of the detail is there. I will simply tell you what to click and what to read.” “Fine.”
The man in the suit had always thought this Russian was crazy. He had come highly recommended, and his being wheelchair bound forced him to spend a lot of time online doing analysis since he could no longer be in the field, but some of the reports he filed were just off the wall. True, Pakistanis had hated Indians for a long time and vice versa. Few understood the basis of the hatred anymore, they simply hated.
A nuclear arms race had occurred in the two countries because of this hatred. With all of the revenue coming into that country via the offshore IT labor market, they were going to soon get the upper hand in such a race. It didn’t help having them so deeply ingrained into the U.S. Business interests. When push came to shove, America would nuke Pakistan out of existence because corporate America would lose fewer programmers here. That had to change.
The report fingering India as the next hotbed for al-Qaeda had been shredded for a reason. If that found its way into the hands of Pakistani intelligence, the military would use it as the justification for a preemptive strike. No war between these two countries was going to stop with conventional weapons. Indeed, the first strike would almost certainly be nuclear and focus on the IT centers of the country. That would almost definitely bring the Americans in on the side of India.
Pakistan had been and might still be in a position to nuke the bulk of the Indian population out of existence, thus overrunning the country with military afterwards. It was in no way capable of taking India if any other significant military came to their aid. Even if the Americans didn’t have the stomach for another war just yet, The Chinese weren’t going to sit by while radioactive fallout from the nuclear weapons drifted into their country. By many reports, China possessed the largest standing army in the world; it didn’t have to be the most advanced. They could put so many boots on the ground that the soldiers could walk in with nothing but sticks and stones and still overpower another country. China wasn’t the kind of country to let the slaughter of its people stop it from achieving an objective.
This al-Qaeda shit was going to cause most of the civilized world to exterminate Muslims. The man in the suit knew it. That is why he didn’t mind killing his own countrymen in the horrible manner Hans’ party had devised for them.
If only most of his country didn’t have such rampant hatred of America over its support of Israel. That one fact was enough to get them money, recruits and support from many in the government.
A long time ago, the man in the suit had read an essay from another man he thought to be crazy. That essay said all countries must band together and exterminate any country which was run by religion. He had been much younger at the time he read it. He had studied much about the different religions in college along with his other classes. It seemed that every religion wanted to have a country of its own. Later, when he got deeper into history classes, he found the real truth.
Every religion which gains any kind of power feels compelled to “spread the word” by any means it can. World history documents “The Great Crusade” to free the Holy land, the slaughter of the Incas and the Spanish Inquisition among many other crimes against humanity committed in the name of the Catholic Church.
Now, the Muslim religion was quickly out-breeding the Catholic and would soon overtake it as the dominant religion on the planet. It was a long way from overtaking all of the combined Christian factions, but it was about to overtake the oldest and the root of most other forms of Christianity. Did that also mean the Muslim religion had to repeat the atrocities of the Catholic religion?
At least when the Catholics were getting it out of their system, the only weapons of the time were swords, arrows, catapults, and all of their variations. Wiping out an entire city was a labor-intensive effort. Now all it took was someone with a glass container smaller than an aspirin bottle. Break it on the steps to a subway and let the virus spread. Choose a virus with a three-day incubation period and choose a subway handling airport traffic, and you could infect nearly a third of the world before anyone caught on.
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