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©02 The Media Desk

the LUCK of theHunter

     There was no light in the room other than what a small reading lamp and its yellowish bulb provided. There was not enough room to walk more than two small steps in any direction. The air from the tiny, dirty vent seemed to be constantly stale. And the stool I sat on was the most uncomfortable piece of furniture ever assembled by mankind. My laptop, and a new one bought for this assignment were propped on a narrow shelf above an open access panel that literally looked like an electrician's nightmare about spaghetti.
     But this was the mission setting.

     I was monitoring a company's internet access for employees that were doing all sorts of no-no's on company time. It was a laundry list of infractions. From the inane, surfing smut sites and emailing each other naughty pictures, to a few federal crimes, credit card wire fraud and technological espionage.
     The reason I was in the closet wasn't to necessarily nail whoever was hitting the girlie sites, but to locate and identify whoever was skimming thousands of dollars a day from several credit card companies, and also to put whoever was hacking other company's systems and selling the info out of business for good.

     I inherited the job from Bishop42 who said four federal agencies were arguing about jurisdiction. He also commented one federal agent had confided to him that two of the agencies weren't even sure what was being done, let alone how.
     After three days in the closet I knew the 'what', I was still working on the who and how. And there was a lot going on that wasn't supposed to. I wondered if anybody in the place was actually getting any work done.
     That's not fair. A lot of what they did on the Internet and the local area network was business related. But when they did play, they played hard. I had found dozens of chess games, card games, even an entire cookbook library on their network, and none of it was supposed to be there.

     Part of the problem was the way their system was set up. It wasn't a designed system, it had evolved. Layer upon layer of new technology on top of old, and new software and old, morphed together into, well, what they had. I would not be surprised that down in the basement someplace there was an old punch card machine that was the base of the whole mess wired in with alligator clips.
     Which was the reason I was in the closet. Using the service access port I could plug either laptop directly into their local network at any of several points on the system, and I could go directly into their internet service provider, or get in from a virtual terminal without logging in. I could ride along with any of their employees, emulating their terminal, and see what they saw on their screen, and recording it, without their knowing I was there.
     I didn't worry about the ethics of watching some accountant wander through a sex site that made my skin clammy. I wasn't after them. I wanted the one that was invading other mainframes and lifting chemical formulas and blueprints. But so far, I hadn't come across them, although the Bishop said a transfer had happened while I was there yesterday.

     Deciding I needed a break, I slowly opened the door and looked out. Nobody either way. Although this was basically a dead end hallway, I had to be sure nobody saw me. I locked the door and went toward the break room. In the bathroom I rubbed my neck and threw water on my face. A very large, bald man that looked familiar was coming out of a stall adjusting his pants.
     "Hiya." He said with a friendly smile.
     "Hi." I said heading for another stall.
     "I wish I could go to the bathroom by remote like I can run the printer."
     "I know the feeling."
     "Take it easy." He said walking out without washing his hands.
     I stood there and stared at the toilet without doing anything. The fat guy was a genius! I did my business in a hurry, then I washed my hands and ran back to the room without buying a cold drink.
     I got into the ISP and went through the log with one thought in mind. Remote control.
     What if the crook had done the hacking from another location?
     "Rats." I said, no unusual connections during the night. But there was some traffic after business hours.
     I went through several days of after hours traffic. Looking for patterns and unusual volume.
     Regularly scheduled events showed up immediately. Business housekeeping traffic went off at the same time, and was about the same relative size. No problem. There was also traffic between servers, and routine system procedures. Also expected. Then there was a bunch of small packets that came through, it would take forever to sort them. I searching for something that stood out.
     But there wasn't anything in particular that seemed out of place. It wasn't going to be that easy, but I had this feeling that I was on the right track.
     With a sigh I went back and bought a cold drink and a bag of chips. After a good stretch, I sat back down and tried to out-think my opponent. For this, sitting in a closet hunched over a tiny computer watching clerks play chess, I was burning up vacation time.
     The information was at least passing through this place. Whether or not the actual criminals were here was another matter altogether. But this was my best lead.
     During lunch I monitored everything carefully. Nothing exciting happened. Then on my next break I walked down to my car and dug through my supplies. I pulled out a portable read/write CD unit and a cable.
     Upstairs I plugged it into the new laptop and set it to record everything that came or went from here to the Internet tonight. Then I continued my snooping.

     The next morning before most of the people that really worked there showed up, I carried in yet another laptop. But this one was special. It had the latest and greatest processor, more memory than my PC at home, enough hard drive to record half the world, and it even sported a speaker phone and answering machine built in.
     But it made lousy coffee.
     I know, bad joke. But I hoped this machine had enough guts to handle everything the CD had recorded the night before.
     I plugged it into the recorder and got it going. The other two machines were monitoring what was happening on the systems. I was going through the CD when something strange happened.
     The ISP buffer said it was nearly full.
     I thought that was all but impossible. But it was. The new laptop was plugged directly into the server, and it was claiming the buffer was full. I sat there and stared at it.
     Then, it emptied.
     "Whoa! What happened?" I asked the computer, but it didn't answer.
     It took me a few minutes of checking to find out that somebody in this building on the primary system just downloaded a good chunk of what had come in with the business's nightly information, but that was only part of the mystery. Why did this stuff get held up in the buffer for three hours anyway?
     I went through the CD's information on that transfer. After it got deciphered and presented as readable information I was looking at Wall Street's closing figures, a newsletter, and other normal stuff. Then I got to the stuff that had stalled in the buffer. It was a separate packet run right in on the heels of the regular information.
     And this was different. Bank account numbers, processing codes, transfer strings, and more. I was looking at a hit on a bank. Whoever downloaded this from the buffer was as much of a bank robber as Frank James.
     Now all I had to do was figure out how it was done. The buffer isn't designed to keep information in a holding pattern. Who did it? The tracking showed it was sent into the local network and then basically vanished. And finally, I had to be able to prove all this.

     Some serious thinking was required. I ended up emptying three cans of extremely sweet iced tea while I went through the personnel logs. Narrowing down who was here with the required access to the system when the buffer was emptied.
     Then I started backtracking.
     Not every incoming data packet was of the size of the one last night. Some of them were a lot smaller. OK, I ruled them out. Then I started really digging. Some of the records I needed didn't exist. Others were inconclusive. But I began to see a pattern, then compared the pattern to the personnel log. I had five good suspects, and a handful of maybes.
     According to the Bishop's records, some of those big data packets were the information hacked from other systems. I had no idea if the bank robber was also the industrial spy, but it was possible. I also hadn't actually seen a data bundle with anything in it like that. So far I just had the wire fraud evidence.
     I made up a neat little file and sent it to Bishop42. Then I continued my work.
     The next day was dead. I watched a senior vice president run through a dozen gambling sites. But when he was done he was actually two hundred and fifty dollars ahead. A mailroom flunky dabbled in the stock market and bought and sold several dozen shares of stock and some soybean futures on company time. A lady supervisor went shopping for a very smart looking business suit. I documented it all. After almost everybody else had left I was just setting up the CD to record the after-hours traffic when the laptop monitoring the Internet caught my attention.
     I was watching the hacker at work, I hit the record button immediately. He was breaking into a mining equipment manufacturing company. The guy was good. He walked right through a firewall of protection and raided the research and development computer like it was his own. Schematics of the machine, design specifications, even a copy of a bid on the electric motor for it. Then he backed out, the raid complete.
     Then I went to work. There was only three users on the system at the time anywhere in the building. I checked the net access, one name came up.
     The name itself became the problem.
     On a hunch I checked the short list of the bank robbers.
     Then I wrote a letter to the Bishop explaining that the crimes in question seemed to be perpetrated by some of the highest-ranking officers of the company, and included my data. Then I went home for the night.
     Early the next morning I checked my mail over coffee. I had a reply.
     Bishop42 had reviewed the data I had sent him, and some information he had from a 'friendly source', which I knew meant somebody inside the company, and had concluded that, yes indeed, persons at the board level were doing the dirt. He suggested that I exercise extreme discretion and caution and proceed with the mission.
     Three more days of sitting in the closet.
     I sent Bishop42 another packet and packed up. By elimination I had traced the information to the top, and found another high-ranking officer doing something he shouldn't, tampering with the company's stock on several markets. The whole package including a flow chart of how it was done. Then I sent it all, including the ad for the lady's suit, to the Bishop.
     The hardest part of moving out of the closet was resealing the access panel. Once the spaghetti of wires had been undone, it did not want to go back in the wall.

     "How was your vacation?" A coworker asked me back at my office.
     "Could have been better. But at least it was productive. I did some research."
     The answer was dull enough, he nodded and left me to a week's worth of mail and folders.
     A couple of days later I got a package from the Bishop. Included in it was a cashier's check for more money than I made in a year at my regular job, and a handful of stickers with things like a tiger saying 'Terrrrrific Job'. On the paper cover of a computer disc was a hand-printed note, 'Watch the news before you open this.'
     It was almost noon so I went to the break room. With a cold drink I turned the TV set to a local channel that ran an hour-long news show at twelve.
     After a look at the weather they had a breaking news special. The attractive black woman wasn't smiling as she read the intro about a major company falling apart under indictment from the Justice Department over a host of charges including corporate espionage as a matter of policy.
     "The charges state that over half the corporation's income was illegal. Coming from tapping credit card companies and selling industrial secrets overseas." The on-the-scene reporter said to the camera. He went on describing some of the things I had found, and a good deal I had no part in. They were showing a inter-agency task force that included Postal Inspectors and Treasury Agents.
     One of the agents looked familiar. A big fat guy, hiding a bald spot under a bad toupee. I grinned at the TV and saluted him with my drink can. I recognized him now. The guy in the bathroom and 2nd Grace's shooting partner that day so long ago.
     "You know him?" A woman asked at the table behind me.
     "I met him once, guy's really on the ball."
     She thought it was terrible that a whole company would be engaging in illegality as a matter of daily operations. "I wonder how long they had been doing it?"
     I shrugged, listening to the reporter talking about even more indictments expected against nearly every ranking officer in the company. From what I could tell from my closet, they had been doing it for a long time.
     The news anchor confirmed that in a minute. "Sources inside the investigation say that the practice started as the shoring up of a weak bottom line to avoid a hostile takeover several years ago." After some more discussion they cut to a commercial.
     I stood up. Sweating. The thought that I might have to testify ran through my head. Nodding to the lady I went back to my desk and loaded the disc.
     The Bishop was terribly sorry to inform me that I would have to give a deposition, but my identity would be heavily concealed, my voice filtered, I could even wear a disguise. But I had to establish the chain of evidence and explain some of the more technical stuff.
     With a sigh I went back to the more mundane world.
     "Hey, can you do a test on this game?" A supervisor asked me. I nodded and took the disc. Then I laughed out loud.
     The CD had a couple of words written on it in black marker.
     'The Hunter.'

end 13 luck

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