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Read Terminal Compromise Part 116

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Tuesday, January 12

The Computer As Weapon?

by Scott Mason

Since the dawn of civilization, Man has had the perverse ability to turn Good into Bad, White into Black, Hot into Cold, Life into Death. History bears out that technology is falling into the same trap. The bow and arrow, the gun; they were created to help man survive the elements and feed himself. Today millions of guns are bought with no purpose other than to hurt another human being. The s.p.a.ce program was going to send man to the stars; instead we have Star Wars. The great advantages that technology has brought modern man have been continuously subverted for malevolent uses.

What if the same is true for computers?

Only yesterday, in order to spy on my neighbor, or my opponent, I would hire a private eye to perform the surveillance. And there was a constant danger of his being caught. Today? I’d hire me the best computer hacker I could get my hands on and sic him on the targets of my interest. Through their computers.

For argument’s sake, let’s say I want advance information on companies so I can play the stock market. I have my hacker get inside the SEC computers, (he can get in from literally thousands of locations nationwide) and read up on the latest figures before they’re reported to the public. Think of betting the whole wad on a race with only one horse.

I would imagine, and I am no lawyer, that if I broke into the SEC offices and read through their file cabinets, I would be in a mighty poke of trouble. But catching me in their computer is an extraordinary exercise in resource frustration, and usually futile. For unlike the burglar, the computer criminal is never at the scene of the crime. He is ten or a hundred or a thousand miles away. Besides, the better computer criminals know the systems they attack so well, that they can cover their tracks completely; no one will ever know they were an uninvited guest.

Isn’t then the computer a tool, a weapon, of the computer crimi- nal? I can use my computer as a tool to pry open your computer, and then once inside I use it to perhaps destroy pieces of your computer or your information.

I wonder then about other computer crimes, and I will include viruses in that category. Is the computer or the virus the weapon? Is the virus a special kind of computer bullet? The intent and the result is the same.

I recall hearing an articulate man recently make the case that computers should be licensed, and that not everyone should be able to own one. He maintained that the use of a computer car- ried with it an inherent social responsibility. What if the technology that gives us the world’s highest standard of living, convenience and luxury was used instead as a means of disruption; a technological civil disobedience if you will? What if politi- cal strength came from the corruption of an opponent’s computer systems? Are we not dealing with a weapon as much as a gun is a weapon? my friend pleaded.

Clearly the computer is Friend. And the computer, by itself is not bad, but recent events have clearly demonstrated that it can be used for sinister and illegal purposes. It is the use to which one puts the tool that determines its effectiveness for either good or bad. Any licensing of computers, information sys- tems, would be morally abhorrent – a veritable decimation of the Bill of Rights. But I must recognize that the history of indus- trialized society does not support my case.

Automobiles were once not licensed. Do we want it any other way?

I am sure many of you wish that drivers licenses were harder to come by. Radio transmitters have been licensed for most of this century and many a civil libertarian will make the case that because they are licensed, it is a restriction on my freedom of speech to require approval by the Government before broadcast.

On the practical side, does it make sense for ten radio stations all trying to use the same frequency?

Cellular phones are officially licensed as are CB’s. Guns re- quire licenses in an increasing number of states. So it might appear logical to say that computers be licensed, to prevent whatever overcrowding calamity may unsuspectingly befall us. The company phone effectively licenses lines to you, with the added distinction of being able to record everything you do.

Computers represent an obvious boon and a potential bane. When computers are turned against themselves, under the control of humans of course, or against the contents of the computer under attack, the results can ripple far and wide. I believe we are indeed fortunate that computers have not yet been turned against their creators by faction groups vying for power and attention.

Thus far isolated events, caused by ego or accident have been the rule and large scale coordinated, well executed computer a.s.saults non-existent.

That, though, is certainly no guarantee that we will not have to face the Computer Terrorists tomorrow.

This is Scott Mason searching the Galaxy at Warp 9.

Tuesday, January 12 Federal Square, New York

Tyrone was required to come to the lobby of the FBI headquarters, sign Scott in and escort him through the building. Scott didn’t arrive until almost eleven; he let himself sleep in, in the hopes of making up for lost sleep. He knew it didn’t work that way, but twelve hours of dead rest had to do something.

Tyrone explained as they took an elevator two levels beneath the street that they were going to work with a reconstructionist. A man with a very powerful computer will build up the face that Scott saw, piece by piece. They opened a door that was identi- fied by only a number and entered an almost sterile work place.

A pair of Sun workstations with large high resolution monitors sat on large white tables by one wall, with a row of racks of floor to ceiling disk drives and tape units opposite.

“Remember,” Tyrone cautioned, “no names.”

“Right,” said Scott. “No names.”

Tyrone introduced Scott to Vinnie who would be running the com- puter. Vinnie’s first job was to familiarize Scott with the procedure. Tyrone told Vinnie to call him in his office when they had something;he had other matters to attend to in the meantime. Of obvious Italian descent, with a thick Brooklyn accent, Vinnie Misselli epitomized the local boy making good.

His lantern jaw and cla.s.sic Roman good looks were out of place among the blue suits and white shirts that typified the FBI.

“All I need,” Vinnie said, “is a brief description to get things started. Then, we’ll fix it piece by piece.”

Scott loosely described the Spook. Dark hair, good looking, no noticeable marks and of course, the dimples. The face that Vinnie built was generic. No unique features, just a nose and the other parts that anatomically make up a face. Scott shook his head, no that’s not even close. Vinnie seemed undaunted.

“O.K., now, I am going to stretch the head, the overall shape and you tell me where to stop. All right?” Vinnie asked, beginning his manipulation before Scott answered.

“Sure,” said Scott. Vinnie rolled a large track ball built into the keyboard and the head on the screen slowly stretched in height and width. The changes didn’t help Scott much he but asked Vinnie to stop at one point anyway.

“Don’t worry, we can change it later again. How about the eyes?”

“Two,” said Scott seriously.

Vinnie gave Scott an ersatz dirty look. “Everyone does it,” said Vinnie. “Once.” He grinned at Scott.

“The eye brows, they were bushier,” said Scott.

“Good. Tell me when.” The eyebrows on the face twisted and turned as Vinnie moved the trackball with his right hand and clicked at the keyboard with his left.

“That’s close,” Scott said. “Yeah, hold it.” Vinnie froze the image where Scott indicated and they went on to the hair.

“Longer, wavier, less of a part . . .”

They worked for an hour, Vinnie at the computer controls and Scott changing every imaginable feature on the face as it evolved into one with character. Vinnie sat back in his chair and stretched. “How’s that,” he asked Scott.

Scott hesitated. He felt that he was making too many changes.

Maybe this was as close as it got. “It’s good,” he said without conviction. There was a slight resemblance.

“That’s what they all say,” Vinnie said. “It’s not even close yet.” He laughed as Scott looked shocked. “All we’ve done so far is get the general outline. Now, we work on the details.”

For another two hours Scott commented on the subtle changes Vinnie made to the face. Nuances that one never thinks of; the curve of the cheek, the half dozen angles of the chin, the hun- dreds of ear lobes, eyes of a thousand shapes – they went through them all and the face took form. Scott saw the face take on the appearance of the Spook; more and more it became the familiar face he had spent hours with a few days ago.

As he got caught up in the building and discovery process, Scott issued commands to Vinnie; thicken the upper lip, just a little.

Higher forehead. He blurted out change after change and Vinnie executed every one. Actually, Vinnie preferred it this way, being given the orders. After all, he hadn’t seen the face.

“There! That’s the Spook!” exclaimed Scott suddenly.

“You sure?” asked Vinnie sitting back in the plush computer chair.

“Yup,” Scott said with a.s.surance. “That’s him.”

“O.K., let’s see what we can do . . .” Vinnie rapidly typed at the keyboard and the picture of the face disappeared. The screen went blank for a few seconds until it was replaced with a 3 dimensional color model of a head. The back of the head turned and the visage of the Spook stared at them both. It was an eerie feeling and Scott shuddered as the disembodied head stopped spinning.

“Take a look at this,” Vinnie said as he continued typing. Scott watched the head, Spook’s head, come alive. The lips were mov- ing, as though it, he, was trying to speak. “I can give it a voice if you’d like.”

“Will that help?” Scott asked.

“Nah, not in this case,” Vinnie said,”but it is fun. Let’s make sure that we got the right guy here. We’ll take a look at him from every angle.” The head moved to the side for a left pro- file. “I’ll make a couple of gross adjustments, and you tell me if it gets any better.”

They went through another hour of fine tuning the 3-D head, modifying skin tones, texture, hair style and a score of other subtleties. When they were done Scott remarked that the image looked more like the Spook than the Spook himself. Incredible.


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