Thing a Week 5: Security is Serious Business

Having completed his iterative MapReduce jobs for the day, David leaned back in his decrepit office chair and sighed, returning his gaze once more to the old analog clock on the wall.

“Two more hours,” he mumbled, grabbing the bottle of Gatorade from his desk as he leaned back further and propped his feet up onto his desk, oscillating his gaze between the myriad of graphs and charts on his monitors that represented the Beowulf cluster system’s FTP status and heartbeat metrics. On a concurrent tab, OSI model logs scrolled past at lightning speed, representing the network activity for the day in a recursive JSON format.

With glazed over eyes, David watched as nothing continued to happen, and yet another normal day progressed at its eternally slow rate. The door to his office, which conveniently housed the heart of the company’s network, had not been opened since he’d strolled into the office that morning. He flipped over to glance at his Docker analytics and mumbled another mental note, “Oh hey, look, there are no ASM status reports.”

Halfway through sarcastically sighing, “Big surprise,” the phone rang. In one swoop of movement, David dropped his feet from the desk and leaned forward, grabbing the phone with one hand and firing off several batch network git config updates with the other.

“Hello, this is David,” he said, politely. “What’s up?”

“Hey David,” the raspy voice on the other side of the line said. “I’m having some trouble with my computer, are you busy?”

Keeping his mouth talking while his brain returned to the computer’s Oracle Big Data dashboard, David answered, “Nope, what’s up?”

“Oh,” the voice responded. “I was hoping you could help me out.”

Flipping open a full stack VNC terminal, David SSH’d into the corporate intranet reflection library, looking for any AJAX errors that might have happened in the past few UNIX epochs. On autopilot, he clarified, “I can help you with your computer, yes. What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s not working.”

“I get that,” David responded quickly, glancing over at the caller ID to see who was such a blockhead. “What about it isn’t working?” It was Stan Jones from operations, and so David rebooted his SCP client into debug mode and pulled up Stan’s MongoDB bytestream. After scanning the first megabyte of checksums, David added, “I’m not seeing any errors on this side. Are you seeing any there?”

“No, Stan responded slowly. “I can’t log in. It just says, well, you know.”

A quick backtick command on the authentication codec for Stan brought up three recent critical merge conflicts but not a single one of the three had a status code associated with its domain certificate, nor an epoch that he could rebase a registry byte header onto. Confused, he asked Stan, “Can you try to log in one more time and let me know the exact error you’re getting?”

Stan agreed, asked David to hold on a moment while he tried, and David waited patiently, his eyes carelessly clicking through to the dashboard’s configuration manifestation, where a graph for user access control flashed a single, red line: “Vim detected on SAMBA B3:F9:AC:59:28:FE”.

In disbelief, David clicked the TTY0 dongle and opened an HTTP to the error’s FAT32 core dump.

“Hey Stan,” he said calmly into the phone, trying not to rush the man but trying to end the call as soon as possible. “I’m running into some computer issues over here as well, I’ll go ahead and swing by when everything is resolved and I’ll help out, alright?”

David hung up and quickly looked back at the screen, where a docker of Golang spans were scrolling across in Javascript, throwing warnings and alerts into a redis queue normally reserved for high priority computational CSS5. The phone rang again and the man picked it up instinctively, immediately regretting it when there could potentially be a private key source back-off happening on the Inner Network. While he greeted the phone, he quickly locked the execution environment for each of the firewalls’ blink tags, just in case.

A gateway lit up and pings started flooding in at the same rate Jeff was yelling about it over the phone.

“You’re seeing this,” he said excitedly from the building over, where he was in charge of monitoring biometric algorithms and network pull requests to PHP tickets. “Right? Are you tailing your private key right now?”

“Yeah,” David responded quickly, watching the output of his x86 linker connect the bits in his private key in awe. “What do you think is doing it? Malware? A Bayesian DLL?”

“Could be single table inheritance,” Jeff responded grimly. “Or it could be a state machine on a high port using Liveware, I guess. Something that could consume proxy settings and replace system machine cycles with spindling.” Both men knew such a thing was technically possible, but hoped for the sake of actually leaving work at five that it was not actually the case.

“Do you think it could be a ping of death?” David asked hopefully. “Or a JPG?”

Several terminals popped up on David’s end as the two men opened their hidden virtual machines and pulled the latest Turing software, allowing them to sync across window environments and effectively enabling the two to work on the same CPU with twice the mice and twice the keyboards. An XFCE chat window popped up next to David’s virtual machine translator and he saw Jeff type: “Lets kick some defective module’s ass.”

He nodded, then grepped an SMTP connection and echoed the pipe into a network shell, sharing the terminal output with Jeff over a RAID4-encrypted Dvorak. When they could both see the attacker’s process and CPU patterns, the phone went silent as they each watched for the tell-tale signature of a rogue production Python.

Two uptime post increments flashed on a buffer and both men shouted out simultaneously, “Uptime!”

Like a well-oiled machine, David checked the Apache load averages while Jeff dialed up his Windows Bitcoin lisp to simulate Internet Explorer’s experimental IRC desktop environment topology.

“The logs look fine,” David said quickly, adrenaline pumping. “No rogue objects manifesting in them, nor any native black boxes. No syntactic sugar on the BSOD, either.”

“I don’t see anything in the IRC polymorphism assertions, either,” Jeff responded.

Raising an eyebrow, David asked, “What about the EC2 compression? Does it still need optimized for USB?”

Silence, and then Jeff answered: “Still just on the GPU with ROT13 blowfish SEO.”

Completely puzzled at what could be causing such a dangerous-looking problem, David checked the null pointer graphs again to see how the network health was faring with XML authentication schemes. Most people still had their TCP tunnels open, but the total number of verbose DHCP microtransactions had begun to decline significantly since first noticing the intrusion.

“What if it’s not malware,” David said slowly and thoughtfully, with mental puzzle pieces clearly fitting into their respective slots as he spoke. “What if there’s someone on the inside, a man in the middle?”

The uptime logs announced another Vim on TTY2 and David pried the RAM open to see what was being executed. While he converted the bytes to hex for mirrored sandboxing, he could hear the fear creep into Jeff’s voice. When he did speak, it was quickly and with an audible crack: “I think you’re right. I’ll be right over.”

After hat seemed like an eternity of port 0 JSON exceptions, the Java development environment slowed to a halt and the activity disappeared with it. Just moments later, Jeff burst through the door huffing and quickly took a seat next to David, scooting the keyboard over so he could take the right half if needed.

“The buffer traces are empty,” David explained as his coworker sat. “The Vims aren’t responding and I can’t only see one VNC on the mapped foobar bin. I don’t know where he went.”

Jeff nodded, reaching out to take his half of the keyboard and spawned a dozen more background methods, populating the children of each with interactive ruby singletons. Linking them together, he once again piped a tail of the company’s private certificate into a watchdog and analyzed the bitstream from a hex editor in promiscuous mode. Next to his windows, David was prepping a test suite for a PCI flash sweep to invalidate any variables that were boolean hashes, guaranteeing that Jeff’s Haskell neural network on ROM would be free from unique cache data types. Though the hacker had apparently left the system, it was very likely that he (or she) left behind microbit megahertz signals in any HTML5 logs he might have touched. Unless he was stupid enough to jump back on the system, the neural network configured to PRISM documentation with buffer overflow control flow was their best option.

As it started running, marquees of Big Data streamed through the task bar and bombarded the two men with ad-hoc pop3 hash collisions. A progress bar filled up slowly as the XSS decompiled and every file on the system was meticulously inspected for any sign of ELF or signed UAC private method tampering. A server-side frontend led the search by defragmenting the hard drive before each TCP/IP was scanned, speeding up the MAC overlocking significantly.

“Eighty percent,” Jeff said hopefully. He closed a couple extra Turing models encapsulated in a waterfall scrum to speed up the symbolic linking of representative C++ commit messages and saw David close the nonfunctional queries. An agile job in the background disconnected a NAT server with a UML diagram and displayed the diff, which was still green from a cloud partitioning.

“We’ve got this.”

Ninety percent. Ninety-one percent. The two men opened VM after VM as they watched the progress bar, impatiently trying to solve the mystery themselves before a solution was (hopefully) presented to them. However, without several domain-specific language paradigms wrapped around their RJ-45 OSI models, the infinite complexity of a computer overpowered their feeble minds and the GNU/UNIX plug-in prevailed.

“Intruder detected,” Jeff read aloud.

“We got him.”

David clicked the wireless GUI and drilled down into the attacker’s CGI sector, pinpointing his approximate system32 UAC with a cryptographic geolocation PUT and a scalable plaintext API client key. After a brief pause while the beta query executed, the logs spit out the attacker’s name and unique machine code. The men grinned, having successfully defended their system albeit a bit late. David picked up the phone and dialed the IT gigaproxy security line and keyed in his public key, connecting directly to a bitwise LCD accepting ASCII control commands. David read off their intruder’s machine code and the bitmap clicked twice for acceptance.

Jeff stood up and pumped his fist before leaning over and typing in some last minute cron tasks to keep the BIOS backwards compatible and then closed his cookie database with a DVI firewall, locking it from any left over kilobyte LAN macros.

“Good work,” David said cheerfully. “Thanks for coming over so quickly.”

“No problem,” Jeff responded, pushing the keyboard back towards its original spot centered in front of David. “I’ll go ahead and runs some optical character recognition on the OEM framework to see if I can’t get a parallel operating system to route into some SIMM vaporware, and then double check the SCSI Tiffs for MD5 zero-days we might’ve missed.”

“Sounds good to me.” David powered up some VGA bandwidth in a POST and linked his CTCP to the central hyperlink feed. On Jeff’s way out, David also added, “Don’t forget you probably want to switch your SATA into safe mode, or at least run IMAP in serial. You want P2P, not TCP.”

“Duh,” Jeff said, unable to hold in a laugh for any longer. “I’ll be sure to do exactly that.”

The two looked at the clock and were both pleasantly surprised to see there was only twenty-one minutes left before their work day was complete. Jeff left with a smile and David went back to leaning back in his chair, waiting for his phone to ring. He had no intention of calling Stan back until the morning, so he spent his next twenty minutes brainstorming more jargon to use the next time Jeff was having an equally slow day.

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