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Author Topic: Hacking question for story (mayfly)
advice for robots
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I'm working on a story and have a part where a team of hackers breaks in to a big database. While I know what the outcome of the job is, what I'd like to describe in better detail is the role of each member, if in fact a team of hackers divides into roles. It would be awesome if the team resembled a crack team that broke into castles. I know this is very cliche and most likely derived from too many 90s movies, but I want those elements in there if possible. Can anyone describe a hacking job done by a team, with some semi-current lingo?

And feel free to laugh at me for being such a n00b. [Big Grin]

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fugu13
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Honestly, the way that'd really use a team in diverse roles is social engineering/physical. For instance, there might be someone who chats up an employee to get into their apartment to see if they've written passwords anywhere, another who enters the building with some plausible subterfuge in order to use the obtained login and upload rootkits and the like, and then one or two more who use the compromised internal computers to make their way to some system with access to the database.

You could even add somebody who manages a giant botnet in order to crack further passwords they find inside the system.

Note: the scenario I've described is quite unlike most database hacks, but pieces of it have all happened, and I could see a team putting together a plan like it, if other attack vectors failed (easiest: drop a bunch of USB sticks with keyloggers and rootkits in the parking lot).

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fugu13
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And honestly I mostly recommend against the lingo. It rarely ends up being employed very well, and can become quickly dated. Instead, mostly avoid the lingo, and just describe what is actually happening. That'll help your audience understand it, too.
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OK. That's good--I didn't think about the social engineering/phishing part.

In my story, I've got a team of maybe 4 or 5 jacked into virtual reality, more like Snow Crash, although everyone's got their own metaphor for interacting with the world. My POV has the world translated as an ocean, for instance. They're entering a big, carefully guarded database, and in the ocean it's represented by a static wall that they need some carefully prepared software tools to breach. Once inside, they can't be detected as foreign to the system or they'll be attacked. Kind of like a virus getting into an immune system. It's simplistic, but the details don't affect the story. I'm just having a hard time thinking of what specialties the team would need in order to work in concert and get the job done.

ETA: As far as lingo, I'm not interested in cutting edge. Just a few tried and true words to sprinkle in. Right now I'm making it up. I'm using "jack" instead of "port" for their VR connection. "Scoops" and "nets" for what are basically passive data collectors and parsers, if such a thing is even valid.

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fugu13
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Yeah, since the real world works nothing like that, I don't think the real world is going to help you [Smile] .

Frankly, the idea that computer networks make sense to interact with via imagery and detailed metaphor basically, well, doesn't, and likely never will. It can be a mildly useful analogy for describing a situation, but the mapping doesn't work on any detailed level. For instance, imagine vulnerabilities as chinks in the castle walls. For that to work, we need to accept there's an automated way of detecting vulnerabilities and translating them into imagery. If we can do all that, what do we need with the castle wall in the first place? Just use a computer program that can attack the detected kind of vulnerability. Having the images there will be at best useless, and at worst drastically counterproductive.

This isn't to say that visualization has no relation to computer security. It can be extremely useful, but in carefully constructed visualizations for delivering large amounts of pertinent information (think: graphs and charts), not video game overlays.

So, if you're going with that (aware that it is disconnected from reality), I'd avoid the lingo even more. It'll just sound very strange to anyone how has the least idea about modern tech, who will find your scenario extremely implausible.

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fugu13
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Not that finding it implausible will mean they won't enjoy it. People like being the heroes, and they like what they do being featured, even inaccurately. Additionally, many do fantasize about computer hacking working like that, even as at the same time they're aware it would never work.
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Dobbie
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I hate to do this. I really do.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodHacking

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Stone_Wolf_
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Here are a few random ideas (which are fictional):

The "guardian" of the database is an AI which is represented as an ever swimming shark in the water, who constantly analyzes who is looking at what people are accessing and other vital stats, such as if that person is logged in and looking at sensitive files while also using a credit card at the company cafeteria.

You could have one member who is actively injecting new employee data to create ghosts/masks which are useable, as each "ghost/masks" only looks at one thing and is therefore not detected by the "shark".

You could have one member who is doing things to distract the shark, such as looking at porn playing video games on several "ghost/masks" which causes the shark to have to generate disciplinary reports not only to the "ghost" but to their bosses, thus tying up the AI's resources and making it process slower.

You could have someone rerouting the connections so they look like they are originating around the world and not from one central location which would activate the "shark".

You could have the shark monitor possible computer attack behavior and basically lock down the system if A) there are too many small things that meet the criteria, or B) ANY large things that meet the criteria.

Not sure if any of that is at all useful...I did just make it all up so, it's not realistic, but might be convincing enough for non specialists if handled well. Good luck!

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I guess the only thing that really has to happen is that the POV has to have access to the database for a little while to find the crucial bit of information. However, the hackers have to be connected on a deeper level than just a cable going into the back of their CPUs. They actually have to be able to be physically harmed by something going seriously wrong. That's why I thought it would work better to have them jacked in directly to the VR and experience it that way.

I know, I know, I've seen the awful movies about hacking in VR and all the awesome, insanely powerful interfaces Hollywood hackers always have. I don't mean mine to be like that--but looks like I'll have to work a bit harder to make it sound fresh.

Thanks for the ideas, SW. I'll take them into account.

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Blayne Bradley
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quote:
Originally posted by Dobbie:
I hate to do this. I really do.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodHacking

BWHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
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advice for robots
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Here's a question: I think it's a very workable thing to have a whole virtual reality world where more abstract concepts are represented as everyday objects--as simple as sitting at a desk in VR reading a heavy, hardbound book, when really the book only exists electronically. Picking up boxes full of stuff and moving them to different containers in VR, when in reality you're only transferring files between directories.

If hacking doesn't work in such a world, as fugu explained, I wonder where the line between feasible and ridiculous is when it comes to representing various activities in that world. It might be that, despite this wonderful VR available, an epic hack is still done from someone's basement amid cans of Mountain Dew.

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fugu13
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quote:
Here's a question: I think it's a very workable thing to have a whole virtual reality world where more abstract concepts are represented as everyday objects--as simple as sitting at a desk in VR reading a heavy, hardbound book, when really the book only exists electronically. Picking up boxes full of stuff and moving them to different containers in VR, when in reality you're only transferring files between directories.

Even the world you've described isn't workable. People have tried more literal metaphors for the computer desktop numerous time, with a consistent result: almost everyone hates them. They make things more cumbersome. Imagining a system administrator who is only doing extremely simple and common tasks, I already can't imagine doing them in a virtual reality world without wanting to kill the world's creator: log in to multiple machines at once; create a custom build of a software package choosing around seven out of hundreds of possible options; delete all files ending in .bak in subdirectories of a particular directory with names that include the character sequence '-dup-'; set a policy that files in user directories larger than a certain size will be automatically mentioned to the user if they're more than a year since last modification and automatically deleted if they hit a year and a month.

There's a reason that modern computer systems are increasingly ditching the file metaphor: people have a darn difficult time performing basic operations with even just that, much less bending it to more complicated purposes.

quote:
If hacking doesn't work in such a world, as fugu explained, I wonder where the line between feasible and ridiculous is when it comes to representing various activities in that world. It might be that, despite this wonderful VR available, an epic hack is still done from someone's basement amid cans of Mountain Dew.
Try writing up a list of tasks you perform on your computer over the course of a day or two, then see if/how it makes sense to translate those tasks into a coherent virtual world, and imagine having to do the operations that you'd have to do in that VR world every time you wanted to accomplish those tasks. I think you'll quickly realize that the idea that the VR would be "wonderful" for *any* basic computer usage is flawed pretty quickly [Smile]
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Fair enough.

So--I have a team of 4 or 5 go out for a beer....

I wouldn't want to stand there and move boxes all day, either. I didn't pick very good examples. From my very, very limited experience, a higher level language performs a lot of the low-level tasks automatically. A lot of the procedures are already written. You can just invoke them when they're needed, rather than having to spell it all out. If I had a really good VR, I wouldn't be using it to perform basic computing tasks. I would expect those to be performed automatically in the background, like any competent operating system. I'd use the VR to expand my world--do things that would be impossible in reality. Build a room, fill it with every musical instrument I can think of, give myself six arms or whatever, and start jamming. A virtual recording studio that couldn't exist otherwise. Or say I'm an architect, and in my virtual studio I can actually design buildings and walk around in them or watch them fall over if they didn't work. Take it up another notch, make my connection to this place direct to my mind, so that what I think to a certain extent manifests itself as things I'm familiar with. I'm not the outsider anymore with a glorified keyboard and monitor, but inside, controlling what I experience just like I do in the real world, except with a whole lot more at my fingertips. I'm trying to imagine knowing I'm in this world and that what I'm interacting is to a certain extent a representation of what the computer is doing, put into terms I'm comfortable with--and then setting out to do something with real consequences in the real world but with all the higher-level abilities the VR world gives me.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by fugu13:
And honestly I mostly recommend against the lingo.

Ignore him. This is the stupidest thing he has ever said. Fugu is stupid and is also a liar. Lingo makes everything better, ask the writers of CSI.

Here, I got some dialogue for you.

"Our webs are down, sir. We can't log in!"
"Which webs?"
"All of them."
"They've penetrated our code walls. They're stealing the internet!"
"We'll need to hack all IPs simultaneously."

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TomDavidson
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quote:
If I had a really good VR, I wouldn't be using it to perform basic computing tasks. I would expect those to be performed automatically in the background, like any competent operating system. I'd use the VR to expand my world--do things that would be impossible in reality.
But, again, you're talking about hackers stealing data through a warehouse metaphor. Think about that metaphor for a second, and realize how awkward and cumbersome it would be to actually apply. Let's say you're an office worker, and today you need to retrieve every file produced last Monday that mentioned the Cumberbatch account and insert a legal disclaimer at the end. How would a VR model help you?

For your typical worker, a "higher-level" metaphor simply isn't relevant to what they're doing with their time.

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Steve_G
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Here's some advice. Go watch Hackers on Netflix. Watch the entire thing. If anything you are writing is anything similar to the way hacking was portrayed in that movie, stop writing and immediately format your hard drive. Also don't forget to erase all the backups you might have stored on the cloud.

On the social Engineering topic, I recommend you research by reading The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick.

One book that I think did a good job of portraying hacking well, and was also pretty entertaining is called The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver.

[ August 02, 2011, 11:20 AM: Message edited by: Steve_G ]

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advice for robots
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I think Cumberbatch should be used in every example of a cubicle farm.

Hmm. In the operating system I currently use at work, OS X, there is no easy way that I know of to retrieve every Cumberbatch file and insert a legal disclaimer at the end of it. Not even if I apply proper CSI lingo.

I agree that a lot of everyday work as we know it wouldn't be any easier in a VR like I'm describing. Maybe it's the type of work that needs to evolve, not the fancy VR system I'm trying to create around it.

I am wondering how work itself would evolve as more sophisticated technology was developed. Would what the average worker does change if the whole work environment changed?

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advice for robots
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve_G:
Here's some advice. Go watch Hackers on Netflix. Watch the entire thing. If anything you are writing is anything similar to the way hacking was portrayed in that movie, stop writing and immediately format your hard drive. Also don't forget to erase all the backups you might have stored on the cloud.

On the social Engineering topic, I recommend you research by reading The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick.

One book that I think did a good job of portraying hacking well, and was also pretty entertaining is called The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver.

Thanks, Steve. I'll check it out.

I can drop the whole VR thing almost entirely and still tell my story. It would be an interesting exercise and maybe a good one. The plot does depend on being connected at the hip to a constant information source, but hey, that's already a reality. I don't have to have the whole VR sheen on top of it.

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Stone_Wolf_
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Where I can see VR being useful is when it comes to interactions. Several people working on the same Cumberbatch files, using video chat and sharing files which are being worked on at the same time...so like a virtual conference room with a virtual white board, which is actually a file, etc.
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Xavier
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quote:
In the operating system I currently use at work, OS X, there is no easy way that I know of to retrieve every Cumberbatch file and insert a legal disclaimer at the end of it.
You can bring up a text editor and start writing a program (in one of many languages) or shell script to do it. Then you'd execute the program/script from the command line or by double clicking on the icon. Coming up with a VR metaphor that lets your write programs could actually be a fun challenge.

I kind of like reading about the kind of VR that you are describing, as impractical as it is. You might be okay with most readers so long as you don't pretend its realistic.

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fugu13
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quote:
I wouldn't want to stand there and move boxes all day, either. I didn't pick very good examples. From my very, very limited experience, a higher level language performs a lot of the low-level tasks automatically. A lot of the procedures are already written. You can just invoke them when they're needed, rather than having to spell it all out. If I had a really good VR, I wouldn't be using it to perform basic computing tasks. I would expect those to be performed automatically in the background, like any competent operating system. I'd use the VR to expand my world--do things that would be impossible in reality. Build a room, fill it with every musical instrument I can think of, give myself six arms or whatever, and start jamming. A virtual recording studio that couldn't exist otherwise. Or say I'm an architect, and in my virtual studio I can actually design buildings and walk around in them or watch them fall over if they didn't work. Take it up another notch, make my connection to this place direct to my mind, so that what I think to a certain extent manifests itself as things I'm familiar with. I'm not the outsider anymore with a glorified keyboard and monitor, but inside, controlling what I experience just like I do in the real world, except with a whole lot more at my fingertips. I'm trying to imagine knowing I'm in this world and that what I'm interacting is to a certain extent a representation of what the computer is doing, put into terms I'm comfortable with--and then setting out to do something with real consequences in the real world but with all the higher-level abilities the VR world gives me.
Take a look at your examples [Smile] . You're right, a VR world would be very useful -- for doing things you do with physical interactions in reality, only in a way you couldn't do in reality (due to limitations of practicality, scope, or physical laws). Star Trek's a good example: people go to the holodeck to do holodecky things, not manage the ship. They go there when they want to meet Cumberbatch (Sherlock is awesome), not review his account.

quote:
I can drop the whole VR thing almost entirely and still tell my story. It would be an interesting exercise and maybe a good one. The plot does depend on being connected at the hip to a constant information source, but hey, that's already a reality. I don't have to have the whole VR sheen on top of it.
Sounds like a plan. Btw, my personal hoped for/predicted medium-far future re constant information sources is as follows:

Small device similar to a current smartphone that basically has the "keys to the kingdom" for that person -- the ability to perform actions on their behalf, with their authority. Information primarily received as an overlay on one's vision (via glasses or something more direct and neural), input primary performed via voice recognition w/ subvocalization (implant) and multi-touch (on device's screen if that's all that's available, but more commonly on any handy surface). Regarding the authority aspect I mentioned before, the device is essentially the digital avatar for the person (likely with very strong biometric 2 factor identification -- meaning an implant plus actual biometry), capable of transmitting requests with whatever the person's authorization is. Use it to pay, use it to switch a car to using your insurance and license info, use it to configure the random terminal you just approached (most of this would happen in the background without effort, of course) to exactly how you use it with all your information called up as it usually is for you, whatever.

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Steve_G
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Fugu13, that's basically what I wish for as well. In my own personal fantasies of the future, I would have 2 chips implanted, to provide visual and audible output. Visually I would be able to have information overlaid within my vision. I have a hard time remembering names and faces, so I might set a setting to throw a name tag on anybody that wasn't already in my personal contacts list. Also I could pull up other notes or whatever, the nametags is just an example. When driving, my speed/instruments could be overlaid as well. Audible cues could be provided for those who prefer to not have the visual distraction.

In my world all of this would not be controlled by a chip in the body. Think of those implants as a bluetooth-like device that are not smart, but just interface tools like a handsfree device. The real brains will live in the cellphone/tablet device that people would keep on their persons. This way people can easily upgrade to a new device without having to go under the knife each time. It also presents an easy input device to be used as we are currently using them. The device would communicate wirelessly with the implanted chips. Its basically the same as Ford Synch's technology to connect your smartphone to your car.

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advice for robots
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quote:
You can bring up a text editor and start writing a program (in one of many languages) or shell script to do it. Then you'd execute the program/script from the command line or by double clicking on the icon. Coming up with a VR metaphor that lets your write programs could actually be a fun challenge.

I kind of like reading about the kind of VR that you are describing, as impractical as it is. You might be okay with most readers so long as you don't pretend its realistic.

That's what I figured. And if it were possible with a shell script, it seems like it's something that could be automated in a next-generation OS.

I don't mind reading about VR stuff like that as long as it keeps a toehold in reality. I thought Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and Tad William's Otherworld were lots of fun, although Otherworld got a little hard to follow sometimes. Fantasy worlds can suffer the same problem, when the hero starts solving all his problems in the magical realm. It just stops being easy to imagine.

Fugu, that does make sense. A VR would have a whole slew of great uses, but maybe running the ship isn't one of them. I'm going to see if I can still have them pull off a hack, but keep it solidly in the physical realm.

A device/connection like you're talking about is pretty much what I've got in my story, currently linked to kind of what Stone Wolf is talking about as far as a communications medium. Maybe that's as far as I'll use it.

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Raymond Arnold
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I recently read Daemon, which has some pretty accurate and compelling cyberwarfare.
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anti_maven
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve_G:
One book that I think did a good job of portraying hacking well, and was also pretty entertaining is called The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver.

I was going to recommend this one too. Be careful though, the terminology dates really quickly. Today's cutting edge is tomorrow's laughable anachronism.

The basics of hacking any system is finding out all you can, often over a long period of time, and using all the data available to look for weak spots that can be exploited. This can be from using automatic scanners, or rifling through rubbish bins. All data is grist to the mill.

Good luck!

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