Her Computer | #4
So… where were we? Oh yeah. My sister was on her death bed, and I was trying to secure the cure save her. I had stoled the data I was told was gold, data that if we controlled, we could mold into a cure.
And then I’d lost it.
Now, I was trying to get it back before BossMan95 found out. Before I missed my opportunity to save Teresa, before I got caught.
I spent the previous afternoon and evening researching which Uhaul dealership had the pickup truck where I’d lost my backpack, which contained the SD cards upon which resided the data I needed.
So, which dealership had the truck? None of them. That’s who. The truck had been rented out already. I’d spent most of the day on hold to find that out. Uhaul said I could stop by tomorrow to look for it, though. Sigh.
Now, I was in bed, not sleeping, ’cause that’s the way I roll. I turned on the news.
I don’t remember the exact words, but the anchor said something like, “Action 13 News has just learned the suspect in the Atlanta data heist has stolen what the US State Department is calling a Cyber Weapon. Action 13’s John Terrence Franke has more -“
I sat up. Atlanta data heist? That had to be me, right? A Cyber Weapon? What the fuck is a cyber weapon? I didn’t steal any kind of weapon.
But, sure enough, Action 13 News showed a picture of me. It was the one of me with my beard from my AxelRod Security ID photo. The reporter said they also created a mockup of what I might look like without a beard and they showed that, too. Add a bit of road rash from jumping out of a moving car, and yeah, that was me.
Then they showed some video of Barry. They were asking him questions. Then Kevin. Whoa. Gateway was not keeping this on the downlow.
I grabbed my phone with the shattered screen and opened the Dark World Forums app. The news of the Gateway heist was all over it. One hacker took my ID photo, ran it through facial recognition software stolen from Facebook and pulled up a bunch of social media posts they thought were mine. Thankfully, I’ve never used social media, so most of the pictures were of some other dude.
That dude is going to have a tough week. Yeah, sorry buddy. If life was fair, my sister wouldn’t be dying right now.
This is Kill/Switch Recording Four, I called it “Her Computer”
I watched as B-roll showed helicopter footage of miles of traffic stopped like a parking lot, caused by roadblocks designed to catch me. I saw my crashed car in the ravine at the end of the straightaway. I saw Terrell, my Uber driver from early this morning, shown outside his house, being questioned by police.
The announcer finished the news report. “Anyone who has any information regarding this theft is encouraged to call the FBI Tips hotline, or go online…”
It was the middle of the night, but I had to talk to BossMan95 about it. I absolutely dreaded doing it. BossMan95 had called me many times, messaged me many times, and I had ignored it all. He was going to be pissed.
I opened the Roblox app, started a game, and pulled up the chat. I found BossMan95’s username and typed out a message. I wrote: “I’m all over the news” and sent it.
I know I felt like I needed to talk to BossMan95, but when I saw the little dots that meant he was typing his reply, my heart stopped. Eh, I hate this. To occupy my mind, I opened the Dark World Forums app again. I’d know what BossMan95 said soon enough.
On Dark World forums, there were hundreds of posts about the heist. I was shocked. People asking how it had been pulled off? Was it Russians? The over-under on the head of Axelrod Security losing his job was put at 1.5 days. And, one user with the handle TheDoxxxer – “doxxxer” with three exes, of course – had put two and two together, divided by PI, came up with infinity, and somehow already figured out that it was I, me, who had pulled off the heist. I say, “I” but all they really had was my Dark World Forums username. But, TheDoxxxer was already trying to dox me. I prayed I hadn’t made any dumb opsec mistakes.
Dumb opsec mistakes? Like what, you ask? Like, the case of Dread Pirate Roberts.
Dread Pirate Roberts aka Ross Ulbricht, founder of Silk Road, once-upon-a-time, asked a question on Stack Overflow using his real name, by accident. He changed the name one minute later, but it was too late. Several years later, that Stack Overflow post helped lead to his arrest and conviction.
Using the Internet while remaining anonymous is more difficult than it seems. You have to do everything right to stay anonymous, but only one thing to fuck yourself forever. Ulbricht is still in jail.
Did I avoid that kind of mistake? The only way to really know is to wait. If I die before I get doxxed, no, I didn’t make any mistakes.
I still don’t know what BossMan95 sounds like, as we’ve never spoken. But, I always imagine him like Niles from the TV show “Frasier”. Here’s what BossMan95 wrote back: “Where the fuck have you been?!?”
I wrote: “Sorry. Things have gone bad.”
“No shit. You’re all over Dark World forums, and CNN has picked up the story. I’m watching it right now.”
I wrote, “You said the data I stole would barely be missed!”
BossMan95 wrote, “The problem was the extra SD cards you took.” BossMan95 explained that he owned a mole in the FBI. He got a call last night. One of those random cards I had taken was something important. National Security Implications.
I slumped onto my pillows. For God’s sake.
So, back at Gateway Underground Secure Storage when I stole the data we wanted – research about a COVID-19 cure – we decided that stealing other cards at random would help mask our intent, and thus cover our tracks. Cover our tracks least long enough for me to get away. The authorities would have to follow multiple leads, which would buy us time, blah, blah. Technically, the plan worked. The card we really wanted — the digital reams of COVID-19 research data, seemed to be forgotten. Neither BossMan95 nor I had ever even considered that one of those other cards would be a much, much bigger deal.
BossMan95 wrote, “Go to a Fedex drop and mail the SD cards to me. Right now. All of them. It’s important you send me all of them.” He included an address for me to use.
I typed, “I don’t think so. I’d never hear from you again.”
“You don’t trust me.”
“It’s not about trusting you. I’m trying to save my sister’s life. I can’t afford to trust anyone.”
I waited for a reply, but none came. No little dots that meant he was typing. Nothing.
I thought about Ubering to Uhaul, but wanted to save Uber for emergencies. I had seen Terrell, my Uber driver, on the news. Most likely, Uber had flagged my account and card number. Thank God I used a different credit card with a different identity with Lyft, or else they’d have found me by now.
I had two hours before the Uhaul dealership that rented my truck opened. It was all the way across town. I decided to walk.
I arrived at Uhaul at 0845 and went directly to lost and found. Nothing. I asked the manager about my backpack. The manager said she didn’t know anything about a backpack. I gave her the plate partial for the truck and she ran it through their computer.
She said, “That truck is still out. The woman came back, paid for a second day. You just missed her.”
Nothing was going right.
I asked the manager for the woman’s address. The manager looked at me like I’d just asked her to unbutton her shirt. She said, “I can’t give you her address. We have privacy laws.” I don’t mean to make the manager sound bitchy. She wasn’t, really. I’m just upset, that’s all. But, ahhh!!
Through the big windows in the front of the store, I saw a plain-looking Ford Taurus arrive. Two guys in dark suits stepped out. Suits in this weather? Gotta be FBI.
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I looked around. The manager was now dealing with some irate customer who had just come in yelling about a dent or something. And I noticed (cue) a pile of duplicate rental contracts behind the counter. I reached over and grabbed them, and went into the restroom. I thumbed through them and found the one matching the partial on the plates from the Uhaul pickup. Yes!
Boom. I had it! Back in business. I am doing this!
The form had the woman’s name, phone number, email and home address. I took it and hid the rest of the forms under the trash can. I opened the restroom door and peeked out. The manager was now talking with the FBI agents out front.
I left by the side door, through the garage where they install hitches. Surely the FBI would figure out what I was searching for in no time. So, here was my thinking: I take an Uber one last time. They were on to me, anyway, so by the time Uber alerted them that I had ordered a ride, I should be long gone.
I waited around the corner. My Uber pulled up three minutes later. I approached cautiously, looking into the window. I got in. We drove off toward the house where, according to the Uhaul form, DeKeisha Broadside lived.
I eyed the Uber driver. He didn’t look like a cop or FBI agent, but what does an undercover cop posing as an Uber driver look like? Just an Uber driver, right? Ten minutes later we pulled up to the address I had given the Uber app. I got out, he drove off. I figured I had, at most, ten minutes.
I spotted the Uhaul pickup truck next to the house, full of fence posts and planks. A couple of teenagers and a woman were unloading it. The license plate matched.
I hailed the family from the curb. “Hello! Hey, I rented that truck earlier this week and forgot something!” I came closer. I tried to look friendly. I hoped they’d been too busy working to watch the news.
I slowly walked closer. “I left my backpack in the truck – it’s baby blue, with –”
DeKeisha said, “Oh, yeah, we got that. It’s in the house. I was going to take it back this morning, but I forgot.”
I almost fell to my knees in relief. I said, “I’m in a hurry. Can you go get it?” I glanced down the street, hoping I didn’t see the FBI or police. I expected them at any moment.
Dekeisha, who didn’t know I knew her name, had muddy feet, and she was sweaty and dirty. She said, “I’m busy. It’s on the kitchen counter, right inside the door. Go ahead. You can’t miss it.”
I thanked her and went inside her house.
It was a modest house, a little messy, but there was something simmering on the stove that smelled great. That burrito I’d scraped off the road yesterday was the last thing I’d eaten. My stomach rumbled.
I walked over and lifted up the lid to the pot on the stove. Mmm. Seafood gumbo. Cornbread in a cast iron pan sat on the counter nearby, cooling. I glanced out the window to make sure they weren’t coming in, opened a few drawers, found a big spoon, and tasted the gumbo.
To die for.
Ugh, I was so hungry. But I didn’t have time for this. Inconspicuous. I needed to be inconspicuous. I set the spoon down and spotted my backpack. As I grabbed it, I spotted a desktop computer in the living room. I walked over and looked it over. It had an SD card slot. I moved the mouse. The screen saver went away. The desktop appeared. It was not password protected.
I shouldn’t have done it, I didn’t have time to do it, but I had to know.. What was on these SD cards. A Cyber Weapon? What else had I taken?
I unzipped my backpack, took out my hard-cover faraday box, took the key from my pocket, unlocked it and took out the cards. I inserted the first one into the SD slot.
A message popped up, “unrecognizable drive format.” Hmm. I ejected it, tried another. Same. Third. Same. Four, fifth, sixth. All the same. “Unrecognizable drive format.” Unreadable on this ancient Windows machine.
I could hear DeKeisha outside commanding her sons to put down their phones. I should have just stood up, walked out and left. But, I didn’t.
I opened up Internet Explorer. It loaded soooo slowly. I glanced out the window. No sign of the police.
Oh, this computer was painfully slow. As I waited, I glanced around the desk. There was a mousepad with the faces of those teenagers outside helping her unload the truck. Smiling, and about ten years younger. How old was this computer? Next to the mouse, a stack of bills.
Then, Internet Explorer finally popped up. I typed in DuckDuckGo.com, hit enter, then searched for “Gateway Underground Secure Storage volume format.” I clicked the first link and read an entry from Gateway’s own frequently asked questions.
“Question: What format does Gateway use? Answer: Gateway uses a proprietary disk volume format called GUSS. Built upon the foundation of Linux, GUSS’ encrypted, journaled format, along with our proprietary Linux kernel extension, means that you enjoy a more secure, nearly unhackable experience. Our proprietary drive format is specific to our custom hardware. Files from our devices cannot be viewed on, or copied to, other operating systems.”
Shit, so I needed a specific operating system to even look at the file names? Files couldn’t be copied to other OSes? You gotta be kidding.
sfx Then, I heard the screen door creaking. Someone was coming in the house.
I clicked the corner of the browser to close it. It didn’t respond. It was so slow! I clicked it again. Click, click, click. Come on!! Suddenly, I got the blue screen of death. The computer had crashed.
Eh, Good enough.
“What the fuck are you doing?” It was DeKeisha.
I said, “Sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t have. I was, uh, mapping my route – I have to walk, so I was looking for the shortest route.”
DeKeisha looked at me suspiciously.
She said, “How did you know where to find your backpack? Did Uhaul give you my address?”
I said, “Uh, I’m just leaving… gonna leave now… I’m really sorry, DeKeisha, I didn’t mean –”.
“You know my fucking name? Nuh, uh. I think I have a bone to pick with Uhaul. I think you – ” DeKeisha sfx picked up a baseball bat by the front door “– you should be on your way.”
I wholeheartedly agreed with DeKeisha that I should be on my way. And I demonstrated my wholehearted agreement-ness by sprinting out of the house, leaping the three stairs off the porch, reaggravating my sore hip, then limping down the street carrying my backpack and faraday box.
I went up a block, over a block, through an alley. Watched for cops. Nonstop. Waiting for the onslaught. Criss cross, cross walk, so hot, sweat mopped, found a shady tree, finally stopped.
I pulled out my iPhone. The shattered screen was crumbling away but still worked. I called Lyft and got a ride to Best Buy, where I bought a cheap laptop with an SD card slot, a cellular WiFi hotspot, several more cheap pay-as-you go android phones and a new iPhone without a shattered screen.
Then I called a different Lyft and headed back to that Greyhound Bus Station.
It was time to get the fuck outta Dodge.
Lyft dropped me off at Greyhound, I paid for a ticket in cash to the next bus going anywhere, boarded ten minutes later, settled into a seat in the last row, put on my menacingly best “do NOT sit next to me” face and was setting up some essentials on the laptop as the bus began to pull away.
Over the intercom, the driver said, “Please be seated, seat belts are required.” I took a deep breath and relaxed.
The last couple of stragglers had boarded and were looking for seats. I sent telepathic messages to stay away from me. A signal saying that, yes, there is an empty seat next to me, but no, do not sit there. Do not sit next – Dammit. A young woman wearing a mask dropped her bag on the floor, kicked it under the seat, and sat down next to me.
She looked over and said, “Oh, great. It’s you again.”
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
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