Why Haven't They Made This?

Why Haven't They Made This?
Someday, I'll Hack the Gibson

Joe Blancato | 4 Oct 2005 12:04
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It's your first job of the day. A mid-sized corporation lost a million bucks to a cyber thief, and their bank isn't providing any information on where the money went. They're willing to offer you a 10% commission to track down their money, and an additional 5% if you're able to identify the person responsible. You begin to list your "hops," familiar terminals you ritually log into before a big hack, designed to slow down automated trace programs, so if the unthinkable happens and you screw up, the authorities won't be banging on your door.

You break your way into the bank's security using a mix of brute force crackers, decrypters and an engineered version of the system administrator's voice. As you poke through the access logs, looking for records of transactions that add up to one million, you notice something in the way the paper trail unfolds: You've seen this hacking style before. A few quick steps around the network and you're sure of it; you've worked with this hacker in the past.

A trace-detection program chirps to alert you; the bank's system is now trying to figure out exactly who you are. You fire up your IM program and toss a message to your buddy, Spectre.

"Hey man, did you hit up a corporation for a million bucks earlier this week?" you ask, cautiously mindful that the tracing program is getting caught up on a network where you're logged in as the administrator.

"Maybe," Spectre replies. "Why?" Chirp.

"Oh, no reason. It's just that I, well, you know, logged into First Bank on behalf of a Large Corporation, and your fingerprints are all over their money."

"You can't prove anything." Defiant, cocky. Chirp.

You beam over the access logs you've uncovered.

"I have you by the balls, Spectre. Give me 60%, and maybe I'll tell my contact I couldn't find any information. 'The hacker was just too smart to leave a trail.'" Chirp, chirp.

A long pause, then: "What's your account number?"

Uplink really was an amazing game. A cyberpunk thriller created by British developer Introversion, the game dropped you into a fictional hacking circuit responsible for much of the cyber crime, and cyber crime detection, in the world. As a player, you climbed through set ranks of skill, unlocking missions with higher payouts and higher risk. Eventually, you come into contact with a computer version of a pandemic plague, and you have to decide to destroy it or sell it to a high bidder. The interface is clean, functional and just feels how hacking should feel, giving nods to movies like Hackers and the old Shadowrun Genesis game. You dip and dive through a "virtual virtual world," covering your tracks as you rob banks and destroy other hackers' reputations and lives. But there was something missing. The hackers you sent to prison weren't real. You were alone in an infinite universe.

Hacking is largely a solo sport, but very few net runners have existed exclusively in a bubble. When you're traipsing over the internet with bravado, much of the incentive to hack - beyond the normal "we only want information" mantra - is being able to brag to other hackers that you've been somewhere, climbed the Everest of hacks, established a new high watermark for script kiddies across the globe. Groups will collaborate to bring down massive networks (a few years ago, Yahoo was brought down by a group who managed to use thousands of computers to run "denial of service" attacks on their servers), but Uplink focused on one-hacker runs because it was a single player game.

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