Disclaimer: This is a fictional story involving a hacker and a reporter. Any resemblance to real life people is entirely coincidental…… hopefully.
Surya, a young newly married man, has been kidnapped by an unidentified assailant. He has been taken to a dark room in a location unknown to him. There is just enough light to make out the outline of the kidnapper. The kidnapper’s intentions are unknown but come to light, soon enough. Here is the dialogue that follows, between them.
Surya: “Who are you? Why did you kidnap me? Why did you hack my Facebook and make my life impossible to live? I see Aaron written on my laptop and also on every file. What is that? Your code name?”
Aaron: “Calm down and I will answer your questions. We haven’t bound you or even threatened you yet. You are free to leave if you wish to do so. I will even drop you home if you want to leave now. You see, I’ve had bad experiences before while dealing with reporters. And my motto is that prevention is better than a cure”
Surya: “How did you hack my profile? No one knows the password other than me and my wife.”
Aaron: “A bit of social engineering and lock-picking skills does the trick”.
Surya: “So, you haven’t used hacker tricks like phishing and fooling the server by proxy methods, have you?”
Aaron: laughs. “You’ve watched too many films and read too many stupid websites. Hacking is an extraneous job and requires infinite patience and the time requirement is usually varied. We (as hackers) use social engineering more than you expect us to.”
Surya: “What is social engineering?”
Aaron: “Social engineering is to gather information about a target and use that information to our advantage. The trick of it all is to observe from a distance.”
Surya: “I don’t understand what you mean. What kind of information?”
Aaron: “We gather information by stalking targets online and tracking what kind of people they interact with. We gather bits of information from each source and build a web. The web grows until it gives us enough insight about the target.”
Surya: “Nice explanation. Won’t do you any good trying to convince people you’re not creepy.”
Aaron: “Consider us as unknown angels who ‘look after’ you without interfering with your life.” smirks. “So how is your wife doing? I heard she got a fat paycheck on her promotion.
Surya: snarls. “She’s doing fine. Is there a grand plan about the choice of your targets?”
Aaron: “All our targets are people who do immoral things and get away with it. Some are good at exploiting loopholes in law and justice. Unfortunately, these perpetrators are generally careful about slipping info. So we choose their underlings as the first pawns of the plan to expose their superiors.”
Surya: How do you know that they committed a crime?
Aaron: “Sometimes, it is apparent that they are the perpetrators and sometimes our sources help us in learning the truth. We trust these sources with our life.”
Surya: “I am just a part time freelance reporter and I do not work for any influential person whatsoever. I’m a nobody. What do you want with me?”
Aaron: “I want you to write an article about us. I chose you on the basis of a tip off from a friend.”
Surya: “So that means that there’s a head of your group and you’re following his instructions.”
Aaron: “No. We are a group of friends who have never met each other but have immense trust in each other. And there is no hierarchy in our group. One can’t be too careful with people. So we deal with people who have been with us for a long time. It seems he is a very good friend of yours and knows you inside-out.”
Surya: “I don’t have any hacker friends. Are you sure you called the right person?”
Aaron: “You are so silly and ignorant that it makes me laugh. I called the right person, alright.”
Surya: “So what do you want me to do? And, again, why me?”
Aaron: “We want you to inform the world that we are not the people you imagine us to be. There are a lot of misconceptions about us even in the world of computer graduates. I want to remove them. You already know the answer to the second question. If you still persist I will answer that question later.”
Surya: “So, you’re all doing a bunch of illegal stuff? How do you know that your friends won’t rat on you when things go south?”
Aaron: “Have you ever worked at a startup or had a stint in army? There is an unspoken bond which connects the people working together and this bond doesn’t break easily. The rebellious attitude, the fear of getting caught and every other obstacle increases the strength of the bond between them. We have gone through a lot of things and that makes my team unified.”
Surya: “You say you’ve never met. So how do you communicate with each other? Is it through a secret encryption system like they show in the movies?”
Aaron: “Another basic question. But it is certainly relevant to hackers. Mails can be read. Facebook profiles can be hacked and WhatsApp can be mimicked. We communicate with each other through the Dark-Web. The Dark-Web is a very dangerous place but it provides a safe haven and anonymity for people. We communicate on a chat room where we can express our opinions on anything without fearing any repercussions. Most of the hackers aren’t even active hackers. Hacking into any website now has become tougher than expected. The tools for hacking aren’t developing at the same rate as security is.”
Surya: “What is the Dark-web? And what makes it dangerous?”
Aaron: “The Dark-Web accounts for more than 80% of the internet. This can’t be accessed through Google or any known browsers. We do it by using the ‘TOR’ browser. You can find everything wrong in the world. You can find assassin ready to do a job. Pedophiles, drug-addicts and psycho-killers are bountiful. You can find arms enough to blow up an entire country. You can find all kind of illegal drugs and lots of things which are enough to stir up your insides and make you throw up.”
Surya: “Why do you go to such a dark and sick place?”
Aaron: “The Dark-Web provides jobs for hackers. Security consultancy takes its job very seriously. We have to penetrate their systems with all of our might and try to obtain information. We get paid for a job done right. After the completion of the job we usually have a fat fortune with us, which saves us going back to this vile place for several months/years.”
Surya: “So, have you hacked any nasty websites and found some info on that person?”
Aaron: “Yes, I did. I hacked an arms-dealer’s website once and reported it to higher authorities anonymously. They couldn’t unfold the tracks of the criminal. These government hackers aren’t professionals. They are second-rate hackers at best.
I hacked another website which was run by a drug cartel. I had to work very long to uncover the tracks of the individuals. And then I posted all of the info anonymously. Destroyed his entire business. The power of anonymity is realized by very few individuals. Anonymity gives people power.”
Surya: “Does the government spy on hackers as whole?”
Aaron: “Yes, it does. I have seen hackers turning themselves in to the government to escape prison. We are the only people who can expose the wrongdoings of the government.”
Is it legal to hack someone? Definitely not. Is it morally acceptable to hack? Yes.
Government views things like a small child. It sees hacking as acceptable if they work along with them and unacceptable when others do the same thing. Governments are run by businessmen and criminals.
People like Snowden, and Julian Assange are necessary for the world. The government is in a defensive position and wants stringent laws to stop hackers. Hackers are classified as geeks where we really should be called experts.”
Surya: “How does the hacker community feel about being threatened?”
Aaron: “We fear for our lives. There are only a handful of people in the whole world who care about the wrongdoings in the Dark-Web and take up the task of reporting to the government. Most of us turn a blind eye and live a happy life. The fear of being caught is a constant reminder in our life… We are used as pawns in political battles.”
Surya: “Are you talking about the suicide of Aaron Swartz (ah I get the code name now) and the arrest of Adrian Lamo?”
Aaron: “Yes. Mr. Swartz wasn’t a hacker. But he was important to the internet community. His contributions to the present form of internet are immense. He stood for the same ideals as we do. He made sure that internet remained free. He wanted to share research with everyone. He was such a passionate soul. He still inspires us to do the right thing.”
Surya: Are you afraid that you might share the same fate of Lamo?
Aaron: Adrian is still a good guy. Now, he works for the government. He can’t reveal the details of any operation he is part of. He is monitored 24/7. He is in a prison even if he is still living in the world. But I am planning to leave this profession nonetheless. Before I go, I have one last project: to teach”
Surya: “Teach? You mean like school? How will they meet you? And what will you be teaching?”
Aaron: “We want to teach the basics ranging from networking to viruses, Trojans and a lot more. Every good networker can become a great hacker. We are using the methods of virtual machine to create a place which can be used for hacking. The tutorials or the online videos are obsolete at worst and stupid at best. The rest is to be learnt from additional materials or through research. We will show them the working of Linux, iOS, other powerful hacking tools and enough knowledge on how to cover their tracks from others.”
Surya: “You are only teaching theory and not hacking. How will that be useful enough?”
Aaron: “No, it isn’t. We are creating a specific environment for them to learn hacking. The end part of the job is to hack their mentor and that is how they get real experience. After they succeed in doing so they are free to hack and learn more. I know this is a risky business but I am prepared to do this. We can teach them everything but we aren’t going to do so. We will show them the patience and hard-work that goes into the work behind scenes. My time is running up. I need to leave.”
Surya: “Is this all you want to teach them? What if they become good enough to surpass you?”
Aaron: “Yes. Hacking is nevertheless a skill which needs to be honed. I will inform them about the hardships to be encountered in the life won’t force them to take the lessons. But, there will be few present in every generation who lead the path for others. I want them to succeed more than anything in my life. I named the job Project Anonymous.”
Surya: “Thanks for the interview. I think I should be going. I don’t want to go back to my place in the same way as before. Can you do something about that?”
Aaron: “You are just across the road from your house. We just drove for a while and doubled back” Laughs.
The next day…
Aaron opened the newspaper. The headline read “Hackers – Misunderstood Souls”
– Srikar Maturi