Scorpion's Vengeance, 'Ransom'
From the author
In the last episode the team were back in the UK and had passed a message on to Sir Michael, they were expecting the criminals to strike, and strike soon, but no one was fully prepared for the way it came, and no one really had any defence against what they did, but luck was on their side.
How do you explain to the boss that the biggest cyberattack ever was stopped by pure dumb luck?
Let's find out, shall we?
Is this all?
"If you think it's the last you've heard of them, then think again!"
“So ladies and gentlemen” the speaker looked around the room, starting from right to left, slowly making eye contact with every person in the room, “it appears that the virus, has run its course then?” it was a question more than a statement, but then again, very few disagree with a prime minister, even when they’re only asking questions.
The room itself didn’t have any windows, but being four stories underground, under some of the most valuable real estates in central London, you wouldn’t expect it to have any, there was air conditioning, but the unit was so silent that you never noticed it, that was probably good, as this place was only ever used for crises, The room .or rooms were known as the Cabinet Office Briefing Room or ‘COBRA’. And the people there were responsible for managing every crisis the United Kingdom faces, everything from a miners strike to a nuclear war if need be.
There were a total of eight chairs around the mahogany table, the PM sat in the middle, facing the only door in the room, on her left was the Minister for Defence, her right the Deputy PM and chancellor of the exchequer, and the final ministerial post next to him was taken by the ‘Home Secretary’
There were six others in the room, other than the Prime Minister, three were ministers of state, two were the heads of various intelligence agencies, the last was with Sir Michael, head of M.I.6, but so far he hadn’t introduced the last man, it was him that spoke up next.
“For now, Yes, but if you think you’ve heard the last of them, then think again!” he threw the briefing paper he’d been given down, slowly reached for the glass of water he’d poured earlier and took a sip, he looked around the table, almost challenging people to prove him wrong, or at least challenge what he’d just said.
"Who is this upstart?"
“Sir Michael” the PM cut in, her voice sharp, but not raised, “Kindly introduce us, and then let this gent explain himself” she wasn’t happy at being told she was wrong, no Prime Minister ever is, and clearly that’s what this man, whoever he was, was doing.
“Sorry Ma’am” Sir Michael spoke quietly, “there hasn’t been time to fill everyone in on the situation, so I thought I’d bring in the man who’s been in on this from the start, this is Steve Chambers, one of our best people, he was working”
“Yes, yes” we know where Mr Chambers worked” she cut in, “but what is he doing here? And what is he talking about?”
“If you’ll let me finish Ma’am” Sir Michael was normally a perfect gentleman, but this meeting wasn’t a normal type of meeting, “I said, he’s been tracking this from the start, so I’ll let Steve explain!” he looked directly at Steve, the message he sent with the eyes said ‘this better be good’
“First of all Ma’am”, Steve began, “This isn’t the first incident we’ve dealt with regarding this group!”
There was some consternation in the group, words fired off like missiles, asking questions, trying to be the one who ‘got it right’ and all missing the mark.
“All partly right” Steve replied causing total confusion, “and all totally wrong!”
It took a full two minutes for the questions to stop, a cacophony of noise, where no one could even hear themselves think, “How the hell can that be?” the Home Secretary shouted above the noise, the PM just sat there, Steve could tell, she was thinking, probably trying to guess what the connection was. “How?” was all she asked when the noise died down enough to be heard.
Russians tracking 'Black hats'
Can it be?
“First of all” Steve began, “the software, it was North Korean, or at least based on stuff that North Korea has used before, when they tried to hack the federal reserve, and the Bank of England” he let that sink in for a moment or two, then went on, “but it wasn’t them!”
“So they say!” the other intelligence officer, Sir Michael’s opposite number at M.I.5 Dame Judith, the second female in the room, “Personally, I’m not so ready to believe them” she threw the pen she’d been twiddling down, “what proof do you have!”
“The first bit” Chambers made eye contact with her, “is the coding in the program itself” he paused, but only briefly, just enough to ‘take the temperature’ of the room, they weren’t going to like what he was going to say next. “We all understood that the North Koreans stole the coding they used from the NSA right?” he looked around the room, that’s what the Americans had quietly told the rest of the world’s intelligence agencies, but it was only partly true, “They didn’t” he went on, the intake of breath around the room was audible, like the thunderclap of a Battleship opening fire with all her guns, and everyone on the receiving end think, ‘God have mercy on us’ but Chambers went on, “They paid a third party to do the actual stealing, and that third party made copies of what they stole, that’s what we’re seeing here” he pointed to the file, “A copy of the original, but with a few tweaks that weren’t in the stuff the North Koreans used!” he leaned back in the chair, in his right hand he had a small remote unit, he clicked it and a large screen, that had so far been dormant came to life.
“So far” Dame Judith came back, “You haven’t offered any proof”
“I’m getting to that” Chambers cut in, “take a look on the screen, two samples of computer code, one taken from the North Korean hack,” he indicated the one on the right of the screen, “the other taken from the virus we recovered in the ransomware attack.” The press already had a name for it, and they were sticking with it, just so that everyone knew what they were talking about, “Look at the third line of both, almost the same right? but there’s a couple of things there on the left, that is isn't on the right, see if you can spot them.”
It took a moment, but slowly each of them acknowledged they were, almost, but not completely, there were two subtle differences, two small mathematical calculations that were on one, but not the other.
“Now look at the seventh and ninth lines, some changes there too” He paused for a moment, “Someone took the original, and altered it!”
What it's really based on.
- Russian and North Korean hackers attack key British websites - including the Ministry of Defence, Ba
While the world is fixated on its nuclear missiles, North Korea has also developed a cyberattack program that is stealing millions and unleashing havoc.
- How North Korea Hacks Our Banks
Investigations into the cyberattacks against banks have linked the North Korean government as the most likely culprit.
"Thwarted by pure luck"
“Why?” it was the Home Secretary asking, “and for what purpose?”
“I’ll answer that soon” Chambers cut him off, “but back to the original question, the first one needed you to send a message, it’d ‘piggyback’ onto it, computer boffins call it a ‘Trojan Horse’, but it needs a message to attach to! “ he reached out for the glass of water he had on the table, he was slightly nervous, you don’t’ get to talk like this to senior government officials every day, taking a sip, he replaced the glass and continued on. “The first one was what the North Koreans used to infect the Banks”
There was a slight pause as Steve picked up the remote again, clicked a button and him screens, the one from the right disappeared, “Now take a look at this baby” he began again, “the commands are different, more refined, because this one’s much more potent, all it needs is your email address list!”
Stunned silence, it took a whole minute for the shock of what he was telling them to sink in, but Steve only waited that minute, it was important they grasp just how bad this virus was, “your machine doesn’t even have to be switched on, all it needs is to be on the address list, then when the virus arrives at the server, it’ll get a ‘wake up call’ from the server and the message gets sent,” he waited for a moment, looking around the room, even Sir Michael looked grim, and he’d heard most of what Steve was saying before, most, but not all. “Then, if your antivirus doesn’t get this bitch, and it’s not likely to, you go into autopilot and retransmit the virus while your machine looks to all intents and purposes as if its turned off, they’ve got you!”
To all intents and purposes, Steve had just told them that the virus was, or should have been unstoppable, but someone had stopped it, how?
“Okay” it was Dame Judith started to speak first, she was cut off by the PM.
“How was it stopped then?” the PM spoke, the softness of her voice betraying nothing of the anger she felt, knowing they were defenceless left her seething inside, like any politician, she hated to lose a fight, even when it was against an enemy they didn’t know.
“Pure dumb luck Ma’am” Steve shot back almost flippantly, “A young kid, not much older than twenty spotted something in the coding, a way of switching it off!”
“What?” there was an audible intake of breath, “You’re telling us” the PM began again, “that potentially the most damaging attack on this country in what, twenty years” she was incredulous, “was thwarted by pure luck?”
"We told you, you didn't listen!"
“Actually, it was some kid with a PlayStation Ma’am” Steve cut back in, normally he’d be ‘hauled over hot coals’ for talking this way to even a senior member of the government, let alone the Prime Minister of the country, “I didn’t say anything of the sort, I said”
“I know what you said” she cut him off, “but the fact remains it was just some boy on the right page who spotted what our computer people didn’t!”
“That ‘BOY’” Steve shot back, “was a computer security consultant, yes he got lucky and land a bit dumb putting it on Facebook, but he broke the code because he’d put a firewall in, just like we told each government department to do when they decided to share files” he was angry. “Tell me Ma’am, when we advised each department to put firewalls in to prevent attacks like this bringing the government to its knees, was that ever done?” he knew the answer, but they’d pushed the wrong buttons with him, and Sir Michael knew, Steve didn’t really give too much of a damn about pleasing people, he got the job done.
“We’d begun a study” the Home Secretary began.
“Oh Please” It was Sir Michael replied to that, “we told you the threat was real, that there were any number of governments the other groups who’d love to see Britain on her knees, but as usual, no one listened”
“But the costs, they were going to be tens of millions”
“And repairing the damage now will be hundreds of millions, not to mention the patients in the hospitals who probably died because we didn’t get them the treatment they needed, the various nuclear power stations that had to do emergency shutdowns in case the virus got into their systems and reprogrammed them into meltdown”
“Now you’re being dramatic” the PM sounded almost condescending.
“Iran 2010” Sir Michael cut her off, this wasn’t a time to play nice, “Israel decided to try and shut down Iran’s nuclear programme by sending a small reactor into meltdown, thankfully the Iranians caught it in time, but it almost caused a nuclear exchange, read the file Ma’am” he threw a plain looking file about a half inch thick onto the table, “go back and check, your departments all got copies of the file at the time, I suggest you read them!”
From the author
Sorry folks, but we have to stop there.
Sir Michael sounds really angry, and I can see why it's not easy working for people who constantly ignore your warnings and then turn to you to deal with the situation caused by their ignoring your warnings.
That's all for this week, see you next time.
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