It’s Chaos in Kiev, where the team is. And where Sindictive is. Exclusivor, Distinctive, mASSHtrOLE and Fishburne are fighting the biggest DDOS in history, and are always a step behind. In the end, they find a target, and embark on a mission. Lita is helping in the Homeland.
Sindictive had marched out armies of botnets to DDOS the West. And, the attack was working. My team had to advance or people were going to be dying by the thousands. Entire economies might collapse.
M: “Now I’m seeing the Imperial Crusader and Deatheater botnets coming online.”
F: “Two more? Jesus.”
X: “That’ll put them over twenty terabits per second.”
M: “Fucking massive.”
CHAOS IN KIEV
It was Chaos in Kiev. Sindictive had begun DDOSing important Internet infrastructure. He targeted entire sectors of the US economy. Terabytes of junk traffic flooded DNS and web servers, taking down hospitals, news organizations, government sites, grocery stores. In addition, entire hospital networks were crypto-lockered.
Exclusivor had hacked Sindictive’s phone and we knew from the exfiltration that he had much more planned. Fishburne was on the phone with the Mayor of Kiev.
F: “Zoe! Mayor Rodiyenko got a location on Sindictive.“
X: “Are they going in?”
F: “I’ll check” (for bg, into phone: “Rodiyenko - ty vidpravlyayesh svoyikh soldativʹ? - Rodiyenko - are you sending in your bodyguard?”)
I saw Fishburne listen for a moment. Then, he stood up and shouted into his phone. (F: - in frustration) “Ahh!! ty ne mozhesh tsʹoho zrobyty, mudaku! // ти не можеш цього зробити, мудаку! // you can’t do that, asshole!”
Exclusivor looked at me and said, (X: deadpan) “I’ll take that as a, ‘No’.”
Then, Lita called. I walked into a hallway and answered it.
L: “It’s been fucking chaos here. For a day nothing worked but a land-line and over-the-air TV.”
D: “Wow, back to the 80s”.
L: “More like the 40s. I don’t have a land-line or a TV antenna.”
I told Lita it was likely to get worse. I made the mistake of mentioning Exclusivor, who Lita had been researching for the last couple of weeks.
L: “You know, I downloaded Tor and have been hitting some dot-onion sites and damn, the rumors about her are crazy.”
D: “Internet rumors are always crazy.”
L: “You ever see that stuff on youporn?”
D: “Any Exclusivor video on youporn is a deep fake. Not real.”
L: “Looks real.”
D: “Kind of the point.”
L: “Okay, I’ll take your word for it. But damn.”
D: “You need to meet Exclusivor someday. She’ll win you over.”
L: “Eh. I gotta go, though. I need to make a few more calls.”
We hung up and I returned to the Ops Floor. Exclusivor said, (X:) “Hey, I’m getting 404s everywhere. Are we down?”
M: “Yeah, man, it appears that we are.”
X: “What happened?”
M: “I dunno.”
X: “What did you do last?”
M: “The botnet’s command and control server just rotated, so I added the new IP to the sinkhole.”
X: “Wait, you did this entry - 22.214.171.124?”
M: “That’s the one.”
X: “You dumbass. You added our IP!”
M: “We’re the C&C?”
X: “No, you dum – Holy shit!”
M: “Holy shit! It can’t be.”
Why was our IP in the round robin for a botnet command and control? Uh…
So, we were on the first floor of an unfinished skyscraper in Kiev. We were working with CISA and CYBERCOM to mitigate the biggest botnet attack ever. It was as though half the internet was DDOSing the other half. The malware code connected to a command and control that returned instructions, and with it, a pool of IPs to check for the next C&C. One of the IPs was our own.
X: “Sindictive gave us a bullet and we shot ourselves in the foot.”
M: “Yup. He sent our IP out as part of the C&C round robin and when I added it to the sinkhole, boom. Brilliant move, man.”
X: “He’s a murderer, Todd.”
M: “I said ‘brilliant move,’ not ‘brilliant man.’”
Fishburne came into the room. He said: (F:) “Alright, status update. CYBERCOM says this was a coordinated SYN flood on port 53. They prepended junk subdomains at known authoritative servers. Not sure why that matters.”
X: “It forces cache-miss lookups. Wastes CPU cycles.”
F: “At any rate, most of the dot-govs are back, as well as Fox, CNN, BBC, et cetera. Right before, tons of hospitals were crypto-lockered. But, it looks like it’s over.”
M: “That’s it, man? That’s all Sindictive’s got?”
X: “It can’t be.”
F: “Well, maybe Sindictive is slipping.”
D: “I don’t think he’s slipping.”
F: “Hey, give yourself credit. We rocked that motherfucker!”
X: “That was script-kiddie shit.”
F: “It was the biggest DDOS ever – 20 hours, 20 terabits-a-second – and we stopped it cold.”
M: “There’s got to be more.”
F: “No other security team could even get online.”
D: “We were lucky to be outside the US.”
F: “Let’s celebrate - I’ll get some fucking steaks and beers! I’m going to make some calls.”
Fishburne walked off, dialing his phone. Then my phone rang. It was Lita.
L: “Dude, the Internet just came back up and CNN.com is saying there’s a food shortage.”
D: “There’s a food shortage?”
L: “None of the TV channels mentioned it. Nothing on PBS, nothing on Fox News.”
We hung up, and I repeated what Lita had said. We hit a sampling of news sites. BBC, NPR, Fox, CNN, Al Jazeera, all saying the same thing: Food shortage.
X: “Okay, I think I see where this is headed. Let’s talk this out. We know Sindictive had a propaganda attack planned. So he took down the internet in as much of Europe and the US as he could. People start worrying… Asking, ‘what’s going on?’”
D: “People are worried; there’s this pandemic. They’re refreshing news sites every five minutes. They’re all primed and ready and -.”
(F:) (hurrying back over)“— I just got off the phone with Homeland. Sorry to interrupt. Homeland is coordinating with NATO. Someone defaced nearly every major Western news website.”
M: “Holy shit, man.”
F: “They’re posting fake news about shortages; food, medicine, gas.”
X: “We’re talking about that.”
D: “So, the shortages aren’t real?”
F: “They’re real now. If people believe there’s a shortage, there’ll be shortage.”
X: “Psychology 101.”
M: “Hey man, check out what my buddy just sent me.”
X: “Todd, we don’t have time for –”
mASSHtrOLE shared his screen on the Big Monitor. Twitter was going crazy. @CNN: “Stock up now!” @FOXNEWS: “No food in the US!” Kanye, Lebron, Obama, Lady Gaga. They were tweeting about shortages.
M: “One of my Dark World buddies hacked Twitter’s internal chat server last year. He’s been lurking since.”
F: “He’s spying on Twitter’s developers?”
M: “Yup. Twitter is scrambling to remediate a zero day on their API. Their hacker can impersonate anyone.”
THINKING OUT LOUD
X: “Okay, okay, so, Sindictive DDOSes basically North America for half a day, then hacks news sites and twitter accounts pumping up a general shortage, and pulls the plug on the denial of service.”
F: “People impatient for COVID-19 news are refreshing their favorite news page and what do they see?”
X: “Food shortage. Gas, medical supplies, medicine. Then they panic all over again. Fuck.”
D: “Oh, no.”
X: “oh, no? What?”
D: “He’s gonna start DDoSing again. The last news people will see is going to be…”
F: Fuck me.
M: “Sindictive is a genius. He left Trump’s Twitter alone, man.”
On the overhead screen, mASSHtrOLE pulled up @realdonaldtrump. The President had just tweeted. I read it out loud, “Shortage is a hoax. We shut it down. We are way ahead of this thing.”
X: “Isn’t that basically verbatim what your President said about the coronavirus in the first place?”
M: “Yeah man, Trump sows panic without any help.”
Then Fishburne’s phone rang. He walked away, (F: for bg, “Fishburne here”). A couple minutes later, Fishburne walked back over.
F: “Distinctive was right. Sindictive doubled down: A massive flood attack on all the major DNS players plus a coordinated BGP attack. We’re screwed.”
Fear. It’s a basic, truly primal, instinct. Proof? Fear consumed our team. Fishburne tried to reach his wife, to warn her. I tried to call my parents, to tell them it was fake. But the cell phones were clogged. People were making up for the Internet being down by returning to their phone. Rumors and guesses posed as news and answers.
Special Agent Jerkface/Asshat/Turdbasket did get through to his wife. She was stuck with their kids in quarantine in Virginia. He told her everything would be fine. He told her the food shortage scare was fake. But just before they hung up, he told her to go to the store and stock up. He told her to get anything she could, even if they didn’t need it.
I mean, come on.
I called my Mom to check on her.
C: Hi Dearie.
D: Hi mom, how are you?
C: I’m okay.
D: Hey, Exclusivor is with me. You’re on speaker.
C: Hi Zoe.
X: Hi Mrs Harley. How is your food supply?
C: I usually keep a pretty good supply, and it’s just me so I’ll be okay.
D: Are you scared?
C: Everyone is scared.
Mom & I spoke for a while then said our goodbyes. Later I heard Fishburne on the phone with his wife and kids.
F: “I know sweetie, I promised I’d be home. I did. Things are just hectic right now.”
Fishburne paced. He had bags under his eyes, had worn the same suit for the third straight day, and I couldn’t remember seeing him sleep.
F: “I’m having to step up, sweetie. I need you to be tough, too. (pause) I love you so much. Okay, put your mom back on.”
I could tell that mASSHtrOLE, Preature and Exclusivor were eavesdropping, too.
F: “Hey. I know, Loretta. We’re under pressure here - (pause to listen) - Yeah. This guy, he’s evil. (pause to listen) No, he’s just a terrorist. He’s spreading fear – Don’t cry.” Fishburne looked around helplessly. (F:) “Look, Loretta, I need you to - Loretta - “.
Exclusivor snatched the phone right out of Fishburne’s hand and walked away. Fishburne just stood there, dumbfounded. He looked at me and said, (F:) “What the fuck just happened?”
mASSHtrOLE said (M:) “You know Exclusivor, man. Alpha dog.” Preature sighed loudly.
Exclusivor walked back, smirked and pushed the phone into Fishburne’s hand. He put it up to his ear and said, (F:) “Hello? (listens, unsure). Uh… okay. Hold on.” Fishburne went to his contacts, did a search, and then recited a phone number to his wife. The number sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Then he hung up and stalked off.
Meanwhile, I video-chatted with my Dad and step-mom to check on them.
H: “The Supermarkets are empty. It’s pretty crazy.”
J: “Americans are tough. We always step up when we need to. We’ll be okay. I’m just going to go on another forty day fast.”
H: “Don’t worry about us!”
My parents can withstand anything.
LOL-LITA TO THE RESCUE
Then LOL-Lita called me. I was standing next to Fishburne and ducked away before he noticed. I wasn’t supposed to be talking to her.
I answered, Lita said:
L: “So, that was weird.”
L: “I just got off the phone with Loretta Fishburne.”
D: (long pause)
L: “You there?”
D: “Fishburne’s wife?”
L: “She asked for my help.”
Lita explained the request, and I asked, (D:) “Fishburne? Are you going to do it?”
L: “Of course. How could I not?”
I thanked her and we hung up.
We worked through the night. Somewhere in the dark, mASSHtrOLE said, (M:) “Guys, guys, this is good. This is good.”
Exclusivor was slumped in her chair, eyes closed. She got up and walked over.
X: “Show me.”
We ha d been fighting the biggest DDOS ever. mASSHtrOLE pointed to his screen and said. M: “Check it out. It’s all coming from this ga.js script.”
X: “What is it?”
So, GA.js is probably the single most pervasive file in the Western Hemisphere’s Internet, the centerpiece of –
M: “Fucking google analytics, man.”
Google analytics, man. Exclusivor was sleepy, and not quite understanding yet.
X: “Todd, it’s not coming from just one IP, it’s like tens of millions.”
M: “That’s the genius. He hacked google analytics.”
M: “So, anyone who’s visited a site and leaves their browser open is part of the botnet. Not only that -”
X: “Damn, you’re right. The US is DDOSing itself!”
M: “Not only that - but the script is spoofing IPs …”
To amplify the attack’s effectiveness, the hacked ga.js was bouncing small, efficient requests off a variety of outdated MS-SQL and memcache servers, which responded with a firehose of data to the spoofed IPs.
SHOCK & AHH
I was in shock. Exclusivor sat down heavily and lit up a cigarette. Fishburne called from across the room, (F:) “No smoking on the Ops Floor!”
X: “Yeah, Sam, that’s the problem.”
Fishburne weaved his way through the maze of tables, desks and computer equipment. F: “What’s going on?”
M: “You need to call Google. There’s no command and control for this one, man.”
Fishburne made some calls and by morning, Google made the fix. How do you get twenty million people to close browser tabs still sitting on cached copies of ga.js?
Yeah, we had no idea.
F: “I think CYBERCOM can get online now. Google remediated. You guys should get some sleep.”
X: “No, we need to keep it up. Who knows what he’ll try next.”
F: “Sindictive’s done his job. The free world is in chaos right now, but we stopped his attack. Get some sleep.”
Had she not been so tired, I felt like Exclusivor would have argued. But, in less than fifteen minutes, everyone was somewhere around the Ops Floor, curled up, sleeping.
We had arrived by bus in Kiev a week before, just hours after the first massive DNS flood attack began. Sam had fed what Exclusivor had told him right up the chain. There was going to be a propaganda attack, it was going to target countries most affected by the coronavirus, and it was going to happen soon.
The US Secretary of State personally contacted his peer in the Ukraine Cabinet of Ministers, who assigned it to the regional supervisor of Kiev, who delegated to Mayor Rodiyenko, who reluctantly gave us access to one of his empty grammar schools which had the bandwidth of a paper straw. Rodiyenko told us to take our time. The children wouldn’t return to school until fall.
Then Exclusivor personally called and spoke with the Mayor. The next day she waved her keyboard-shaped magic wand and conjured cases of vodka and caviar to the Mayor’s residence. In addition, Sam Fishburne asked his bosses for some bribe money.
We were upgraded to an unfinished skyscraper called Sky Towers, featuring a massive fire hydrant of bandwidth, security from a dozen of the Mayor’s best bodyguards, and help from hundreds of Exclusivor’s hacker-friends worldwide. She convinced her friends with a question: If Sindictive takes down the West, who’s left for their ransomware?
So, our team was in position, we had help, and we thought we were ready to take on Sindictive.
We worked through sleep-deprived days and sleepless nights. Finally, after a week with our butts parked in terrible, Soviet-era, folding chairs, I was going to get some fucking sleep.
X: “Hey, Sean, wake up.”
D: “Uh, why?”
X: “I need someone to smoke with.” Exclusivor offered a cigarette. I shook my head. (X:) “Come on, I hate smoking by myself.” She lit a cigarette and handed it to me. I took it. Then she lit one for herself.
I rubbed my eyes and took a drag. All around me our team of agents and hackers were crashed-out, exhausted from the week.
X: “I’ve been thinking. We shouldn’t have been able to stop this. Our network was basically untouched, except for that IP thing mASSHtrOLE fucked up.”
D: “That’s true, but Sindictive is here in the Ukraine, he wasn’t going to take himself down.”
X: “That’s my point. I think he’s closer than we think.”
X: “He’s in this building. In the penthouse.”
D: “The Mayor lives in the penthouse.”
X: “Mayor Rodiyenko is the definition of corrupt. He’s double dipping. The US government is paying him, and so is Sindictive.”
I was about to answer, but Fishburne noticed we were awake and walked over.
F: “Sean, Zoe.”
X: “What’s up?” D: “Hey.”
F: “So, guess who showed up at my house in a minivan loaded with old folks and food?”
Exclusivor looked at me. I said (D:) “Old folks and food? I don’t know.”
Exclusivor smiled. I said, (D:) “Oh, Lita. Wait, she brought my parents?”
D: “Oh, I didn’t know she - “ Fishburne waved me off.
F: “It’s fine. My wife could use the company, and the pile of food.
But, I’m glad you two are awake. Rodiyenko just called.”
X: “Oh, yeah? What did the Mayor of Keev lie about this time?”
F: “He said he has intel that Sindictive just crossed into Belarus. He fled.”
X: “Shit. I think I accidentally bricked his smartphone yesterday trying to check on him. It probably spooked him.”
D: “You say Keev. I thought it was pronounced Kiev.”
X: (dismissively) “Locals say Keev, the West says Kiev. Doesn’t really matter.”
F: “Rodiyenko said Sindictive is gone, but he left alone. His team is still somewhere here in Kiev. We need to find out where. Rodiyenko is stonewalling. I’ll take any guesses.”
X: “I have a guess.”
F: “Let’s hear it.”
Exclusivor told Fishburne about the Penthouse theory. Fishburne said, (F:), “Unbe-fucking-lievable. Okay, get some rest. I’ll figure out something.”
F: “Oh, by the way, CYBERCOM and CISA want a debriefing. Scheduled for 15:00. And we’re flying –”
X: “CISA’s fine, I’m not helping CYBERCOM. You know that, Sam.”
F: “Fine. We’re flying out on a C-17 after the meeting. I want us all back on CONUS ASAP.“
Fishburne walked away and Exclusivor crushed out her cigarette. She said quietly, (X:) “No way I’m going back on US soil.”
DEVIL v ANGEL
Exclusivor went to a nearby couch where one of the FBI agents lay stretched out, sleeping. She rapped him on the back and told him to move. I laid back down but I couldn’t get back to sleep. The internal argument I had been having with myself all week started fresh.
Devil (seductively): “She can’t just order you to go back to your old job.” Angel (loudly): “You have to do it, Exclusivor told you to do it.”
My Devil whispering seductively in my left ear, my Angel shouting in my right ear.
Devil: “You know why she wants you back there, right? The nukes.” Angel: “If Exclusivor wants him back there, he should do it. You can’t cross her.”
Devil: “So he should just blindly do whatever she says.” Angel: “She can make our life miserable!!”
Devil: “It’s been four years and she still hasn’t repaid Sindictive for what he did to Sergei! Once again you just blindly do what any authority figure asks of you. Question authority, okay? I’m just saying that if you don’t …” (argument for fade) Angel: “Come on! She’s a reasonable person. Besides, you won’t want to get on her bad side. She could take you down in a heartbeat, remember how she…” (argument for fade)
Egh. The struggle is real.
WELCOME TO THE FISHBURNE’S
Finally, I slept for a few hours, woke up, washed up, and was up in front of a terminal when Lita called.
L: “You won’t believe this place.”
D: “What place? Sam’s house?”
L: “If you can call it that. It’s like he gave me the address of a family friend.”
D: “I don’t follow.”
L: “Literally, there is no evidence he lives here.”
D: “Oh. Maybe he’s just traveling a lot?”
L: “Yeah, maybe.”
D: “Weird. Hey, how are my folks doing?”
L: “I think you’re dad is more worried than he’s letting on, but they’re okay. And it’s crazy how your mom and step-mom get along.”
Lita and I talked for a bit. I told her about the Penthouse Theory. She told me about what she’s found on Tor.
(L:) “So, I’ve found a couple of NGOs that are fighting trafficking on Tor…”
At first light, Exclusivor, Fishburne, mASSHtrOLE and I took a walk about two blocks away, to get a good view of the building where we had been working.
F: “So, Sindictive might have been in our same building this entire time.”
Kiev has a sleek and shiny main administration building in the center of the city. But we knew Mayor Rodiyenko worked from a penthouse in the tallest of two skyscrapers called the Sky Towers. Our SOC was on the first floor. Homeland was paying our rent.
F: “Ten million dollars under the table.”
M: “How much?”
X: “I bet Sindictive is paying twice that.”
Only the penthouse and the first floor were complete. The rest of the place was a bare metal skeleton, some wiring, some pipes.
I looked at Exclusivor and nodded upward. I asked, (D:) “How do we get up there?”
X: “I don’t know. It’s like a Penthouse Lair for a Bond villain. No elevators, incomplete stairwells. The Mayor takes a helicopter to get up there.”
M: “It’s genius, man.”
Everybody looked at mASSHtrOLE.
M: “But who cares? Let’s just call in the fucking Marines or whatever man. Sic some Green Berets or Seals on his ass or something.”
F: “We aren’t at war, Todd.”
M: “You keep talking about a cyber war, man.”
F: “It’s different. We can’t physically invade a sovereign country.”
M: “We’re all here, man.”
F: “We are guests. Before you say it, No, our special forces teams won’t be invited as guests. Kiev is it’s own special little batshit-crazy town where guys like Rodiyenko can bill both the US Government and it’s terrorist enemies to rent from the same building.”
D: “So, who goes in?”
F: “Officially? No one.”
X: “I don’t like the sound of that.”
F: “It’s the only way, Zoe.”
X: “Fuck you, Sam.”
DON’T TELL MY PARENTS
We walked back to our headquarters. I called Lita and told her what we had decided.
L: “You can’t be serious.”
D: “Don’t tell my parents.”
L: “This is what you get for getting mixed up with Fishburne and Exclusivor.”
D: “I can’t argue with that. Exclusivor really hates Sindictive. And Sam must be aiming for a promotion or something.”
L: “Dude, do you know how insane that plan sounds?”
D: “Sindictive’s whole team is probably up there. We can’t allow them to leave. Exclusivor thinks -”
L: “Exclusivor is batshit, okay. Totally fucknozzled. This is the Claire thing all over again.”
D: “There’s more to it than that.”
L: “D, she’ll do anything to get revenge for her brother. It’s blinding her. Don’t let it blind you.”
I wouldn’t say I necessarily have a fear of heights, but long falls can kill you, and I have a fear of dying.
So, I was extremely nervous. I mean, what if we had to scale the outside like Spiderman?
The plan was for mASSHtrOLE, Exclusivor and I to climb to the penthouse, roughly forty-five stories up. Fishburne said his agents couldn’t be involved as official agents of the US Government, blah, blah blah. It was up to us.
Exclusivor was set on avenging her brother Sergei, killed by Sindictive; mASSHtrOLE said he couldn’t wait to tell his friends on the Dark World forums how he helped Exclusivor kick someone’s else’s ass; and I was doing my best to stall until someone came up with a better fucking plan. I mean, come on. Spiderman?
But the urgency and peer pressure were as tall as that building, and Sinctive’s whole team could pile into the helicopter at any time and be gone for good. We were hurried, and then Fishburne’s phone rang.
It was our liaison with CISA. Fresh cyber attacks had begun. Exclusivor said, (X:) “Distinctive, we gotta do this now.”