Turlach Flanagan downed another swallow of his brew and turned back to more PDF articles he had downloaded onto his laptop about the Good Friday agreement the politicians signed two weeks ago. What was so good about Good Friday, 1998 anyway? While the Americans engrossed themselves in Bill Clinton’s sexual antics, here in Belfast, the Brits were still here and Belfast still wasn’t free. Politicians – bosthoons, the whole lot of them.
But maybe he could help do something about that. He adjusted his new WiLAN antenna and checked his signal strength. This new contraption weighed ten pounds and was as big as a loaf of bread. If anyone asked, he would tell them he was testing a computerized radio as part of his graduate studies. Which was ridiculous, but none of the neddies in this pub would ever figure out what he was really doing.
The Brits in the building next door would never know he was inside their temporary wireless LAN exploring their server and leaving backdoors for later. Fools. By the end of today, he would know more about their plans to occupy Northern Ireland than the Brits knew about themselves.
Maybe one day they would figure out their new wireless LAN technology was a security sieve. But not today. It was almost like child’s play. They could have at least made it challenging by trying to encrypt it. And using a different admin password than “password.”
A waitress stopped at his table. “Might I give you a refill?”
“Ah, thank you, lass, yes, please.”
She topped off his brew.
“And what might you be workin’ on?”
“Just a project for the university. Testing some radio communications.”
“Ah. Well, have a wonderful afternoon.” She sauntered away, stopping at the next patron, an older gentleman, maybe in his late forties. They both glanced back at Turlach’s table and then continued a hushed conversation.
Troubles After the Troubles
It was dusk and Turlach had been sitting at his table all afternoon.
“Did you enjoy your supper?” It was a new waiter.
“It was the best mutton stew ever, as always.” They made eye contact. Turlach nodded. “I um, I heard Galway sheep make the best stew.”
The waiter refilled his brew. “Yes, I heard that too. Much better than those Scottish black-faced mountain sheep.”
Turlach smiled. “Give me a few minutes.”
“And Mr. Flanagan, you might want to be more discrete with your, um, testing, in the future.”
Turlach nodded. The waiter wandered away. Turlach inserted a CD-R into his portable CD burner and began copying the information the Brits had so generously provided over the radio. The waiter brought the check. A few minutes later, Turlach removed the CD, inserted it into a jacket, and set it on the table, under the check with some money and a generous tip. He packed his equipment and left.
Driving past the Bobby Sands Mural, the Garden of Remembrance, and so many memories of the Irish Republican struggle, Turlach choked back tears remembering the struggle that had defined his life since he was a toddler. All for nothing. The Americans won their war for independence. The Irish republicans gave theirs away on Good Friday. He drove past the so-called peace wall toward the house where he lived with his wife and five-year-old daughter. The house her parents bought for them. In a unionist neighborhood. A republican Catholic in a unionist Protestant neighborhood. It was enough to drive a good man daft.
But even after the bad Friday sellout, there was still a chance to rid all of Ireland of the Brits. The arrogant fools thought they could set up anywhere with their WiLAN radios and their portable servers and other technology straight out of a James Bond movie. But they weren’t the only ones who knew a thing or two about technology. And now, thanks to Turlach and his superior mind, the republicans knew as much about the Brits’ plans as the Brits knew about themselves.
“Daddy!” Turlach picked up his five-year-old daughter and squeezed her tight.
Turlach and his wife kissed. “How was your day, love?”
Turlach put his daughter down. “I spent the day on the research project I told you about.”
Her face clouded. She sniffed his breath. “Out late drinkin’, were ya?”
“And what might you be workin’ on again?”
“Wireless networking. For the university.”
“Mixed with a few pints, no doubt.”
“I had a couple brews, yes. And I gathered several hundred megabytes of, um, performance data.”
“Performance data, is it? Turlach, I told you, the IRA is up to no good and they’re using you. I left you a plate in the kitchen.”
“I love you. And who said I’m workin’ for the IRA? Maybe after I finish my supper we can…”
“I wasn’t born yesterday. No good will come from what you’re doing. Make sure you wash your dishes and leave the sink clean.”
Later that night, Turlach’s eyes popped open. He gazed at his wife, her night gown rising and falling with every breath. How could any man be blessed with a saint for a wife and such a beautiful daughter? What was he doing? She was right—he was playing with fire—and they had argued about it for months. But she didn’t know the half of it. He was inside the Brits’ military network and handing British operational details to some very nasty people. No doubt, people would die because of the data he collected. Why risk his family and a promising technology career to help murder British soldiers? Didn’t they have families at home too?
But it was thrilling getting inside the Brits’ network. The politicians could write any agreement they wanted, but he had the skills to undo it all. And the fools who set up that insecure network deserved to have their noses bloodied.
An engine sounded. Probably a neighbor, coming home late from work. So late, it was early. He padded into the bathroom and closed the door.
A bullet burst through the bathroom door and smashed the mirror. He ducked. Pop pop pop pop pop from outside. Bullets whizzed overhead. He crawled down the hall to the bedroom. He reached for his wife. “Wake up!” He grabbed her arm. It was covered with blood. More bullets sprayed the mattress.
He crawled to his daughter’s room. The outside wall was full of holes. She was dead.
Tires squealed. The car outside roared away.
Turlach looked at his dead wife, and then back to his lifeless daughter. “Oh, Lord, no. Please, no.” He was still alive only because he needed to use the bathroom. “Oh, god, no, no, no no. Oh, God, please, no.”
His hands shook. He was sick. He collapsed on the floor. It was all a nightmare. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. His family didn’t deserve this. He did.
Sirens sounded. A few minutes later, blue and red lights danced with white reflections from police car headlights through the holes in the walls. Feet crunched on broken glass.
“Mr. Flanagan, are you alright? Can you tell us what happened?”
It was a nightmare, all right. And it was real.
Turlach tugged at the tie around his neck while the minister droned in front of the caskets carrying his wife and daughter.
“And let us all contemplate Romans chapter 11, verse 17, which says, ‘For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!’ If one man, Adam, can cause so much death, imagine the life Jesus offers to all of us.”
What does any of that mean anyway? Somebody else pulled the trigger—what a surprise the police still don’t know who did it—but I started the chain of events. I caused all those deaths. And nobody can undo it, not God, not anyone. Turlach bowed his head and tried to stop his hands from shaking.
“Turlach, if you can take anything from this terrible tragedy, know that Deirdre and Eileen are in Heaven, smiling down on all of us in this church. And one day when your time in this life is done, you’ll join them. Take joy in that thought, Turlach. It is the eternal gift God’s son, Jesus Christ, left for all of us who accept it.”
He tried to look attentive. He even managed a weak smile. May you be in Heaven half-an-hour before the devil knows you’re dead. How many times had he given that toast? But there’s no Heaven, only hell, and it’s right here on this miserable planet. Our suffering never ends until we die. Why not end it all next week and get it over with.
“Join our choir in a few hymns.”
And then it was over. Except for the unending parade of people who wanted to come stare at the coffins and proclaim their sorrow. And a dinner where people he barely knew asked how he was doing and said things like, “if there’s anything we can do,” but leaving the sentence unfinished.
Perhaps he would have a couple drinks later to settle his nerves.
It was morning. It had to be morning because light streamed around the curtains in the hotel room where he’d stayed since that awful night.
He would have to leave this hotel room and return to that house and the bullet holes that destroyed it—a fitting metaphor for his new life. One day, maybe, but not today.
What happened last night? After everyone offered their sympathies and left, he had bought a bottle of Irish Whiskey on the way back to the hotel. Just a couple drinks to settle his nerves. He remembered pouring the first one. And now it was today. All the miserable hours between then and now had disappeared. Maybe he was onto something. Oblivion, even temporary oblivion, beat suicide.
An empty bottle and water glass on the nightstand taunted him. Maybe the glass had a few drops left. He tipped it up. Nothing but fumes. Or maybe that was his breath.
Twenty hammers pounded inside his head. He needed some more whiskey. Just enough to take the edge off.
A few days and several bottles later, somebody pounded on the door.
“Mr. Flanagan. Are you all right?” And a few seconds later, “Mr. Flanagan?”
Why won’t they go away and leave me alone?
“Mr. Flanagan, we really need to speak with you.”
Turlach sat up. “Aye, I’m comin’.” He fumbled for his pants. The nice ones he’d worn to the funeral. How long ago was that? They were on the floor somewhere, there, next to his shoes. “Give me a minute, lad. I need to use the facilities.” He staggered into the bathroom and mostly hit the bowl. He padded back out, but remembered he needed to flush. He turned back into the bathroom. Why was the floor wet? He flushed.
“Mr. Flanagan, are you okay?”
“Keep your bloomers on, I’m workin’ on it. Why are you rousting me out of bed at this hour of the morning?” He sat on the bed and slipped a leg into his pants. It was the wrong pants leg.
“It’s three in the afternoon, Mr. Flanagan, and we really need to clean your room.”
“It can’t be. I only just now got into bed.” He legs finally found their spots in his pants. He stood and finished dressing his bottom half. The tee-shirt on his top half would be good enough. What was that smell? It was a mixture of alcohol and sweat. But only when he moved fast. Nobody would notice.
He stepped to the door and opened it.
A man wearing a suit and a maid backed up and contorted their faces. “Why don’t you let us clean your room while you have some food. On us.” The man took Turlach’s elbow and guided him down the hall to an almost-empty restaurant. Turlach’s sister sat at a corner table. She gestured for Turlach to sit. The man exited.
“You need a shower, Turlach.”
“I need nothin’ o’ the kind.”
“I can smell you from as far away as I can see you.”
“Well then leave and you won’t have to see me.”
“You can’t stay here any longer. The hotel managers are packin’ your things as we speak. You’ll stay with us for a few days and decide what to do with your life.”
“Why do you care what I do with my life?”
“Because we love you, that’s why.”
“The love o’ my life died. I killed her.” Tears fell from Turlach’s eyes. He wiped them with a napkin. “Can a fella get a drink around here?”
“You’re comin’ home with me. We’ll get you back on your feet again.”
Professor Turlach Flanagan walked into his Wireless Security graduate class, wearing a greying ponytail, a five-day beard, faded blue jeans and tattered sweatshirt. Five years after that terrible night, he carried a coffee mug filled with Irish whiskey.
“Microsoft released Windows Server 2003 today. Who can tell me why anyone should care?”
One student raised his hand. “Professor Flanagan, do ya plan to share any of that whiskey with us?” A few other students laughed.
“And what makes ya think I’m drinkin’ whiskey, lad?”
“Because we can smell your fumes clear up into the back row,” The class laughed.
“Well, laddies and lasses, you’re welcome to bring your own whiskey if you’re thirsty. I only brought one flask, and on the anniversary of the fine spring day when somebody murdered my wife and daughter, I plan to drink it. Do you know the police never solved that crime?”
He downed a swig. “Some of you are probably wondering if the rumors are true—did I help the IRA penetrate that first British Wi-Fi network? The answer is, yes, I did. And my wife and daughter, God rest their souls, paid with their lives. I should have paid with my own.”
He took another swig. “Any more questions?”
Another student asked, “What do you think about the IRA. now?
“I think the IRA is about the equivalent of a pile of dog crap. I don’t care about them anymore, nor do I care about anyone’s politics. I care only about money and Irish whiskey.” He paused and looked at his mug. “A toast—may we all be in hell five minutes before the scoundrels we hate know we’re dead.” He tipped his mug to his lips and drained it.
“And since this school pays well, I’ll put up with you for the rest of this term to teach you what I know about wireless security. Which is plenty. Which is why this university tolerates me. And by the way, the university pays me the same whether you pass or fail, so it makes no difference to me how well you do in the final exam coming up. Tell anyone considering my class in the future what I told you on our first day together. If you want encouragement, go sit on your mommy’s lap. In my class, you will meet the real world and all its horrors.”
After class, one student approached Turlach. He spoke with a Russian accent. “Professor Flanagan?”
“What can I do for you, Fyodor?”
“As you know, I am here in an exchange program from St. Petersburg, Russia.”
“The man who sponsored my education here believes it may be mutually beneficial for the two of you to become acquainted.”
“Why is that, lad?”
“I will let Mr. Tarski explain.”
“Yes. Ivan Tarski, my sponsor. He would very much like to meet you. He has a partnership proposition that could benefit us all.”
Turlach made his way home from the pub, breathing the fresh night air as usual and hoping to keep enough alcohol in his system to enjoy oblivion for a few hours. The teaching job at King’s College was an ancient memory. So was his sister and her family. But only alcohol-fueled oblivion would erase that awful night fifteen years ago, and that was only temporary.
These days, he was an independent contractor. And the best SQL injection specialist in the world, for people who knew how to find Livefree in the usual online forums. It provided a decent living.
His cell phone buzzed. It was another email from the Russian. Business with the Russian was more personal and private than anonymous Livefree jobs from the forums. And more lucrative.
Sent: Wednesday, March 06, 2013 9:08 AM
Subject: Will need your assistance with upcoming project
Turlach, my good friend, I have upcoming project that, if successful, could benefit us both and which will require your unique talents. For now, I bought vintage Russian vodka bottle from Belfast store near you for you to please send me websites for any and all significant US based retailer stores. Let us meet over video in, say, two days’ time?
This was the first time the Russian had ever proposed a video call. Or sent a gift. Vodka would do, but Irish whiskey would have been better. Why does he want websites of retail stores? Sleep first. Whatever it is, it can wait two days.
Two days later, at promptly 8 A.M. GMT, Turlach’s computer soft phone rang. And rang. And rang some more. The call dropped. It rang again a few minutes later.
Turlach stirred, even more hung over than usual after polishing off a bottle of Russian vodka the night before. He stumbled through his flat, rubbing his eyes and cursing whoever it was calling at this ungodly hour of whatever time of day or night it was. He cleared a pile of papers from the chair in front of his computer desk, rubbed his eyes again and clicked the mouse button to answer the call. The caller was requesting to share video.
Charming. He replaced the rubber band tying back his greasy, grey ponytail and accepted the incoming video sharing request.
And there on the screen, was a balding man whose lips were moving without sound. The background was a plain blue wall. The sending IP Address was Russian.
Turlach held up his index finger to his webcam. The man stopped talking while Turlach fumbled with his computer speakers. He connected a microphone into a USB slot and waited for the drivers to load.
A voice with a Russian accent boomed over the computer speakers. “Can you hear me now, my friend?”
“Aye. Ivan, is that you? What day is this? And why are you callin’ at this hour?”
Ivan’s face filled the screen. “Turlach my friend, you look as if you had too much Russian vodka last night.”
“Aye. And if ya don’t mind, I think I’ll turn down the volume on these speakers a wee bit. Next time, Ivan, let’s stick to good old-fashioned Irish whiskey. I’ll send you a link to an online store. Once you try it, you’ll never go back to that Russian rot-gut.”
Ivan laughed. “Turlach, we have much to discuss. And much money to make.”
“I’m all for that. Why in God’s name do you want websites of retailers?”
“Some things are best not known, my friend. For now, I need those websites. But this is not why I am calling.”
Turlach blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes. “Okay.”
“Turlach, my friend, I also need lists of users and passwords on all of those websites. And I need lists of servers for which I can gain full access.”
“Good God man, are you daft? That’s a huge project. It will take months.”
“Yes, my friend, it will. And I am prepared to pay. Handsomely.”
“You have my attention.”
“For each retail store in the list you provide, I will pay in US dollars ten. For every working username and password, I will pay in US dollars one-hundred. And for every server for which I can gain full access, I will pay in US dollars one-thousand.”
Even with his mind still fogged with last night’s alcohol—and only Irish whiskey from now on, no more Russian rot-gut—maybe there was more on the table. Turlach wiped his hands on his shirt. “Umm, Ivan, this is no ordinary job. I’ll need to buy hardware and software automation tools to do all this. This carries plenty of up-front costs.”
The Russian nodded and smiled. “Turlach, my friend, you and I both know this is a very generous offer. I came to you because you are best. But you are no longer alone. Others are learning your secrets.”
“You’re right about that—I am the best. And I need twenty-thousand US dollars immediately to buy the equipment to make this work. You get me that and I will get your list of websites within a week. And you can keep your ten dollars per web site.”
Turlach stroked the hair growing on his chin. “For the SQL hacking you want—for the usernames and passwords and other probing, I think I can average one retailer per week. Maybe more for smaller ones, the bigger ones may take longer. But I need that seed money right now to know you’re serious.”
“My friend, you ask a steep price. But I understand your need for, how did you say, seed money? I will pay ten thousand and I will hold you to your timetable. I will send it in the usual manner by noon today your time. But if you fail me…”
“I know what will happen. Have I ever failed you?”
“No. You have been an excellent partner these past years. You will be interested to know, your former student, Fyodor, has gone on to become one of my trusted assistants.”
“Well, that’s good to hear.”
“Do we have agreement?”
Turlach stared into the webcam, trying to look serious. He already had the necessary equipment and everything else he needed. After a few seconds, his eyes softened. “Ivan, you drive a hard bargain. But I’ll accept it. May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children chase you so far over the Hills of Damnation that the Lord himself can’t find you with a telescope.”
Ivan’s laughter thundered over the speakers. The sledgehammers inside Turlach’s head pulverized his skull.
Turlach spat on his right hand and reached toward his webcam. “Spit on your hand and put it up in front of your webcam, you wastrel. And I’ll buy your first pint of Irish whiskey. I hope it gives you a hangover.”
Ivan spat on his own hand and lifted it to his webcam. “Very well. We will stay in touch.”
The Russian’s image dissolved as Ivan terminated the call.
Note to readers
Turlach Flanagan, AKA Livefree is one player in a global criminal supply chain of venture capitalists, integrators, and specialists, all connected over the internet. Curious why Ivan Tarski wants all those website login credentials? Grab a copy of Bullseye Breach: Anatomy of an Electronic Break-In to find out more. Turlach also finds a zero-day exploit and sells it for a tidy profit in Virus Bomb. Read about it in this sample chapter.
If you want to attack a country or plunder a business, Turlach, or somebody like him, has the tools you need, if you know where to look. Just make sure you offer the right price. Be prepared to haggle.