The Y2K Plan
59138 Laurel Street
Plaquemine, LA 70764
This short story is purely fictional. Resemblance to any persons, real
or fictional, is purely coincidental and unintentional.
How It Began
The rain continued to come down as it had all night. It didn’t seem like it would ever end. Adolfo Ramirez (Al to just about everyone except his mother) didn’t mind it much. The occurrence of natural (and even unnatural) disasters was a part of life with which he was pretty comfortable. He had been working on his own natural disaster for eight months and felt that the time might be right soon.
developing a successful career as a chemist and devoting 20 years of service to
a monolithic chemical giant, Al was forced to take an early retirement. The
truth was that he didn’t like people much – he never had. They were
unreliable, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. Perhaps that was why he found his
computers so interesting. His “babies”, as he called them, had been with him
a long time. He’d even kept an 8086 on which he had written his first BASIC
program. In total, he now had four machines in what used to be the garage. It
was a modest set-up including the best discarded furniture of his former
employer. Affectionately, he made his wife call it the “Control Room.” To
him the term was most appropriate, because this area was the one place he always
felt in control.
The Man and His Family
the outside, Al appeared to be an average overweight American. He dressed humbly
with clothes bought from Wal-Mart or K-Mart. The truth was that there weren’t
many places to find clothes in triple-extra-large. He hadn’t always been so
overweight; in fact, it really had sneaked up on him pound by pound. Recently,
he had lost a few pounds – five in all – but that still left him at 325
pounds. Al felt that he was in pretty good shape for a 56-year old man. Despite
his size he still cut his own lawn, begrudgingly did the grocery shopping, and
played a round of golf on Wednesdays. Some had accused him of being arrogant or
vain, but the truth was he knew he inherited his Cuban father’s good looks and
was proud of it. He was no Ricky Martin or Desi Arnez, but that was only because
of his age. His mother had passed on to him her tenacity and determination, a
gift he had treasured all his life. He found that where talent and good looks
failed, voracious tenacity succeeded.
he married 16-year old Miriam Stucozi in 1960, he was a lean, mean Cuban dancing
machine. Although the wedding was held in New York at the insistence of
Miriam’s father Johnny, Al had Miriam demand that a Cuban band be hired for
the reception. Johnny had hoped for something more traditional to Italian
weddings, but gave in to his daughter’s begging. From the beginning Al had
known how to control Miriam and how to get her to do whatever he wanted. During
their 39 years of marriage, there had only been a handful of occasions when
Miriam didn’t follow Al’s lead. Al was quick to remind Miriam of who she was
and where she stood. He never beat her physically; emotional terrorism was more
to his taste. She may not have heard anything for months, but he slowly would
tear her down to make her pay for not following his lead.
and Miriam had three children, all who had moved away shortly after graduating
from high school. Miriam did her best to teach the children as quickly as
possible, even as infants, to follow Daddy’s way. Although he did render the
occasional disciplinary spanking, Al preferred to use his particular brand of
punishment with his children as with his wife. The children were at best
distant. They would call or stop by for a day visit, but never stay over a
night. Bradley, the eldest who lived in Seattle, would go so far as to get a
hotel room when he came into town. Linda, the middle child, was perhaps the most
distant. She would call on Christmas and birthdays, but no other time. Once, she
had even had surgery in October and did not tell her parents until Christmas.
The baby was Christina. She was Al’s favorite – had been since the day she
was born. Perhaps the closest of the children, Christina had moved back to the
state just this year to be closer to her aging parents, should they need her.
dinner seemed to be the only surviving family tradition. Al’s love for control
was only superceded by his love for food; all family events were therefore
arranged around lunches or dinners. Al was planning his special event to start
just moments after that special family event.
the past two years, in one way or another, he had been working his way toward
this pinnacle. It all started as a hobby that Al picked up. Miriam was actually
quite glad he had developed a hobby other than eating. Having Al in the house
all the time was quite a chore. Al always had an interest in computers, and his
unplanned retirement allowed him to devote more time to it. Before his
retirement, he would spend about 3 hours a week toying with his computers.
Regular household repairs and chores ate up the rest of his free time. With all
day at home, he began to get more and more interested in the computers. With
some of his retirement money, he had purchased a state-of-the-art system with a
large flat screen display and all the peripherals one might need. He began
surfing the web 1-2 hours a day but quickly worked up to 5-8 hours a day. With
thousands of websites and chatrooms to peruse, Al found himself gravitating to
programming-oriented sites and organizations. He soon developed a close
relationship with a similar group of retirees, some even from IBM. The group
specialized mainly in “older” computer languages such as COBOL and FORTRAN,
especially on UNIX systems. Many members of the group were also very good at
such languages and techniques as Java and cookies. Most of them had gained
consultant status with the recent panic brought about with the “Y2K” bug.
Ironically, many of the programmers in the group were working on some of the
original code developed by other members of the group. The whole association
proved to be quite beneficial to many members of the group. The group was also
quite exclusive. Al had only gotten an invitation through a business associate
who had heard he retired. He joined the group and adopted the alias “PapaBear.”
sentiment of “The Oldtimers” – that’s what the group called themselves
– had grown a bit pessimistic as Y2K drew near. Many of the members realized
that they would return to their retired lives once firms thought they were
compliant. The most successful consultants of the group had contracts that would
run through March 1, 2000. Most of the group knew they would be out of work by
sometime in mid-January. While the money they made was good – in some cases
twice as much as their highest salaries during peak earning years – the positions were only temporary.
Al logged on, as usual, at 6:00 a.m. The Oldtimers would all log on to their discussion group early in the morning, once during the day around noon, then from about 5 p.m. on. The schedule was convenient for everyone. The rules stipulated that no one log on at work or from a computer that wasn’t their own. The common practice was to “mirror” or bounce off of at least three to four servers so that logons were virtually untraceable. JackO, another member of The Oldtimers, taught Al this trick on his first visit to the group. This morning, the hot topic seemed to be related to the “Melissa” virus – a virus which spread through e-mail and listed several pornographic web sites:
cant believe that idiot got caught – of course it was damn sloppy work
MityMouse: young stud thought he was
good. I can write better code in my sleep
PapaBear: sure you could
– we all could
PapaBear: problem is these
kids think they know it all and they’re even getting our jobs
are, but they get what they pay for – or they end up payin later
JkTheRipr: we oughta show em how
its done sometimes < : - (
sure should – but I wanna make the money while I can – my retirement
checks couldn’t support a hobo lol !!!!!
but wouldn’t it be cool to make a big splash on your exit
: ) ?
PapaBear: or at least a
final calling card to let em know you were there and that they really do need
MityMouse: forget needing you – make
em miss you and beg you to come back
MityMouse: crawlin on their hands and knees!!!! : - )
PapaBear: gotta go guys
– time for breakfast – cya
** PapaBear **
cya at lunch papa
Al shut down his connections then headed to the kitchen for breakfast. The thought of making his company, or any company for that matter, pay for letting older more experienced workers go in return for hiring cheaper, less experienced workers stayed in his mind for the rest of the day. The subject didn’t come up in either the lunch or afternoon chats, so he didn’t bring it up. Besides, Miriam had fixed his favorite breakfast including bacon, sausage, eggs, grits and biscuits. Food went a long way in quelling Al’s emotions.
4:00 the next morning Al woke from a dream, a nightmare actually. He was back at
his grade school where there were first and second graders working on computers,
managing chemistry experiments, performing surgeries, extracting teeth and every
other sort of “adult” occupation. Meanwhile, he was raking leaves on the
ground into piles. Just as he got them all into a pile, a gust of wind blew them
up all around him so that all he could see was leaves. At this point he woke up
yelling. Miriam asked, “Are you alright?” Al replied, “Sure, I’m fine.
It was just a dream.” Al realized it was more than a dream, though. He had
been having these feelings since his retirement two years ago, so much so that
he had even planned to trigger a major plant shutdown on Christmas day. Al felt
that his company forced him into retirement only to replace him with the
younger, cheaper workers that The Oldtimers had been talking about in the chat
room. The idea had grown and festered in his mind, but Al had not planned
exactly how he might accomplish the task of getting back at his former employer.
The Oldtimers gave him just the right idea.
Al was a senior chemist, the company trained him on operating their intranet to
communicate with other plant sites around the world. The company’s intranet
and internet policies were quite stringent. The rigor of courses Al took covered
every topic from basic networking to firewalls and internet communications. As
it turned out, Microsoft had a gaping hole that paved the way for programmers to
even take a close look at your entire system as long as you were logged onto the
Through many discussions with The Oldtimers, Al had learned several tricks. Playfully, they would write “harmless” computer viruses and other programs, then send them to each other to try out. No one had sent one outside the group until recently. JkTheRipr, who was actually a COBOL insurance systems programmer, had written an impressive tool that would perform a computer inventory, convert it into a cookie on the user’s machine, then send it to a server each time the user passed through a gateway to Microsoft Network’s home page. Under the Microsoft Internet Explorer help, Al found this description:
you need to know about cookies
Some Web sites store
information in a small text file, called a "cookie," on your hard
disk. Cookies contain information about you and your preferences. For example,
if you inquire about a flight schedule at an airline's Web site, the site might
create a cookie that contains your itinerary. Or it might only contain a record
of which pages within the site you visited, to help the site customize the view
for you the next time you visit. Only the information that you provide, or the
choices you make while visiting a Web site, can be stored in a cookie. For
example, the site cannot determine your e-mail name unless you choose to type
it. Allowing a Web site to create a cookie does not give that or any other site
access to the rest of your computer, and only the site that created the cookie
can read it. Internet Explorer is set up to allow the
creation of cookies; however, you can specify that you be prompted before a site
puts a cookie on your hard disk, so you can choose to allow or disallow the
cookie; or you can prevent Internet Explorer from accepting any cookies. You can
specify different settings for different security zones. For example, you might
want to allow Web sites to create cookies if they are in your Trusted sites or
Local intranet zone, prompt you before creating cookies if they are in your
Internet zone, and never allow cookies if they are in your Restricted sites
Oldtimers found this description very amusing. In actuality, they knew that
cookies could be used to implant the small programs that some of them had
written. The one JkTheRipr had written used information that Microsoft had put
into a cookie as well as any other cookies that were on the machine to develop
its profile of the computer. Everyone applauded JkTheRipr’s efforts, but Al
saw another possibility for this type of program.
Al decided that he would use this ability to bring about his revenge. He knew about the extensive testing that his company was doing for the Y2K. For this reason, he knew he would have to wait until the Christmas of 1999 to implement his plan. The wait would give him enough time to plan for every possibility. If Al was nothing else, he was meticulous. The basic idea of the plan was to infiltrate the company’s mainframe shortly before Y2K, then to plant several programs that would not cause serious damage, but would cause the company great embarrassment. Al would sell all of his company stock, hold the money, and then buy it back after the company’s stock price suffered for the embarrassment. He would accomplish two goals – he would get back at the company for replacing him and would become richer in the process. The toughest part of the plan would be breaking into the company’s mainframe. This was where Al saw the possibility for JkTheRipr’s virus.
worked for the company for such a long time, Al was familiar with the high
technology firewall protection the company used. There would be no way to attack
it directly and succeed without detection. Al also knew how many employees
disliked the strict policies of the Data Services Group in regard to workstation
use. When the company brought up its Intranet over six years ago, every employee
who had access was required to sign a copy of the policy agreement. The crucial
part of the agreement stated that each workstation should only be maintained or
worked on by Data Services personnel. Furthermore, no modifications to software
or hardware were allowed unless it was performed by Data Services. Lastly, each
employee who had access to the Internet was to use the connection for the
purpose of research for the purchase of outside services or parts, data or
scientific research, or (in the Data Services Group) for the research and
development of software and support. The
policy was amended two years later when firewall services were contracted to
indicate that any employee who did use the Internet was required to log off of
the company mainframe when doing so. When the policy was announced and everyone
was required to sign and turn in a copy, the Internet was still in an infancy
stage, so most employees were not concerned. Later, as the Internet became a
more important tool for business and pleasure, many employees began to grumble.
Some had even brought modems to work so that they could use personal Internet
connections on their computer workstations. Fortunately for him, he carried his
modem in his briefcase and never left it on his workstation so he was never
caught. Al knew several computer-savvy employees who practiced the same
procedure. He decided it would be one of these people that he would use.
as though they were planning the event with Al, Microsoft Network’s HotMail
program announced a change in user policies that would require users to accept
cookies on their machine in order to continue receiving the service for free. Al
knew this would make it much easier to accomplish the task. Just about everyone
he knew at the plant had a HotMail address that would allow him or her to
retrieve their mail from anywhere by logging onto the HotMail website. The
accounts were free, so almost everyone had jumped on getting one. Al had kept up
with a couple of friends from the plant using their HotMail addresses. He
decided this would be the best way to get into the mainframe.
Al divided his plan of attack into several parts. The first part involved a little test of JkTheRipr’s virus (with modifications) to test whether he could actually mimic the cookie Microsoft was sending when the user logged into HotMail. This could be accomplished easily using his own HotMail address. He would plant the cookie and then go to his HotMail on the other computer and wait for the results. It took about two weeks to get the messaging just right. After that, even he could not tell the difference between the Microsoft cookie and his cookie virus.
second part of the plan involved capturing information on the computer after the
cookie had been placed. The easiest way to accomplish this was to capture
keystrokes sent through a part of the computer called the keyboard buffer. The
keyboard buffer allowed a user to type faster than the computer could process;
it buffered the keystrokes so that they would not be lost. It was developed in
earlier days of computers when people could
type faster than the computer processed. Recently, it had very little use, due
to increases in performance and processing speeds. It would provide Al a way to
monitor what was going on even though the user might not even be logged onto the
Internet. It was quite easy for Al to design this part, since it took him back
to his earliest days of playing with computers. He tested it on his machine,
fixed a few bugs, and in a day or so had it working perfectly.
The third part of the plan was another cookie virus. Having made such great success with the first virus, he designed this cookie virus to manipulate the network management portion of the Windows operating system. The virus would be planted as a cookie and would lie dormant until January 3. Then whenever a network connection was started, the computer would launch the fourth part of the plan. The standard setup of every computer at the company gave Al a decided edge in implementing his program.
fourth part was perhaps the most ingenious. The virus would bypass network
security and tap into the company’s personnel and accounting systems. Inside
the personnel system, it would modify the database by increasing each
employee’s payroll by 1% of the gross pay. It would accommodate the changes by
reducing salaries of employees that had larger payroll amounts. Next, it would
modify the vacation and leave tables, adding two days of accrued vacation and
one day of current vacation. Again, the program would balance the changes by
reducing employees who had large vacation values. Since company employees were
paid on the fifth of the month, these records would need to be hurriedly
calculated from the end-of-the-month figures. As long as totals matched or came
close to the expected figures, the personnel department would post the payroll
the accounting records, it would run a routine Al affectionately called
“Dyslexia” that would jumble all figures in all data tables of the
accounting system. The catch of this part is that it would jumble the figures so
that the totals of any particular field would remain the same. He figured this
would keep the accounting department from noticing the changes immediately,
perhaps even for a few days. By then, enough damage would be done.
profitable part of Al’s plan was what caused it to differ greatly from other
virus plans. Most hackers seek the recognition of their virus. Al’s motivation
was part personal and part financial. Al didn’t care that the company might
never know who caused the disaster. He just wanted to see them hurt and to
profit at their expense.
The Good Guy
Across town at the chemical plant, John Roberts rubbed his eyes after pouring over the final revisions to his Disaster Recovery Plan. The job of making the necessary revisions to the plan had been given to him only two weeks earlier, and it had consumed all of his time since. Before this project and for some time after, his main project was coordinating the Y2K testing for the plant. The job had developed into much more than it was ever supposed to be. Every critical application that the plant owned had to be tested, changed, and re-tested until it was proven to be Y2K compliant. What seemed to be a simple task developed into two three-inch binders of program descriptions and testing procedures. There were also countless volumes of test data, test results, and correspondence from all vendors and companies with which the plant conducted business. So far, all of the testing had run well, with only minor changes being made to a few programs. His major concern was the upcoming final test date – November 15. This date was scheduled as the final pass for the interaction of all the control systems in the plant. Each system had been tested individually, but only a few had been tested in conjunction with other systems. This test would be a full plant simulation of the century date change. The amount of resources dedicated to the project by the corporate office was tremendous; testing the switch in the plant for a full day was quite an expensive proposition -- one that no other competitor had made. The plant was planning an extensive media campaign touting their compliance and disaster preparedness. The campaign would begin immediately after the November 15 test, so there was a considerable amount of pressure on John and his team. A great amount of planning had gone into the test, but John was a bit concerned because he had been pulled away so suddenly. His team was more than competent, but he liked to keep his finger on the pulse of things.
Meanwhile, Al continued to work diligently on every detail of his plan. He communicated every other day or so with his former coworkers to be sure he was on top of the situation. He would not ask direct questions; rather, he would bring up conversations about Y2K or other subjects to glean the information he needed. As the next two weeks passed, he felt more comfortable that he would be able to pull the whole thing off.
Those two weeks flew by for John Roberts. He and his team were well prepared for the test when November 15 came. Some minor issues were brought up by the test, but senior management of the plant was well pleased with the results. The media campaign started the night of November 15 with television and print ads.
Thanksgiving came and went even quicker than those two weeks. Al truly enjoyed the holiday, though he spent it alone with Miriam – the kids had other plans. John took a much-deserved ski vacation for the holiday. Even though it was only for four days, he returned to work refreshed, seemingly unaware of the impending danger.
Soon everyone became occupied with the season – the last Christmas of the 1900’s. It had special meaning for many, but it had an even more special meaning for Al. He bounced around like he had found new energy, even though he had been working in the garage quite late some nights. Miriam even noticed and commented to him. He replied, “What, can’t I ever be happy?” She said no more.
John also had a reason to be busy this season. He was preparing for the culmination of all of his Y2K efforts and perhaps quite a large bonus. He busily went over test plans, documented and re-certified software and hardware updates, and completed required changes from the November test.
The big week finally came. Al tested a minimal version of the program on one of his former coworkers. It worked like a charm. Christmas Eve day, Al was almost overcome with joy. He promised Miriam a special surprise after dinner. At around 4 p.m. the children began arriving. Christina was the first to arrive, then Bradley, then Linda. They each noticed something different about their father. He was bordering on euphoria.
John Roberts was completing a round of testing at about the same time three children of the disgruntled former employee were arriving at his house. John was about to wrap up his work, when he glanced at the e-mail system monitor. He saw a rather curious e-mail forwarded around by several employees. He investigated a little. The attached file was called “tree.exe.” He scanned the attached file and nothing turned up. The program was actually quite cute. It generated a life-like Christmas tree that the user could decorate. “Well, Merry Christmas,” thought John. Then he noted the original sender. It triggered his curiosity. Someone called “PapaBear” was the author. He printed a copy and left it on his desk. He would have someone research it once he got back from the holiday.
Christmas dinner at the Ramirez household seemed better than ever. Al was in a particularly jovial mood. As they finished desert, Al stood up and said, “Ahem, Ahem, Ahem, I have an announcement.” He waited for the table to quiet, then said, “Your mother and I are going to take a cruise to Alaska.” Miriam almost fell out of her chair. Ever since he had retired, Al had put off traveling with Miriam. It was something she dreamed of and hinted at constantly. The Alaskan cruise was her favorite dream, and now she found herself hesitating to believe that it was going to come true. The children were taken aback. They had never seen their father in such a mood as tonight; his mood was icing on the cake! After showing around the brochure of the cruise and chatting for an hour or so, things settled down. The children began to leave, one by one, until it was just Al and Miriam alone. Finally, she asked, “We’re not going on that cruise, are we?” “Sure we are, sweety,” Al replied. “We leave March 1!” Miriam still found it hard to believe, but she gave in for now.
At the Roberts’s house, there was turkey, trimmings, stuffing, pies, sweets, and every type of food imaginable. The Christmas feast was excellent, and John was settling down in his La-Z-Boy to rest for a bit. He just couldn’t shake the thought of the file whose author was “PapaBear.” He knew he had heard that nickname somewhere before, but where? He dozed off, still thinking about the e-mail.
Christmas day, Al began to put his plan into action. He prepared the final version of the cookie virus for launching. The people who would be at work the next day were likely to be more concerned with their leftovers in the refrigerator than with network security. He started his program and the trap was set.
John woke on Christmas day to a beautiful, sunny morning. The temperature was in the mid-50’s, so it was actually quite comfortable. He went about enjoying the day and the look on his children’s faces as they played with their new toys. Not once did the thought of that e-mail enter his mind. He would not think of work today, only his family. They had suffered enough at the hand of work lately; they deserved his full attention.
On the Monday after Christmas, Al was up at 3 a.m. He told Miriam it was just indigestion, but it was something much more. He wanted to watch his virus take action and to revel in its success. Besides, there were so many good things to eat, he might as well enjoy himself. The garage almost looked like a pot luck supper. At 6:30 a.m. he found his first victim. Someone logged on to HotMail and the virus delivered itself perfectly. The seed was planted.
John walked into his office as though he had been on a vacation. It had been so long since he had a whole day off that he could hardly remember. He milled around the office, drinking coffee and asking everyone on his team how his or her holiday had been. Finally at about 10:30 a.m., he sat down at his desk and began going through his current to-do list. In a stack of papers on his desk, he found the copy of the e-mail from PapaBear, decided it was probably nothing, and threw it in his trash. The rest of his day was like most days, and it seemed things were getting back to normal, whatever that was.
The Final Test
Tuesday and Wednesday were much of the usual routine for John. Getting the system ready for year-end as well as Y2K kept him busy. He decided to run one last set of tests on the accounting software, although he had already tested three times. The testing of the date rollover worked fine. After the test he brought the reports to the personnel department for their review. About two hours later, one of the payroll clerks came bursting into John’s office and announced that something was definitely wrong. John’s team quickly huddled around and began to see some of the changes.
The section of the team that covered the payroll program began to work feverishly trying to figure out what had caused the program to error. They worked through Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, but found nothing. John was there the whole time, minus a one-hour nap on the couch in his office. The nap had helped clear his mind and somehow brought him back to the e-mail from PapaBear. At about 9 a.m. he contacted the firewall service company and had them verify the integrity of the firewall. He asked them to specifically find out when the e-mail came through. At 11:13 a.m., they called with an answer. The e-mail did not come through the firewall.
Next John had his team research when the file was scanned and on which machine. They found the date and saw that the scan had run fine. It was clear that they needed to find some cause for the errors in the accounting package, but how? It didn’t seem like the e-mail from PapaBear was the problem. Then it occurred to John. He ran into his office and pulled up the Data Services user profile database. He scanned it for the words “Papa” and “Bear.” Although the records the search returned were two years old, they did provide one important key. PapaBear was Al Ramirez, a former employee.
The search continued for hours on Thursday, and John only went home for a change of clothes and a bath. When he returned, one of the team members approached him with the idea that it might be some new virus. John immediately ran through his head all of the viruses he had read about or heard of lately. The only one that came anywhere close was the “Melissa” virus, but they had protection from it and its variations. So maybe it was a new variation. John quickly scanned the payroll data files and found the answer. Although the payroll department said their totals were correct, the mapping of the data files was considerably different from the mapping before the test. Something must have changed.
At 11 p.m., he called for his team to restore the previous personnel database records and set up another test. He closely monitored any program that attached to the files and quickly turned up the offending program. On further investigation, he discovered that it was not a program, but a virus! John quickly ascertained several important factors about the program and created a virus definition for the system’s files. He ran the scan and it returned over 800 files. The virus had proliferated throughout the mainframe. John ordered all e-mail and all non-emergency outside communication lines cut immediately. He began to run the cleaning program on a few test files. It worked beautifully, so he started cleaning all of the files the scan had returned.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
Al was quite unaware of what was going on at the plant. He had seen the virus transmitted, and knew it would take its course. At midnight on Friday, he popped the cork on a bottle of Dom Perignon with his wife and truly celebrated. He woke the next morning with quite a hangover.
John and his team managed to clean all of the files on the system. He allowed his team members to have off January 1st as a reward for their accomplishments. But on Sunday, January 2nd, the team and representatives for each of the major departments ran and triple-checked their programs for the next day. The tests went smoothly, and John breathed a huge sigh of relief.
When no disaster occurred on Monday, Al became worried. There should be panic. He decided to e-mail his former coworkers to “ask how their holiday had been.” He waited for a couple of hours and had no response. At 10 a.m., Miriam answered the door. It was the police. They arrested Al and took him away. Al was convicted of industrial espionage and sentenced to fifteen years in prison with a possibility of parole in ten years.
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