Archives for December 13, 2016

52 Week Short Story Challenge #10 – WireLurker

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I was late uploading this story because of reasons, but I assure you it was finished Saturday.

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WireLurker

It usually took Bryan Grady at least three days to fully get over his jetlag so when he walked into the conference room he was feeling slightly out of it, having only had eight hours between stepping off the plane and sitting down at the table. He was the first one to arrive as always, which gave him some time to yawn in private.

Beijing was fourteen hours ahead of Chicago, where he was from, and it was the middle of the night as far as his brain was concerned. He didn’t mind business trips but preferred them when they lasted a week or more so he could get used to the time change. He glanced at his phone, not expecting to see a message from his wife but hoping he would just the same. There was nothing and he sighed.

While he was considering sending Marissa a message for her to get when she woke up, the door opened again and several men came into the room. Three of them were Chinese and a fourth had sandy brown hair and a sleepy look on his face that clearly told Bryan that he was from America too.

“Good afternoon,” Bryan said, standing up to greet them. His Chinese was excellent, which was why he was chosen for the job, and the three men looked relieved. “It’s good to see you.”

“Good afternoon,” the tallest of the three said. Bryan had seen pictures of all of them but was fairly certain this man’s name was Winston, because he’d thought it was strange for a Chinese man to have an English name. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“This is a problem for all of us,” Bryan said. “People think our product is supposed to be virus-proof, and while we all know that’s impossible, there’s still that perception we need to be aware of.” He looked at the sandy-haired man, who was looking between Bryan and Winston. His confusion was evident and Bryan smiled at him, switching back to English. “Don’t speak Chinese, huh?”

“Not a word. My interpreter isn’t here yet, so I’m kind of stuck.” He held out a hand for Bryan to shake. “Jack Bolton. I’m from the Australian office. Our regular guy got sick so I had to come in his place.”

“I’ll do my best to remember to translate for you,” Bryan said, hoping Jack’s interpreter came soon. They had a problem to deal with and stopping to explain everything twice was going to get tiring very quickly. “You’re one of the PR guys?”

“I’m actually one of the developers in the Australian area. My specialty is—“ He was cut off as a slender man in a suit that wasn’t half as sharp as Winston’s came in, bowing apologetically.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said. “I got lost.”

“That’s no problem,” Winston said with a wave of his hand. “Let’s get started. What we’re looking at is malware, not a virus, and it’s a nasty piece of work.” Bryan, who had started as a developer and worked his way up the food chain, didn’t feel much like dancing around the subject and sat forward.

“What does it do?”

“I’ll show you,” Winston said, taking out a laptop. It was a MacBook Pro, the top of the line model, and he set it on the table. “It’s very subtle. Unlike a Windows computer that prompts you to install a fake program to set up malware in your computer, WireLurker is hidden inside an app. It records your data and when it’s supposed to be connecting with your data on the website, it’s actually sending it to hackers.” He turned on the computer. “And as soon as you try to remove it, it does this.”

The men around the table leaned in to see a computer screen that looked completely normal in every way. Winston typed in his password and the computer’s screen suddenly fuzzed and distorted. It started making a strange humming sound, and when Winston tried to push any of the keys it turned into a sound that reminded him of an old computer modem trying to connect. The men around the table started shouting at Winston to turn it off in both Chinese and English, and he slammed the MacBook closed with a shake of his head.

“How many cases of this do we have?”

“Only four or five,” Winston said. “And you think that’s bad, it gets worse.” He took out an iPhone and held it up. “Since the app syncs with the one on your phone, the malware gets on it too. And then your phone is nonfunctional. If you download this app on your computer, you’re sending data to hackers and if you try and take it off either your phone or your computer, it bricks them both.” The interpreter told all of this to Jack and he frowned and spoke in English.

“How does it get to the phone? Bounces from the website?”

“It’s transmitted wirelessly during the sync,” Winston said, and the interpreter explained it to Jack. “And any compatible computer that’s in sync range is vulnerable.”

“How is that possible? That technology can’t possibly exist,” Bryan said. His heart was pounding in his chest and he felt it skip a beat or two. His stomach dropped several feet. The last time that had happened, the battery in his pacemaker had been running out. If that was what was happening, he would have to have it replaced while he was in China and it was possibly the last thing he wanted to happen. He had no idea how insurance would work, what kind of quality he would be getting, and how long it would take to recover.

“We don’t know,” Winston said. “That’s why you and Mr. Bolton are here. We have to determine what kind of technology we are looking at and our information says that the malware originated in either America or Australia.”

“You can’t possibly suspect America of doing something like this!” Bryan stood up, indignantly. His heart was going wild in his chest but he tried to ignore it. Their accusations were as good as saying that someone from Apple was sabotaging their own product and he knew it was impossible. Jack’s interpreter was speaking so rapidly that he was sure things were getting missed but he couldn’t hear over the roaring in his ears. “You can’t—“ His words were cut off abruptly as his heart seized up, and he grabbed for his chest.

“Mr. Grady?” Winston looked at him, then at Jack, then back at Bryan as he crumpled to the ground, struggling to breathe. No one seemed terribly concerned about what was happening. In fact, they were all looking at him with curiosity, murmuring to each other. Bryan was certain he was asking for a doctor but he couldn’t hear anything coming out of his mouth and the rest of the men in the room were going about their business.

“The technology certainly performs as promised,” Winston said to Jack as the light began to go out of Bryan’s eyes. “How did you manage to hack a medical appliance with a simple piece of malware?” He was speaking Chinese now, and when Jack replied he was speaking it fluently.

“I’ll be happy to tell you that,” he said with a grin, just before he spoke the last words Bryan would ever hear. “As soon as we agree on a price.”