Homunculus: Chapter 15: Review

“Sorry I’m late,” Mort mumbled as he stepped into the office. Douglas was seated at his desk, and Jessica had already claimed the chair closest to the door. He squeezed between her and the desk, set his cup on the corner of the desk, and dropped into the remaining chair.

“You look awful,” Jessica said.

“It’s been a really long night,” Mort said, rubbing his eyes. “You wouldn’t think talking to the police would be that exhausting, but it is.”

Mort leaned forward, tossing an unlabeled DVD onto the desk immediately in front of Douglas. As he shifted his weight, the chair wobbled forward and to the left on its short leg.

“That’s a copy of the security camera footage and system logs from last night,” Mort explained, trying and failing to stifle a yawn.

Douglas picked it up, look at it for a few seconds, and inserted it into the computer under his desk. He swiveled the monitor sideways, trying to position it so the three of them could look at it.

“OK, which one do you want to go through first?” Douglas asked.

“Might as well start with the big one: the shot of the server room last night,” Mort answered, the chair now wobbling back and to the right. Mort look down at the uncooperative chair leg. He then reached up and pulled an ugly orange book off the shelf above him.

“What are you doing?” Douglas shouted.

“I’m trying to balance this chair,” Mort said. For effect, he shifted his weight back and forth, demonstrating the wobble.

“That’s why I didn’t move over for you,” Jessica said quietly.

Douglas quickly leaned over the desk and yanked the book out of Mort’s hands. “This is an original copy of the TCSEC! It’s practically a collector’s item!”

“You’re the only person I’ve ever known who actually collects the Rainbow Series,” Jessica said.

“Here,” Douglas said, tossing a thin book onto Mort’s lap. “PHP pocket reference. About all it’s good for.”

Mort slid the pocket reference under the chair leg as Douglas carefully returned the orange book to its place on the shelf.

“Now that that’s done, can we get down to business?” Jessica said, checking her watch. “Once I’m out of here I’ve got a conference call with Corporate to discuss where we go from here.”

“OK, just a second,” Douglas said as he studied the file listing in front of him. “Its, um…” All of the file names were a series of digits. They looked like timestamps of when they were made.

“Here, I’ll do it,” Mort said, taking the keyboard and swinging it around to the part of the desk in front of him. “I practically know the names of these by heart now. Here we go.”

A video recording of the Simulacrum server room began playing on the screen. Mort narrated as he tapped on the keyboard. “OK, that’s the door. In a second here… there, we see two men dressed as janitors enter and walk off-screen. The corridor outside the door lost power a few seconds before they entered, which is why the door lock was disabled at the time. Now is when I started panning around to check the room and saw them there, in front of those racks, doing something.”

Douglas bent down and rummaged through a drawer in his desk, occasionally glancing back up towards the monitor. Jessica leaned closer to the screen and studied the image.

“It looks like one of them has a CD?”

Mort nodded. “Right. The police found it on one of the, um, bodies after the fire. There were three racks unlocked when we went in. It’s hard to tell from the video, but presumably they put it into at least one of the machines in each rack, maybe more.”

“Is that all they found on them?”

“The police also said they found an ID badge issued to a Mr. Dwayne Tyrell, along with a key to the server rack and a key to the supply closets. Mr. Tyrell is employed by the custodial firm we contract with. The police haven’t been able to reach him.”

“So they stole his ID and key?”

“Or bought him off,” Douglas guessed, holding a document in his lap. “Maybe they gave him a million bucks and he fled the country.”

“Or he could be the third man,” Mort said. He typed something on the keyboard, and another video appeared on the screen, showing the front lobby, facing the outside doors. One man held something next to the door and entered, followed by two others. “This was taken fifteen minutes the power disruption. They badged in using Mr. Tyrell’s ID, though from the video there’s no way to tell if he’s one of them or not. But we do know he’s not one of the two they found in the server room.”

“Either way,” Douglas said, “they got in using that ID, cut the power to the hallway, and thus disabled the only lock on the door to the server room.” He tossed the document in his lap over to Jessica.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“That is a copy of the risk assessment I had prepared on the system architecture for Simulacrum. Note in particular the part where it recommends an electronic lock that fails secure when it loses power. If that had been followed, they never would’ve gotten.”

“And we took that lock off the table because of the fire safety risk,” Jessica replied. “There’s no way the fire marshal would’ve approved that. If the lock lost power and sealed the door during a fire, well, you’ve seen what happens. And getting rid of the suppression system wasn’t an option, since the alternatives couldn’t guarantee extinguishing a fire without damaging the equipment, and we wouldn’t be able to afford that. We had to go with a lock that would fail safe and permit evacuation.”

“But you didn’t even pair the magnetic lock with a conventional lock! Lose power, and there goes your physical security!”

“We didn’t have the budget to retrofit the fire door on the room with a secondary lock. We were way over budget with the system the way it was.”

“Besides,” Mort added, “if they shut off the power from the electrical room, that means they picked the lock on it, so they could’ve picked that one as well.”

“Is that how they killed the power?” Douglas asked.

“We won’t know until the police run the prints they collected, but that’d be my guess. All I know for sure is that there weren’t any clear signs of forced entry.”

“Do we at least know what was on that CD they had?”

“No idea,” Mort replied. “The police took it as evidence. They’re going to run it through their forensics lab to find out.”

“And how long will that take?”

Mort shrugged.

Douglas groaned, resting his head in his hands, elbows on the desk in front of him.

“That bad?” Jessica asked.

“As I said in that report,” Douglas replied, “the system architecture the developers came up with relied on two things for security: minimizing connections to networks, and maintaining physical security. Now we’ve lost physical security and had someone load God knows what onto the system, since they couldn’t even be bothered to disable autorun on those machines — which, I might add, was another one of the recommendations I made in that. Without knowing what it was they had on that disc, there is literally no way to find out what they might have planted on it. The system is far too big and complex to analyze for malware.”

“On the bright side,” Mort said, “their little attempt to burn the place down suggests they weren’t very sophisticated. I doubt they’d even know how to put any kind of real rootkit on there to hide their tracks.”

“You don’t have to be too sophisticated to download one off the Internet,” Douglas said.

“Besides, I doubt their plan was to steal our data or plant backdoors or anything.”

“How can you be sure?”

“They tried to burn it down, right? They were out to destroy it, not subvert it. They probably just wanted to wipe the machines, tried a few boxes, and when that didn’t work, tried to go for physical destruction.”

“Which didn’t work, thanks to the suppression system,” Jessica added. “The entire system operated through the whole incident without anything worse than a little superficial smoke damage and some ruined manuals.”

“I certainly hope you’re right,” Douglas said.

“OK, so bottom-line this for me. What do we do now? Mort?”

Mort shrugged. “Realistically? There’s not much we can do. Simulacrum’s still running fine as far as anyone can tell.”

Jessica nodded. “Douglas?”

“You’re not going to like this.”

“I figured as much.”

“The only way to be sure the system’s OK is to wipe the machines and do a full reinstall of the system from backup, before the attack. As valuable as the system is, I don’t think we can afford to keep running it when its security has been compromised.”

“When we suspect its security might have been compromised,” Mort corrected.

“And how difficult will that be?” Jessica asked.

“With that many machines?” Douglas replied. “Probably two weeks, minimum.”

“Take the system down for two weeks?” Jessica said. “There’s no way Corporate would approve that unless we know for a fact it’s necessary.”

“There’s no way to know for a fact that an ordinary laptop has been rooted, let alone a massive cluster like that. We’re running at risk, and if we have been compromised, there’s no way to know when it’ll come back to bite us.”

“Look,” Jessica said, “I’ll bring it up with Corporate, but you know as well as I do it’s a non-starter with them. But I might be able to use it to talk them down to something more reasonable. Please tell me you have something else I can go to them with.”

Douglas thought. “At the very least, can they hire some actual guards to cover the night shift, since now we know people are going to try to break in?”

“OK, that’s good,” Jessica said, tapping something in to her PDA. “What else?”

“Wire the magnetic locks in the building to have backup power,” Mort suggested. “It doesn’t even have to be much, as long as someone’s around to check in on any power failures promptly. You’re welcome.”

Jessica nodded. “Those I think are doable. In the meantime, do what you can to clean up the machines without causing any downtime.”

“And when I finish that, maybe I can help Sisyphus with that rock of his,” Douglas said.

“Now that that’s out of the way, I have a conference call I need to set up,” Jessica said as she left the office. Mort stood up to follow her out.

“Oh, Mort,” Douglas said.


“Good job last night. We might not have even noticed anything if you weren’t holding down the fort.”

Chapter word count: 1,836 (+169)
Total word count: 26,425 / 50,000 (52.85%)

2 Responses

  1. That Mort’s a trooper alright.

    Congratulations on hitting and passing the 50% mark! Fantastic so far.

  2. Thanks! I just now have to do the same amount of writing I’ve done so far this month… again…. Oh boy.

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