The Hacker

By: Cristian Ocaña
Date: April, 3rd 2023
Translation support: Tomás Ocaña

The young Elisa Silva lay upon one of the intensive care beds at a downtown clinic. The vital parameters monitor showed blood pressure and heart rate already controlled after the operation, where the three projectiles she received in an ambush moments prior were extracted. At the access door, two policemen watched over her safety.

Elisa was seasoned in cyber security. At 23 years old, no system could not withstand the exhaustive and poisonous penetration tests to test the security policies implemented to detect and prevent malicious intrusions. She was the nightmare of cyber specialists and cyber experts.

Permanently, encouraged by her two paternal grandparents, with whom she lived due to the recent loss of both parents in a freak car accident, the young woman used to spend whole nights in «Elisa’s Cave, » as she called her workroom. A red light outside warned others not to enter.

She inherited his innate talent from her father and her mother. Both grandparents met in college. Elsa, with an exceptional mind, more than her husband Pedro, with whom she never made any fuss about it. He knew it and felt happy with his wife’s talent and abilities, which made it easier for him to access important positions in financial companies, benefiting from the greater comfort of home. Her husband, a born tech entrepreneur, had succeeded in a business that he managed to sell and raise several million dollars.

Elisa never lacked the generous support of her grandparents, and even more so when she demonstrated her computer skills. With the help of both of them, she was able to build the «cave» of her dreams to develop his passion: hacking, repairing, and improving. She was always looking for perfection in everything. Her work was neat, beautiful, and brilliant, a piece of art according to her fanatical followers.

Pedro knew the value of his granddaughter’s work and, even more, her latest results achieved.

“Pedro, what you’re telling me is sensational,” said Elsa. “These are great news for the financial companies whose board of directors I continue advising.”

“She told me about her progress and what motivated her.” He said satisfied. “After the death of Jaime and Elvira, he isolated himself in her cave, and I lost track of her. She recently let me in to tell me about Lola, her artificial intelligence, and how she had used the money we gave her. See, I was surprised. This girl is brilliant. A genius like you, dear.”

“Ahhh.” She replied modestly. “But it brought out your business skills. Don’t look down on yourself, love. The peace of mind and money we enjoy today is due to the fruit of your business.”

Pedro smiled sweetly at her with a wink. They continued chatting, for a while longer, about their granddaughter’s business and the possibilities with Elsa’s contacts.

“The essential thing, Pedro,” she remarked, “is that you validated her business and skills. That leaves me calm to recommend her. More than a favor for her, it is Elisa who will do them a favor. I’ve heard they’ve been suffering from a large-scale cyberattack.”

“She knows what she’s doing,” Pedro assured her. “Do you think we ask her about the possibility of introducing some clients?”

“Yes, I’d love to. Let’s go for her now.” Said Elsa, enthusiastically.

The three of them sat in the living room to talk while Mrs. Alberta brought them a tray with freshly brewed fragrant coffee beans and some muffins that had just come out of the oven. It was an excellent mix to liven up the meeting.

“What do you think, Eli dear?” Said the grandmother. “In reality, they are the ones who need help; and they have not been able to solve several problems that have been presented to them for a long time.”

“Yes, grandmother,” Elisa said. “It would help me observe how Lola responds and again back on track.”

“It’s good to hear you, beautiful Eli!” Said the grandmother tenderly. “I’ll make a few calls, and I’ll tell you.”

They continued for a few minutes talking about anything and enjoying the coffee and the delicacies Alberta prepared for them. The three of us hadn’t shared a proper intimate moment for months.

An hour passed, and the grandmother appeared in the cave. She knocks and enters with a piece of paper containing the information to contact Jorge Mandiola, the general manager of a medium-sized and reputable bank.

This is Jorge’s direct phone number —the grandmother said happily—. He awaits your call now as he continues to suffer a series of attacks, and his team has been facing them with great difficulty for days.

“Alright, Nona.” She replied with a slight smile of satisfaction at the challenge. “I appreciate it. I’ll call him right away and tell you.”

During the months of confinement, Elisa perfected her Artificial Intelligence, Lola. She taught it to think and reason as she did before the different crossroads she faced on attacking a computer system.

Day by day, Lola learned how its creator’s reasoning structure worked. The enormous computing capacity of its central brain was made up of dozens of state-of-the-art servers, a farm of top-brand firewalls, and robotic storage units. An energy backup system was designed by herself based on an innovative combination of photovoltaic cells and a network of wind turbines that converted the wind kinetic energy. LiFePO4’s integration of cathode Lithium-ion batteries into its network of electrical production sources was the finishing touch of a fail-safe system that gave Lola absolute operating autonomy. The location of his computer center was a big secret, even to his grandparents, who largely financed it.

“Hello, Mr. Mandiola. I’m Elisa Silva.”

“Hello. Good thing you called right away! Is it possible for you to come right now? I have all my directors pushing too hard. Elsa assured me that you could give us a great hand.”

“Send me to this phone the exact coordinates of the place of work and the pseudonym of my contact. I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Perfect. Do you want them to come for you?”

“Thank you, but don’t worry. We should avoid involving others in this process. We must not compromise security by opening other breaches involved in this process. I hope you understand me. We must isolate ourselves ASPA and close all potential security loopholes now.”

“Well. You are the expert and we are in your hands.” The manager said. “I’ll send you the coordinates right now. Wait a minute because I don’t deal with that much.”

“I hope so.” Replied the young woman.

Elisa heard how Mandiola called someone to help him. Finally, they managed to send the coordinates. His cell phone vibrated, and he immediately read the message.

“Mr. Jorge, I will arrive in 20 minutes. See you later.”

Elisa hung up. Immediately she took her modern Cannondale bike and set off like lightning to the coordinates. She knew where to go. At all costs, she had to avoid turning on her GPS, so she learned the route proposed by the phone. Her visual memory was excellent for these types of cases.

Exactly in 20 minutes, she arrived at the gate of the location of the coordinates. She found a metal door that seemed hermetic. There was no numbering, just a camera above and a doorbell on the right side.

She rang the doorbell and asked for «I’m Nobody, » the pseudonym of her contact. The door opened slowly, and an armed guard appeared.

“Miss, please follow me. I’ll take you to your contact.”

The place was quite mysterious, full of dark passages and closed doors. Such infrastructure was not consistent with a medium-sized bank. It seemed strange to her. She followed the guard without asking questions and observing everything.

They arrived at a nook where an elevator with access technology was much more modern than the rest of the facilities. The guard put his eye, and a scanner triggered a screen where he drew a secret pattern. Immediately a green light was turned on with the elevator. They went up to the 12th floor.

“This is as far as I’ll go, Miss. You have to follow this corridor.” He said, giving her directions. “You will come to another door. Wait there a few seconds. Somebody will come for you.”

Elisa looked at him and nodded with a slight smile. She stepped out, and the elevator door was closed. The unusual silence continued to bother her, leading her to question whether it was a bank.

She leaned on the doorway. It was less than a minute when she felt it unlocked. In front of her appeared a middle-aged man. She calculated he would be in his 40s. Thin and a beard of a few days old.

“Hello. I am Camilo, and «I am Nobody,» your contact. Are you Elisa, right?”

“Yes. Pleased to meet you.” She said, shaking his hand. “What do we have here?”

Camilo explained to her the team drama lived the recent days. Then Elisa stopped him immediately.

“Camilo, you must sign the following document to continue our conversation. I assume you are authorized.”

“Yes. I am in charge.”

“Perfect, then sign it.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a document where you give me an open letter to access all your systems and do what is required without asking. In addition, it says that you are under my charge, and nothing is done without my final say in it. I need to take control of everything from now on. It also says that I will have the access keys to everything for 6 hours and that you will monitor me at all times, okay?”

Camilo was frozen at the request of his visitor. This kind of intervention was not expected.

“My apologies. I’ll have to make a call before.” He said, trying to hide his suspicion and fears.

“Yes. There is no problem. Take as long as you want while they will continue to bomb you without mercy.”

“Please wait here.” He asked with sweat on his forehead.

Camilo took the contract to his office. The young hacker saw him talking and photographing the deal; he was sending it to Jorge Mandiola for some legal examination.

Meanwhile, Elisa was observing the surrounding area. It was a real glass palace of transparent offices with cast iron structures. At the end of the corridor was what seemed to be the headquarters, with dozens of large screens on the wall and long tables with many people sitting and working silently.

Ten minutes passed, and Camilo smiled back. Everything had been clarified, and he handed him the signed document.

“Let’s start then,” Elisa said with a smile. “I need all the permissions I asked for. Go to your office and do it. We don’t need anyone else to know what I’m doing, alright! So we could avoid some escape if it’s someone inside or we’re «being listened to.»”

“But why so much,” Camilo replied unbelievingly.

“I’m not going to argue with you,” Elisa said. “I am now in charge. I have 6 hours to solve your problem.”

Camilo was flustered. His interlocutor had firmly marked his limits. He was accustomed to leading his team, and everyone obeyed him without hesitation; he thought it was like a blow to the ego done by a little girl.

“I need to connect to the network directly from your principal firewall. Please take me exactly where it is. There I will get a complete map of your installation, and I will be able to have a first impression of what is happening.”

“Yes. Follow me here.” He said, skeptical.

They went to a zone in a lateral direction to the «General Quarters» that had divided a while back. When he reached a notoriously reinforced metal door, he put his face near a panel on the wall, and the green light from a scanner barred it from top to bottom and from left to right. He entered a numerical code, and the door glided to reveal a giant cellar that surprised Elisa.

“What is all this, Camilo?”

“It’s our data center.” He replied.

“I know this is a data center, darling.” She said, annoyed by the subtle mocking. “You are not telling me why this installation does not correspond to a medium bank. I will not keep going until you clarify it.”

Camilo saw how his savior crossed arms, waiting for a satisfactory response. He breathed in and closed his eyes to take a risk and tell her the truth.

“Actually, this is a secret facility of the National Security Directorate. During a week, a strange force has stolen all the bank accounts of our oligarchs. Intelligence has informed us that the same is happening in other countries.”

“Summarize the behavior of those extractions.” Consulted a serious Elisa.

“At 6 a.m. every day, first, they withdraw $50 from each account, and then every 30 minutes, $100. This is until midnight.”

“It’s clever because it doesn’t raise alarms. It’s $3,650 a day. How many accounts is it?” Asked the young woman, rushing the answer with her fingers.

“It is $3,425, just in our country.”

“Wow.” She said, surprised. “I had no idea there were so many oligarchs. Well, it’s $12.5 million a day, and tomorrow they’ll have completed the $100 million. It is a great booty.”

Elisa breathed deeply, wrinkled her forehead, closed her eyes, and after 10 seconds, exhaled vigorously. A series of contradictions passed through his mind. I have to protect the accounts of the oligarchs: she said to herself while angrily and covertly squeezing her hands.

 “Well then. Let us advance: show me your principal firewall right away.”

Camilo advanced through a corridor and arrived at a doorway he opened with a personal key and a key.

“Here it is, what are you going to do?”

Elisa opened her backpack and pulled out a cable that connected it to one of the firewalls. The other end was plugged into her portable equipment.

“I will connect with Lola, my artificial assistant, and quickly she will scan the entire network and connections. In a few seconds, we will have a film clear of what is happening.”

Elisa connected with her data center and passed the information to Lola that Camilo had delivered about the operation.

While the young woman stared rudely at Camilo, she asked him a question.

“Why is this center connected to all the banks? Do not hide anything.”

Camilo hesitated but had a white letter from his boss to work with her.

“Because «they,» asked for it. In this way, they evade all controls to movements, transfers, and deposits out of the norm.”

Elisa pressed her fists together once more.

“So now I have to protect these shameless ones.” She said.

Camilo nodded in silence. The brilliant girl just moved her head in the sound of protest.

“Done. Lola has an answer. This is where I will need your help. Let me review this map… Yes, Station 32. Who is on Station 32?”

The young woman showed him a map of the area on her screen and pointed to a workplace. The head chief of the place closed his eyes to look into his memory.

“I have it.” He said joyfully. “It was Bernardo Alegria. A young man was recently recruited. He’s been with our team for about two months. What do you want us to do?”

“If we warn him, we will lose it. We need to put him in a trap. For now, I will block and fix everything, but I will throw malware into a document so we can see his activity.”

“How will he open the document? He will be suspicious.” Said the boss.

“Simple. Here, you have a form to email them, and they’ll have to complete it now to pay them for the extra hours of work they’ve done, including today. They will all be happy. ASAP tell them what you need because the top leadership has requested it from you. When our suspect opens it, the program will be installed on his computer, and we will see what he is doing and with whom he communicates.”

“Simple and effective,” Camilo said.

“Tell them that you will require them all night today, and the first turn must renew soon at 10 p.m., and the names will be between A and N, okay?”

“Yes, agreed.”

“Here’s a flash drive with the malware. It will only be activated for Station 32, you understand? I’ll know if you did it or not.”

Camilo moved his head.

“Please, confirm that you understood all,” Elisa said harshly.

“Yes, I understood it.” He said and repeated verbatim the letter and all the instructions.

“Perfect. Let the time run. Come quietly to your office and take 5 minutes to not look so obvious. I’ll stay here and look at other things.”

Elisa began preparing the trap. Once the file was opened from Station 32, she had access to his entire station, and with Lola, they determined the origin of the communications. The young woman knew that the 32nd station could not be working alone: she should have more sequences. It was necessary to map the route to know precisely the origin. Lola was prodigious in such surveys.

The bell on Elisa’s computer turned on: Bernardo Alegria had fallen into the trap. Lola got in action, and in a few seconds, a map of the city was deployed where the localization route of the rest of the accomplices was armed. Camilo appeared and managed to see the map.

“What is that? Have you found them?”

“Yes. The Special Forces should already be out there.” The talented young woman said satisfied.

“But how could they get at the same time all the money out of the different accounts and banks?” Camilo asked.

They used a gap that your new hiring opened in the communications network. But the most tragic thing about all this is that servers that should be more secure than none don’t have updates. At this precise moment, I stopped to think about how it happened.

“What do you mean?” Camilo asked uncomfortably.

“Because only you had access to this room and that equipment. As Lola could find out, you were the only one in charge of that update, and you left on purpose to do so a month ago. The operating system had a specific problem that the provider fixed on the next update you never activated.”

Pale, Camilo stepped back a few steps and suddenly pulled out a gun. Elisa looked at him and smiled.

“All this time, you were monitored and recorded. Your call was recorded when you warned your accomplice to leave the premises immediately. Don’t worry, the police arrested him now, and they are also headed here. They are coming for you. Put your gun down and do not worsen your situation.” She said with certainty and without hesitation.

The steps of an approaching contingent alerted Camilo put the weapon on the ground and put his hands up once the six policies entered heavily armed.

Satisfied, Elisa withdrew from the complex. She had already fulfilled her duty. Outside, Jorge Mandiola arrived in his black car and parked with the authorization of the police who guarded the scene. Elisa appeared at the door with her bike and recognized Mandiola since she had previously investigated him.

“You must be Elisa, good job!”

“Yes, thank you. I think I exceeded myself in my work.”

“Why do you say that, girl?”

The expert approached the executive and talked gently to him.

“Because I know the destiny of the money that the criminals took. Don’t worry about that because Lola extracted it all right now and left it divided into 100 distinct accounts whose keywords only she knows. I could not even access them.”

“This is good news, and when can we get the money back?”

“Sorry, didn’t I tell you that I tracked out who was behind those accounts?” She said with an accusing look and a raised ceiling.

Mandiola’s eyes widened in surprise. Meanwhile, the executive returned, and Elisa took her bicycle and pedaled away at full speed. It had not been noticed that the banker began to follow her hidden, once away from the place, embossed her and rolled through the cement. Elisa went out running still with her backpack on her. She entered a dark street with an exit to the other end. She looked over her shoulder and stumbled down, losing the advantage that brought her to the weary man who pulled out a 19mm Glock pistol, pointed, and fired three times.

Elisa fell wounded and did not move. They heard the sirens of the police cars approaching the scene, and Mandiola ran away, giving her for dead.

Police found her unconscious. A bullet crossed his right shoulder. Another shot struck her in the right hip. And the third impact gave full in the sword, entering through the backpack, passing through her laptop, stopping the projectile lodged in the left trapeze to a few millimeters from the heart. They called for an ambulance and immediately took her to the nearest hospital.

Elisa’s grandparents were anxiously waiting for news in the waiting room. That’s when Jorge Mandiola arrived, and Elsa tried to embrace her.

“Elsa is dear. I’m sorry.” He said while Elsa shunned him.

“How did you do that to my granddaughter? She is just a girl. All these years that we met, and never stopped being a thug. Eli discovered you and sent me all the evidence.”

“But how? What are you talking about?” Mandiola said hypocritically, holding his hand to take out his gun.

Five police officers were waiting for him. They shouted that he should throw himself to the ground with his hands and legs separated.

“Bastard, you will pay them altogether. They steal the oligarchs. They are crueler than the mafia itself. I will stay quiet waiting because they will give you what you deserve. Take him!”

While they were getting Mandiola handcuffed, the doctor in charge of Elisa’s operation came out and showed her a thumbs-up next to a smile.

“Sir,” said the doctor, “our granddaughter was very lucky. The backpack and his team gave power to the bullet stuck in a rib and stopped even more. She is out of danger but, for precaution, will have to stay in the hospital for a couple of days.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Elsa said between tears, holding Peter’s hand and embracing her in silence.

Elisa’s backpack had installed ten miniature cameras with a microphone. They recorded everything that happened. After the Camilo incident, everything was posted on social media. In this way, the police, their followers, and especially the affected oligarchs learned that they had already undertaken their revenge.

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