Eventually the debate came to an end and the one who chaired the meeting indicated Cho should translate. Jin Ae glanced at her brother who smiled reassuringly but said nothing. The translated message was clear. North Korea had somehow penetrated their surveillance system and army IT had noted the penetration but had not been able to find the source or assess what damage had been done. In the light of work she was doing for the US government through the corporation that employed her could she look and see if her expertise could help them sort it out. She was to consider the possibility one of their own had facilitated that system penetration.
Jin Ae thrilled at the challenge. This was her area of interest and she did possess an unusual ability in solving difficult IT problems. She addressed the chairman through Cho bowing respectfully expressing her humble confession of inadequacy but promising to do her best. Humility was valued in the Korean mind and the chairman beamed with pleasure at her response. The chairman pressed a button and barked an order. The chief of IT was ushered in humiliated at his seeming inadequate response to the security penetration. It was more sophisticated than he’d encountered before, and he was one of the best but had lost face at his failure as team manager. An explanation was given him, and he turned to look at Jin Ae with a mixture of disbelief and anger. A foreigner, a woman and a young woman at that recruited to sort out his failure? The humiliation was too much to bear. Jin Ae understood his silent communication and resolved to tread carefully. She’d encountered this same attitude in her own country many times until her natural brilliance silenced their protests and they all fell into line eventually.
Her brother spoke in English. “Jin Ae you were required to sign a document pledging your agreement that everything done and said during the time you are here will be kept secret and breaking that agreement has serious consequences. I have signed this on your behalf taking full responsibility for your actions as you’d not understand the document in Korean language. When you go home this assignment should never be mentioned again.” Jin Ae nodded in agreement and the chairman indicated she should leave the room so she, Cho and the one in charge of army IT exited.
Through Cho she requested a diagram of the system and its source key. She’d have to rely on Cho to try and translate documentation of the system into English but felt confident that the principles of code transcended language and she’d figure it out just by delving into the system until she understood its function. While the IT officer was still humiliated, he marvelled at her grasp of systems and grudgingly answered her questions through Cho. Jin Ae continued to question through Cho as she worked and after some time, she was surprised to hear the officer answer her in acceptable English, so she addressed further questions to him in English and he answered in English. She complemented him on his knowledge of systems, and he began to soften his anger at working with a younger woman directing the operation. Jin Ae found working directly in English speeded things up. She asked him to describe why he’d thought the system had been compromised and what he’d done to rectify the problem. To her surprise the problem had a strange similarity to the actions compromising US government databases she was working on. That would make it a lot easier having that knowledge and if she could discover a remedy here then it would certainly help with what she was doing for her own corporate project on behalf of her government.
She remembered programs she’d written to test and sat rapidly constructing them over again while the Korean officer looked on in admiration at the speed of her work. Then began systematic probes looking for vulnerabilities. She worked her way through the various computer’s having access to the base system to which they were granted access and one by one ruled out problems with those computers and by the end of the day was faced with the realization that the problem was not internal. Safeguards were in place, but the problem was of an external source and she know the sources of attack on allied systems of data management corporate and government. Spying of course had been going on since earliest history but in modern warfare wars could be won or lost not by weapons alone but by the destruction of internal infrastructure within countries. Communications could be shut down, electricity grids could be immobilised, software taken over could even blow up a nations stockpile of atomic weapons obliterating any country as a threat. We live in a dangerous world.
Jin Ae sat and thought of all the possibilities she’d worked on for her corporate work. She was confident of her knowledge but there were issues that still challenged her thinking and her team were working on several scenarios she’d given them to try out. She wished she could consult with her team now to see what they’d come up with but that would not be possible with the document her brother had signed on her behalf. She sat thinking for two hours while the IT Officer sat impatiently, and Cho departed to get some food for them all as they worked. She quizzed the officer again as to what he’d seen that prompted a realization the system had been compromised and all the things he’d done to try and rectify the position. To his knowledge nothing had been stolen but there were signs that could not be ignored which if not arrested would lead to a calamitous situation for South Korea and give North Korea an edge in diplomatic activities soon to take place and a possible advantage in an invasion from the north.
Jin Ae sat and wrote another program that had been constructed in her mind. Hackers had sophisticated methods for concealing the source of attackers so somehow, she had to break through that wall and find out where the attacks were coming from. She sent out a probe and it broke through the wall. The attack was from North Korea. She kept working all day and late into the night while the IT officer watched mesmerized at her skill. Cho bought two cots and they sent the IT officer off to his quarters to sleep. In the middle of the night Jin Ae woke with a start. Programs were going through her mind at rapid speed and she thought. She went to the keyboard and monitor assigned to her and began to key in at rapid speed. The probes sped through internet walls and began to gather data. She woke Cho asking her to bring the IT Officer back. After fifteen minutes he reappeared dishevelled and grumbling but gasped as he read the screen. He phoned his commanding officer immediately and the officer arrived after half an hour immaculate despite his interrupted sleep. The IT Officer explained what had been viewed and in another half hour lights came on again and the officers who she’d met the previous day in their board room appeared and began viewing monitors covering walls. Slowly the night shift was enhanced to full day strength all sitting at their monitors.
The one who’d chaired the meeting yesterday appeared beside Jin Ae. He spoke to Cho and she translated. Was it possible to take out some of their infrastructure such as electricity grids? Was it possible to get into their weapons systems? Was it possible to take out their communications and destroy their hacking capabilities?
Jin Ae responded. “I think I can neutralize their hacking capabilities but will have to do a lot more work before I can answer the rest of those questions.”
The chairman spoke to Cho again. “I want to hit their communications systems and infrastructure. Don’t touch the nuclear issue. One bad step there and we’ll end up with radiation all over South Korea. It may convince them it’s wise to show them it’s better to cooperate with us than fight us when it comes to future diplomatic meetings. As soon as you’re sure you can get into their systems let me know and I’ll let you know the next move.”
Jin Ae worked through the rest of the night while the rest watched monitors on the walls.
In the morning she was beginning to lose concentration because of loss of sleep. But she felt confident enough for some answers. She spoke to Cho who was also beginning to fade from tiredness. “Call your ranking officer I think I can help do some of the things he wanted.” The officer appeared quickly.
“Sir I think I can hit communications and power grid.”
He nodded when Cho translated and gave the thumbs up.
Jin Ae worked at the computer talking to Cho as she did so. “I’m beginning to get some push back. I think whoever is at the other end of this is onto what I’m trying to do.” Her fingers flew over the keys as she punched in numbers. There was a shout of surprise as satellite images of lights over North Korea began to falter and go out in some areas then the lights over Pyongyang went out. The room erupted in surprised noises.
The commanding officer rushed over to Jin Ae. He shouted excitedly to Cho. Cho calmly addressed Jin Ae. “Can you get their communications?”
Jin Ae could feel her power over the broken web wall decreasing as the hackers fought back. They must be on emergency power sources she thought. She kept working at rapid speed and one of the night staff tracking radio communications put up his hand and shouted in Korean. The radio signals he’d been scanning from North Korea had gone down temporarily when power went down but came back on again obviously under emergency power sources. Now they were silent again. The room erupted with joy and Jin Ae realized she’d got through. Now she turned her attention to the hacker’s computers. They probably had banks of them. and they hadn’t faltered so must have their own power supply at the source but would have been using hacked computers around the world as hosts too. She punched in a formula and rode it back on their own probes. The pressure on the system stopped.
The IT Officer bowed to her in respect. He acknowledged her skills were beyond his and cheerfully accepted that. It only remained for them to revisit their own system thoroughly again to see if anything had been planted and lying dormant. She’d rerun her tests when she was awake and alert enough to do that. She left the keyboard and crawled into the camp cot again, but the commanding officer protested. She was almost carried into the room reserved for visiting VIP allies when they visited from abroad while officers went into conference again and began to plan for the fallout. Next day at the DMZ North Korea vigorously protested the unprovoked attack from South Korea and promised retaliation. It was a familiar theme, the aggressor accusing of aggression. Jin Ae came to know about this fallout from her brother when she awoke at noon next day and found him sitting in a chair in her VIP room with a selection of Korean delectable dishes waiting for her when she awoke.
To be continued
© Copyright 2021 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved
© The above photo is through courtesy of pexels-photo-6457518 Alexander Suhorucov