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Three Hacks from the Future by Geoff Dutton
 

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  • My furtive financial advisor Max Entropy sent over some more of his predictions the other day. He didn't exactly call them that—he used the term "likely scenarios." As Max is too busy hatching deep thoughts to trumpet them all himself, I'll once again have to be a mouthpiece for his wisdom.

    Most of us have gotten so inured to hearing reports of security breaches on Internet servers, home computers, and smartphones that they no longer surprise or even distress us. We've seen malware, ransomware, botnets, Trojan horses, cyber-espionage, denial-of-service attacks, email intrusions, and other kinds of hacks float through the aether, hopefully not too up close and personal.

    For often puzzling reasons, whenever science and technology showers humanity with fruits from the tree of knowledge, legions of evil geniuses gather them to ferment into bad wine. It's probably been this way since the first cultivation of grapes, and there are no signs that bootlegged technology is on its way out. So, as a public service, Max offers three storifications of innovative malicious exploits that might lie just around the corner. Names have been changed to protect the unborn, the uncredited, and the unclothed. Take care, everyone.

  • 1. Ungeneuine

    You and your wife want to start a family, but genetic testing has revealed a discomforting risk. It's called mitochondrial myopathy, and it can lead to any number of ghastly symptoms and a shortened life. Like an increasing number of young couples, you and your wife decide to make a recombinant baby. It involves a procedure to strategically insert your wife's genes into a donor egg from someone you don't know who can't pass on the disease before you fertilize it in vitro. After a nerve-wracking but normal pregnancy, the blessed day arrives. Your healthy infant is tested and is declared free of the dreaded defect. However, Her skin is swarthier than either yours or your wife's, and she has really curly hair, which doesn't run in your families either.

    Your baby was hacked. Months later—far too late—you learn that databases at the company to which your wife and potential gene donors trusted genetic code had been compromised. Internet interlopers swapped generic and identifying data of prospective donors with those of clients who paid them to jump into the company's gene pool. So, instead of receiving a dose of clinically matched genes from person X, your zygote came from a batch donated by unknown person Z. The hackers who pulled that off profited handsomely, leaving you to raise a child carrying the chromosomes of some egoist who doesn't look like you.

    Of course you love your new daughter very much. But who is she?

  • 2. Screenploit

    Whether the eBook got the Zeitgeist just right or your sexy social media marketing campaign was so masterful, your self-published novel "The Fat Lady Sings" became an unexpected hit. It sold 11,000 copies in two months and within six months you pick up buzz that it might become a major motion picture. Various attempts track down the source of this puzzling rumor go nowhere. Certainly no film studio had approached you about buying rights to your work.

    The rumor proves to be true. You find some pre-publicity that reveals that there indeed is a production and its screenplay is the work of an obscure screenwriter, whose name turns out to be a pseudonym. The movie is released (under the title "Over.") and of course you go to see it. Its action unfolds much like your book's plot does. Its dialog resonates. Its characters are a bit scrambled and have new names, but their traits and motivations are quite recognizable. You are outraged and decide to sue.

    The legal discovery process unearths the film's screenplay. To prove plagiarism took place, you hire a literary forensics expert to map it to your text using advanced machine learning algorithms. Her findings document some thematic and syntactic correlations between your novel and the screenplay, but too few similar sentences are found to prove that it derived from yours. Your case evaporates. You suffer a loss of dignity as well as royalties.

    It turns out that you are just one of hundreds of authors to be victimized by a piece of software, and a relatively low-profile one at that. Someone fed your novel through the mutabilis application to rephrase your prose as a retelling that does not violate copyright law. You research the software. You learn that mutabilis uses morphological algorithms developed by the well-respected Computational Linguistics Group at Cambridge University. Perhaps they erred by putting their programme under Crown Copyright for all to see, as somebody trampled on their rights to erect mutabilis around their code. Now they sell it as a PC and Mac app on the gray market for $369.98 a pop. Crestfallen, you delete the sequel you were writing and look for ad agency jobs.

  • 3. Unwanted Buzz

    Lisa, your girlfriend and a happening fashion model, calls you late one night. She's weirded out hysterical and says she needs you to come over right away. When you get to her place, you find her hunched down in the bathtub clutching a fly swatter. Between sobs, Lisa tells you that a huge bee got into her apartment and is following her around. She describes how it flew into her bedroom just after she got out of the shower. When she noticed it hovering, she screamed and flailed around at it. The insect menacingly circled her and then flew off, allowing her to retreat into the bathroom and call you.

    Flyswatter in hand, you prowl through her place, but the thing is nowhere to be seen. You sit on her couch and hold her close until she finally sleeps. You're fatigued, it's late, and so you throw a blanket over her and tiptoe away. When you open her front door to leave, something small noisily lifts off your shoulder, darts through the door, and buzzes into the night. You need a hug too.

    A week later, someone informs you that nude photos of Lisa have shown up in a tabloid gossip magazine. You dash to the supermarket to grab a copy, and there she is, completely and candidly unclothed. The article notes that more pictures and videos are available on their subscribers-only Web site. Of course you sign up, paying 79.95 for the privilege.

    The pictures clearly show Lisa in her bedroom, and are very revealing. You think back to the bee incident and immediately realize that her premises must have been hacked by a miniature drone with a videocam disguised as an insect. Lisa retains a lawyer to go after the tabloid, which turns out to have offices in the Cayman Islands and refuses to divulge the source of the images, citing the First Amendment. They also say that if sued, they will reveal evidence that depicts the actual paparazzi leaving Lisa's apartment. That would be you.

    So Lisa fires her lawyer and hires an agent to handle her sudden unwanted publicity. You kiss off the $79.95 and buy Lisa a can of cooking spray, just in case it happens again.

    @image: copyright © 2015 by Geoffrey Dutton

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