Updated: Jan 8, 2020
Working 2050 is a speculative oral history about workers of the future.
Ab4gn4l6 won’t meet with me.
I’m from a different time, she says via quantum encrypted text. When I got my start in this business, you had to protect your identity. I tried to dig some things up on her work, her history, even where she might be located. Nothing.
She calls me at exactly 8:00:10 with her voice disguised and her geolocation blocked.
Hello? This is Working. Silence.
What is a typical day like for you? Walk me through it from when you wake up until you go to bed.
Wake up. Check on the systems I’m overseeing. Do other things. Check on them again. Sleep, maybe. Probably not.
What is it that you oversee?
To understand what I do, you have to understand: it’s so much easier to break something than it is to build something hard to break.
Is building something hard to break how you got into security?
I got into security to pay my rent. I started with ransomware attacks on municipal infrastructure in the early 20s -- nothing fancy, easy money.
If you have the power, you can attack anything, especially back then when most state and city infrastructure was already about to blow up any minute.
I never attacked hospitals, or electrical grids in extreme weather. And in the 20s we had enough problems, even before The Horrors. 90% of the time, their bosses would say, “just pay them.”
Sometimes they wouldn’t even wait -- once I got paid in less than 20 minutes. The dev team had automated payment because it was easier to pay off hackers than try to make the system any more secure.
Anyone in ransomware will tell you: it's a siege, but your siege is focused on the pettiest possible part of the army.
That's what I did until 2029 -- got people to pay me to go away.
I paid my rent, stayed home, away from major metropolitan areas. Didn’t look at the news.
Then, I got a message from someone who claimed to be part of the ‘new government of Minnesota’ -- that was a total fringe thing then.
They wanted to know if I was interested in a project targeting infrastructure in Amazon. At that point, Amazon only controlled what used to be the state of Oregon, and there wasn't a firewall.
I talked with this person for a little bit -- they had me do small things, tests. I’m not political, but it was interesting work.
But then a few weeks in -- Amazon has its massive shutdown. I mean, everyone knows this -- media and cloud blackout, the border became private, no going in or out.
But what most people don’t know is that the healthcare administrative software of every cooperative and municipal government serving more than 3-4 people started getting constant DDOS attacks.
A regular DDOS attack is like the world’s worst traffic jam, but this was a traffic jam that blocked everything on those systems. The corporate kings playing hacker.
Those were probably the worst 2 days of my life -- people are panicking, even in real life. My mom couldn’t get her chemo meds.
I just kept working on trying to figure out where the power was coming from -- a group of us in a closed network were all tracking the IP addresses.
But for such a high level technology country, they were really lazy. It turned out that all of the attacks were coming from computer systems hijacked only in the AU -- kids’ tutoring machines, eldercare bots, whatever. Stupid. They didn’t even try.
It was a pain in the ass to clean up, took almost 3 years to get the right protections together across municipal codes.
What does your family, or cooperative, if you have one, think about what you do?
It’s a living.
Is there anything that surprises you about this work, when you’ve done it for so long?
Yes. The kids doing it nowadays.
These kids spend all of their time breaking into city infrastructure just to fuck with people’s houses -- they mess with their farms, their prescriptions, their childcare systems. Let all of people’s crickets out. Talking to people’s kids about Morse Code or whatever they're into now.
I was talking to a kid who tried to hack a grid I was working on. He couldn’t even type, he just told his Monica what he wanted to do.
He said he was 5. 5! Anyway, that's how I know I'm too old for this.