Rogue Code (Excerpt)

Check out Mark Russinovich’s Rogue Code, available May 20th from Thomas Dunne Books!

Cyber security expert Jeff Aiken knows that no computer system is completely secure. When he’s called to investigate a possible breach at the New York Stock Exchange, he discovers that not only has their system been infiltrated, but that someone on the inside knows. Yet for some reason, they have allowed the hackers to steal millions of dollars from accounts without trying to stop the theft.

When Jeff uncovers the crime, the NYSE suddenly turns on him. Accused of grand larceny, Jeff must find and expose the criminals behind the theft not just to prove his innocence but to stop a multibillion-dollar heist that could upend the U.S. economy. Unwilling to heed Jeff’s warnings, the NYSE plans to continue with a major IPO using a new, untested system, one that might be susceptible not only to hackers but to ruthless high-frequency traders willing to take any risk to turn a profit…

 

 

 

1

WATERFALL GLEN FOREST PRESERVE
DARIEN, ILLINOIS
8:13 A.M.

Vincenzia Piscopia, known as Vince to his American colleagues, sat on the cool gray boulder, feeling more than a little strange. He’d never done this before and was now having second thoughts. He glanced about the small clearing. He was alone. Maybe I should just go back home, he thought, pretend this never happened.

Vince was thirty-four years old and had spent his entire life in the digital age. Though he hiked as often as possible, he was a trifle overweight and soft. Computers and the Internet had always formed an integral part of his life. He even made his comfortable living as an IT operations manager for the New York Stock Exchange, working out of the Chicago IT office. Originally from Milan, Italy, where he’d been employed by Siemens, he found he enjoyed America more than he’d expected. His only real complaint was of his own doing—he just didn’t get out very often.

Vince had always been a nerd, and social media formed the greatest part of what passed for his social life. He tweeted, maintained two blogs—one on life in Chicago for an Italian expat, the other about computer security, a particular obsession of his—and he’d been one of the first 100,000 to have a Facebook account. He’d seen the value of Toptical from the beginning and had opened his account almost from the day the company launched. Between his iPad, iPhone, and home computer, it seemed to him that when he wasn’t sleeping or working, he was social networking.

Even on his long solitary hikes, he brought along his iPhone and had a connection nearly everywhere. He wasn’t alone in that regard. Just the week before, he’d hiked some six miles on this very trail, found a lovely spot to take a meal, and while sitting there had checked for messages. Just then, he’d heard a chirp. Not twenty feet away, he spotted a woman of middle years answering her cell phone. He’d just shook his head at the incongruity of it all—then texted a few replies of his own.

But today was different. Vince was here to meet someone. It was all very twenty-first century, he’d told a colleague at work. And while for others this sort of thing happened from time to time, for Vince it was a first. As a result, he found himself fretting about his appearance. He’d been honest with the photographs he posted on Facebook, and Sheila had assured him that she was as well.

He wasn’t concerned, though he knew that Facebook friends were often disingenuous in that regard. He’d know soon enough if Sheila was the stunner her photos showed, or a fake. If the latter, they’d hike a bit, and then, once he returned to his apartment he’d unfriend her. That would be that.

And he’d never do this again.

It was a bit cool for September, but Vince liked the typically brisk Illinois autumn. He found it invigorating and at moments like this, on a remote trail far from the popular routes, he could imagine himself back home. He was getting cold and zipped his Windbreaker up higher. From nearby came the gentle murmur of a stream.

It was Sheila who’d suggested they meet on a Monday when there’d be few hikers and that they take this moderate hike in the DuPage County forest preserve. He’d been pleased that it was one she knew about, since it was already his favorite. The nine-mile trail snaked around the Argonne National Laboratory, the loop passing through rolling woodlands and savannas, the contrasting scenery adding to the charm. Though all but within the Chicago suburbs, the preserve had a very rural feel.

The main trail was layered with crushed gravel, and it crested a few difficult hills. There were usually hikers such as himself, joggers, and those training for marathons. The only negative was that horses were permitted on the wide pathway, and they brought with them their unique problems; which was why Vince preferred the smaller side trails where the horses didn’t go.

He heard movement and turned with anticipation. But instead of Sheila, there was a man, another hiker. Vince smiled and nodded a distant greeting. The man nodded back and continued toward him.

Their exchanges had started just the week before. Sheila was the friend of a friend on Facebook. She lived in Chicago and also worked in IT. A few messages established how much they had in common, so they’d switched to e-mail. Sheila had spent a summer in Europe after university, backpacking locally in some of the same places Vince knew. She took her work in software security seriously, and from the first complimented his blog. She’d never been married and had no children. In fact, she’d never even lived with a man, she told him. Like Vince, she worked long hours, and at twenty-nine had decided it was time to get out more.

The other hiker stopped where the trail widened. He was tall, physically fit, with fair hair. He placed his foot on one of the smaller boulders and slowly retied his shoelace. When finished, he lifted the other foot and repeated the process.

Vince thought about the man’s presence for a moment, wondering if it was good or bad. Sheila had suggested this quiet location off the main trail for their first meeting, hinting for the first time at the possibility of romance by mentioning how she often came here alone, wishing someone special were with her.

He chuckled at his thoughts getting ahead of reality. He was about to see a woman he’d first met on Facebook, that’s all. The other hiker meant nothing. You don’t have a private romantic rendezvous on a public hiking trail, he told himself.

Vince scanned back along the trail and saw no one new. He frowned, pulled out his iPhone, and checked for messages. Nothing.

He glanced up. The hiker was finished. He smiled as he approached the Italian, looking as if he were about to say something. That’s when Vince spotted the heavy branch held loosely in his hand.

“Have you seen this?” the hiker asked just as he reached Vince.

Vince looked up into the man’s face, then quickly at the upraised branch and only in that final second of his life did he realize what the branch meant.

 


Copyright © 2014 by Mark Russinovich

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