While he drove, Chip was checking his email to see if he had gotten anything back from the exncryption-cracking service. He didn’t see any messages, but it was hard to tell what he was looking at as he tried to keep his car on the washboard gravel road leading up the canyon to his destination. He didn’t need the map directions anymore, but checking his email while he drove was an even worse idea than typing in addresses while he drove.
When he arrived at the house, they headed right down to the basement. Chip took the tiny special purpose computer that he had crafted and plugged it into the network tap that he had left there yesterday. The little single circuit board computer was too tiny to have a display or monitor, but it was able to be accessed over the wireless network because of an additional circuit board that Chip had added to the mix. Connecting to Ellen’s wireless, he checked that the little machine was hungrily gobbling up network traffic and storing it safely away for later analysis.
Chip made a little bit of small talk with Ellen and before he was going to leave because he didn’t have anything remotely encouraging to tell her, the phone in his pocket dinged out loud. Not many of Chip’s calls or emails generated an audible ding because the algorithms in his devices were built to value the importance of uninterrupted productive time. The smart assistant technology available in Chip’s phone now made many of the decisions of what to share with him at what level. Sometimes it felt like he couldn’t even make a simple appointment in his online calendar any more. Instead, he had to trick his phone into thinking that he really did want to see some person in some place at some time. If he acted like he wasn’t being made happy by not having an appointment, then his computer might decide that it was in his best interest to put that appointment in the calendar to make him feel better.
He pulled his phone from his pocket and saw that the encryption key that he needed had been broken first by one website and then sent on to the next, which had broken the next code much more quickly. Now, he could go to download the data that they had slurped up yesterday and hopefully figure out what was going on with this darn computer.
Messages pass back and forth over computer networks in small pieces called packets and when you reassemble the packets that arrive for you, you can put them back together to make a complete communication, be it an email, a video, or streaming music. Each packet has a small amount of information that specifies what type of data it is so that it can be appropriately assembled once it arrives at the destination. By picking up these packets off the network cable, Chip could watch the conversation between these two computers, one in Ellen’s basement and one in god knows where.
It took a little while to download the cracked packets from their hosting online and Chip explained a little bit about what he would be looking for. “If I’m lucky, they will be sending messages made of text back and forth and I will be able to just read what they wrote.” Alas, this was not the case and what Chip found when he got into the traffic on his smartphone was that the packets contained pure binary streaming data. The data was flowing at a pretty good speed by today’s standards and it was almost entirely flowing from Ellen’s PC out onto the internet and to its destination in God-knows-where.
Paging through the output of all of the logged data, he eventually say something that he recognized, a small bit of text in the stream of data that suggested that the packets were part of a compressed stream of video.
“Whoever took over your computer is streaming lots of video down the line. It’s almost like they want to watch what you had on there without