With the launch of Crash Into Pieces, I wanted to build out a few posters that highlight elements of the plot. Here’s what I came up with.
I’m happy to share that Crash Alive was selected as the winner of the “Operation:Thriller” writing competition, sponsored by Authors.me and Reedsy. This is great news for a few reasons: #1: It’s not easy putting out your first novel out into the world and wondering how it […]
Note – Potential Spoilers Below: This is a blog post diving into parts of the research for my new thriller, Crash Alive. I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers, but if you haven’t read the book and want to go in fresh, you might want to bookmark this one.
Crash Alive kicks off with a USB hack, a surprisingly-common form of hacking that is still widely used today. It’s seems like a stretch to think that someone would use a simple USB stick to gain access to another system; in fact, one of my beta readers told me “that would never happen,” which told me that I needed to go back in and add some more detail (which I quickly did.)
The short version of this post can be summed up with the following: if you see a random USB drive lying around, don’t grab it. Don’t pick it up. And certainly don’t think “Score … free USB drive!”, run home, and plug it into your computer.
USB drives have been a hacker staple for years. In fact, one version of the Stuxnet story —a virus created by the U.S. and Israeli governments that shut down Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility— says that the virus originated from American operatives leaving infected USB drives in Internet cafes around the nuclear plant. Nuclear engineers simply found the devices lying alone on random tables, pocketed them for their own use, and eventually plugged them into machines connected into the nuclear facility’s network.
A few popular pieces of USB hardware include:
- The Rubber Ducky: http://hakshop.myshopify.com/products/usb-rubber-ducky
- Etherkiller: http://hackaday.com/2015/10/10/the-usb-killer-version-2-0/
The next time you see a random USB drive on the sidewalk or in a Starbucks, don’t wonder what’s on it. Wonder if someone left it there on purpose.
Here’s some additional reading:
- from Gizmodo: Watching a USB Hack in Action Makes Me Never Want to Leave My Computer
- Komando.com: This Nightmare USB Hack Toasts Your Computer in Less Than Two Seconds
- Wired: An Unprecedented Look at Stuxnet, the World’s First Digital Weapon
- Ars Technica: This Thumbdrive Hacks Computers: “BadUSB” Exploit Makes Devices Turn Evil
- Wired: Chrysler Catches Flak for Patching Hack with Mailed USB
Thanks again for reading. Next up in this blog series will go deep into the redwood forests of California and the Bohemian Grove.
Steganography is the process of hiding a message or other information within another message. Think of invisible ink — something that allows a message to be hidden in plain sight. But modern technology allows for lots of other cool ways for information to stay unseen (unless you know it’s there.)
In Crash Alive, Haylie Black leans on a few modern versions of the concept to help solve steps of the mysterious Internet puzzle known as Raven 2309.
With current technology, it’s possible to add messages to regular old image files (JPGs, GIFs, etc.) and keep them hidden away from the unknowing viewer. There are plenty of programs that allow you to write and find these messages. One that I played with while writing Crash Alive was OutGuess (you can download it here.)
In fact, let’s try it out.
Here’s an image that we’ll start with, a promo from an early cover concept for Crash Alive.
Now, we’ll open up Outguess and see if we can add something hidden inside.
The first thing you need to do is add a key, or password to protect the file. In the command line version of the tool you don’t need a password, but the application needs one for some reason. Let’s use the word “Raven” as ours.
Then we can tab over to the “Hide” section and add our files.
The first line (labeled “File”) is where you select the file you want to hide. (Outguess has a second file box as well, if you want to hide more than one.) Then, down on the next line that reads “In”, you can add the host file. Then you just hit the big green arrow and you’ve got a new file, with hidden stuff inside.
Let’s try it out: here’s a second version of the above image with a file hidden inside. Looks the same, right?
But if you download the image and extract using our password above, you’ll find a text file hidden inside.
Messages can also be hidden inside audio files. Specialized programs allow the user to visualize the sound spectrum in search for hidden messages, and even write messages to audio files themselves.
An great example of audio-based steganography comes from the electronic musician Aphex Twin, who snuck pictures of his own face into one of his audio tracks. The noise added to the tracks are typically subtle enough to not attract attention, and listeners had no idea that a secret message was hidden inside the track. When seen through a steganography tool that displays output from the sound waves in the track. It looked like this:
An artist named Plaid did the same thing, as you can see here.
Venetian Snares did it as well by throwing in a picture of a cat.
The tool I used to play around with steganography for the book is called Sonic Visualizer, and you can find it here.