Note: This is a blog post diving into parts of the research for my new thriller, Crash Into Pieces. I’ve done my best to avoid MAJOR spoilers, but if you haven’t read the book and want to go in fresh, you might want to bookmark this one.
There’s a scene early in Crash Into Pieces where a casino gets hacked. It’s our first introduction to the Endling, a new hacker on the scene who is up to no good.
The scene was based on a collection of research that I did around a few real-world hacks over the past two years. There were a few articles that were especially helpful in putting together details around how a casino hack could (or has) actually happened.
This article by Benjamin Elgin and Michael Riley at Bloomberg details an attack on the Las Vegas Sands Corp. in February of 2014. Machines failing, hard drives being wiped clean. Hundreds of people from the organization calling IT, trying to figure out what was going on.
From Crash Into Pieces:
“Everything’s rebooting, we don’t know why,” the engineer yelled back, waving off another staff member who was trying to get his attention. “When the machines finally do come back online, each one is dead; all data is wiped clean.”
“So cut the pipe,” his father said, obviously trying his best to keep a calm tone. “You can do that, right?”
“Of course I can do that,” the engineer spat back. “But as far as I can tell, the attack is coming from inside our network.”
Frantically searching the room, the boy’s father helplessly checked random screens and stared through the glass at his control room, now with the eyes of his entire staff staring back.
The boy took a few steps away from the chaos, keeping the door propped open but wanting to fade into the wall. To disappear. Engineers brushed against him as they ran by, holding laptops and phones to their ears, yelling words the boy knew he wasn’t supposed to repeat. His heart felt like it was beating through his chest as the alarms continued to shout, now coming in from multiple different sources and mixing with the row of ringing, blinking phones on every wall—all combining to create a constant, ear-numbing wall of sound.
The attacks described in the article weren’t targeted at the main Sands servers, they were focused on a web development server in a satellite location with poor security. From there, the attackers moved into the main systems.
I was struck by the descriptions of chaos from the multiple articles that I read—the staff running around the casino floor in a last-ditch attempt to stop the attacks, ripping cords from every computer they could find.
From Crash Into Pieces:
He lost sight of his father around the first floor turn in the stairwell and ran through the only door he saw. He found himself on the main casino floor, greeted with the sounds of chiming slot machines, passing crowds, and the smell of old cigarettes. The boy recognized his dad, now running towards the center of the closest gambling pit, surrounded by card and dice tables. He ran behind the computer terminal and began pulling cords from the wall with violent jerks, pointing and shouting at other workers to do the same. The boy crept forward, watching as every power plug and every network cable—some snapping off at the base, others being ripped from the machines with circuit boards still attached—were thrown onto the floor.
His father wiped the sweat from his brow as he ran to the next station, shouting frantic, desperate commands at any employee who would listen. Phones rang as security personnel sprinted across the casino floor.
Another article by Jesse Hicks at The Verge was a great help to see inside a Vegas security control room, and understand the technology, personalities, and capabilities of the modern casino.
From Crash Into Pieces:
The room was a high-tech fortress, with screens and flashing lights and important-looking people speaking into headsets with hushed voices. An entire wall of glass lined the far wall, behind it a collection of smart-looking grown-ups sitting at desks in front of racks and racks of flashing lights and computer terminals. The whole thing looked like something that Tony Stark would have in his secret basement lair.
It was awesome.
Jabbing a stubby finger at a monitor two down, three from the left, his father’s eyes showed a rare sparkle as he inched forward and rested his coffee down on a tabletop.
“Look at his hands—always watch the hands,” his father said under his breath. “Sarah, can you zoom in on table 42, please? Position 2.”
A woman gave a polite nod and edged her chair towards to her keyboard, surrounded by a sea of phones blinking with pale red and white lights. Her eyes locked on the screen as she typed a few commands.
The boy found himself pulled back and forth through the different scenes on every monitor—top-down views of faceless guests drinking and smoking, a mix of black and white video feeds—some grainy, others crisp and clear.
Sarah reached to her right to find a black, kidney-shaped controller pad. After a few taps on the keypad, she grabbed control of the foam joystick. The boy watched as camera #1025 zoomed in on the man sitting one seat from the far right of blackjack table 42.
“Here comes the shuffle,” his father said, breathing the words out, almost in a trance. “Notice how his fingers are extended when the cards are in play, but not when the bets are being paid out?” He clapped his hands together with a sudden rush of energy. “Okay—let’s survey the surrounding tables. Sarah—start checking the eye-level cameras for anyone else that might be helping him out.”
The casino scene was a fun one to write—trying my best to take the reader from a sense of complete control all the way to utter chaos. Real-world research helps to cut through what I think is going on inside of places I’ve never been, and hopefully bring a sense of reality to the fiction.
To see this and other real-world hacks in action, check out the page-turning books in the Haylie Black series, now available on Amazon.
Haylie Black: Book One
The award-winning tech thriller that introduces Haylie Black, a 17-year-old hacker with a chip on her shoulder. When her brother vanishes trying to solve a legendary Internet puzzle, Haylie knows that she’s the only one who can track him down. As she begins to reveal the mysteries behind each clue, she’s pulled deeper and deeper into a secret world she never could have imagined.
Crash Into Pieces
Haylie Black: Book Two
Haylie Black, a now-infamous teenage hacker, is struggling to live a normal life. When a mysterious hacker known as the Endling emerges, she must use her skills to solve the enigma behind the man. As the hunt unfolds, she discovers secrets bigger than she ever imagined, and will be forced to make a choice that will change her life forever.