Notes: Chapter 17

Let me start by saying that I’m not an expert password cracker. It’s true that I got my job as head of an IT department at a large advertising company because I cracked the password of their mainframe (and then had to call the mainframe guy because I was afraid I’d accidentally created a procedure), but that was mainly a matter of psychology. Later, while working in IT I was confronted by the secretary of the CFO who had a document that was acting up. Unfortunately, she couldn’t show me the document because it was “confidential.” She gave me a blank document to work on “because it was essentially the same.” (No — it wasn’t.)

I told her I’d do my best, and then that night I stayed behind and installed a little program I’d written that would capture her password the next time she entered it. At the end of the next day I retrieved the information, used it to open the “confidential” document and discovered what the problem was. (No, I don’t remember what it was now.) I then took the precaution of installing that same little program on the computers of any secretary dealing with confidential material. It came in handy and I improved my reputation as being able to fix even the most complicated problems.

As for the confidentiality — I’ve never been interested in what businesses consider confidential, so there was no temptation to do anything sinister with it — as though I’d know what to do with it in the first place.

But password cracking, the way Fielding does it here, is a kettle of fish of a different colour.

To start with, you have to realise that passwords are stored. Of course they are — I mean, how else is the computer going to know if you’ve entered the right password or not. Right? But obviously they can’t be stored in plain text, otherwise anyone could take a peek and find out what the passwords are. Instead they are “hashed,” which means they undergo a mathematical procedure that turns them into a string of letters and numbers that have no discernible bearing upon the actual password itself. It’s not possible to reverse this in order to discover the password from the hash.

So how does cracking software work? It’s really quite simple — it takes a list of known hashes and applies them. Of course, these lists are incredibly long, but they include virtually every word in the English language, as well as words and phrases from games, popular culture and a host of other sources, all hashed. It’s then a simple matter for the program to look through the hashes it’s given to crack and find the corresponding hash and therefore the password. 

Are you worried yet? You should be. Passwords are remarkably easy to crack. As one person put it, they’re basically “kiddie script.”

One of the worst ways of cracking a password, and the one most often shown in movies and on TV, is sitting in a room, looking around, and deducing it from a picture on the wall or some such nonsense.

Hackers are generally perceived as unattractive nerds with no social life, and in some cases that’s true. But definitely not always.

Consider Kristina Vladimirovna Svechinskaya. When she was only 21 she had successfully hacked several British and U.S banks resulting in a very comfortable monetary take. She was also crowned “the world’s sexiest computer hacker.”


And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fictional, but very social Abby Sciuto, who is NCIS’s resident computer expert (and occasional hacker).


And finally, I really did a fast search in Google Images for a Kim Basinger autograph, and this is what Fielding would have shown Adramelech.


11 thoughts on “Notes: Chapter 17

  1. Pingback: Chapter Seventeen: Oh crap! | Adramelech Defects

  2. To those secretaries, you were a bug-fixing magician, Frank, and like with any magician, it’s all in the illusion. Now, Kristina is just plain hot, and I love Abby’s style. This reminds me I’m horribly behind on my NCIS.

      • No, I have not. M and I fell behind on our NCIS right after Ziva’s departure. We saw a couple of episodes after that, but then we had to pack and move and unpack, and now they’re all just sitting on my hard drive, waiting for inspiration to strike. Does Ellie make a good replacement? Actually, how’s the season overall? Should I hurry back to it, or should I start Firefly instead?

        • I’m liking the season so far, although it’s always disconcerting when you get two or three new episodes, then a pile of repeats, and then a couple more episodes. It’s not the best season yet, but it’s good, steady, and characters continue to develop without changing who they are.

          As for which to watch first — geeze. Who to be disloyal to here: my hero Gibbs or my hero Capt. Reynolds. NCIS is a great show, one of my must-see shows. Firefly is a fucking outlier. It’s so far outside the curve for “good shows” that you need to add more graph paper to plot it. NCIS is like a fine Sauvignon Blanc, refreshing, somewhat earthy and eminently satisfying. Firefly is like a vintage Rioja with elements of spice, coffee and oak all set on an acid-y platform of humour.

          So, yeah. Go with NCIS, because like a good Sauvignon Blanc, it deserves to be treated with respect and not be over-shadowed by something that has years of care and attention put into each bottle. Due to Firefly’s short life and painstaking care in each episode (they built a fucking Firefly spaceship on set!), each episode is far richer than any normal TV show’s could ever be.

          • Wow, that’s a pretty fantastic analysis, but now I’m more conflicted than ever! See, while I love a good Sauvignon blanc, my wine rack is almost exclusively filled with Rioja Gran Reserva.. But alas, I must make a decision. I’m glad to hear you’re liking the season so far, though. I might have to start with NCIS and tackle Firefly in the summer when I’m not so busy. I’m getting the impression that it deserves my undivided attention.

          • I agree. And make sure you see the episodes in order (unlike the way they showed them on TV). The first episode is “Serenity” — two hours. Next, I believe, comes The Train Heist. The network didn’t like the first episode, which introduced the whole concept and background, so they insisted at the last minute that Whedon write a new first episode. The result was “The Train Heist” — which he wrote over the weekend.

            Over the frakkin’ weekend!

            Anyhow, make sure you see them in order at a time that you can really pay attention, because they from an over-all story arc and sometimes little details in one episode become very important later on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s