I hate waking up.
You’re there, sleeping peacefully, enjoying wonderful dreams. Your wife is tucked up next to you and your infant daughter is snoring away in the room next door. The morning light comes through the windows and the alarm clock goes off – and all you want to do is enjoy a little more peace.
Of course, it never works that way. You get up, you trudge to work, you battle through your day and you look forward to sleeping again later that night. When it comes time to wake up, I have an aversion to adventure. Yes, I do have a career. I’ve even recently applied for a promotion. But there isn’t really much adventure in that.
Most mornings, I battle the alarm clock – putting off the inevitable. All my half-baked reasoning abilities array themselves against the clock, explaining why I don’t need to get up. The clock battles back, but it is hopeless. The arguments are about to overcome the simple mechanical device when one of two things happens. Either my wife prods me to wake up, offering her far more cogent arguments in defense of the clock. Or, as is happening now, my daughter Sophia starts crying because she’s hungry.
Inevitably, the tide of battle is turned. With its allies behind it, the clock proudly declares its victory. Just out of spite, I yank its cord out of the wall.
I stumble out of bed, making my way to Sophia’s room. I pop her up on the change table, change her diaper, sit her on the ground and head to the kitchen to make her breakfast.
At this point, everything is normal. But it’s about to change. I’m placing Sophia in her high chair when I hear a knock at the door.
That is unusual.
I put Sophia back on the floor, shout up to my wife, “We’ve got company!” and trudge to the door. I open it, wearing my pajamas.
Standing on my front porch are three men, all wearing dark blue suits. They have somber faces and, to a man, blond hair and piercing blue eyes.
What the hell are they doing here?
“Are you Mr. Kleeban?” one of them asks.
“Yes,” I answer.
“Mr. Kleeban, do you work as a network security officer at Lower Lakes Bank?”
Uh oh. I must have missed something, or screwed something up. This is not going to be good.
“Yes,” I nod.
“May we come in?”
I’m going to welcome them in when I realize it is probably about time to start protecting myself. Still half awake, I ask: “Are you with the authorities?”
The man looks at me. He smiles. And then he says, “No,” in a thick Slavic accent – something he had covered earlier. “We are not with the authorities.”
I am doubly confused, for a moment. And then I understand. I am a network security officer, an Internet gatekeeper, at a bank with $25 billion in assets. I’ve read the reports before – gangs visit people in their homes, and hold the families hostage until a heist is complete.
I guess it’s my turn. And then, finally, I’m fully alert up.
In an instant I make up my mind. I try to slam the door with every ounce of force I have. But the man sticks his foot in and starts pushing back.
I know he’ll overcome me, but I might have some time. “SUSAN,” I shout, “GRAB SOPHIA AND RUN!”
Susan bounds down the stairs, confusion in her eyes. I’m glad I let her know we had company. Given how little she knows, she moves like its an old practiced drill. I guess there are benefits to being a nurse. She scoops Sophia up in her arms and rushes towards the back door. She’s just about to get there when it opens. Two more men in suits are waiting outside. Susan backpedals in fear. With a few gestures, they stop her and guide her back into the house.
Sophia starts screaming and I get a knot in the pit of my stomach.
The men force the door open and I back away in fear. “Upstairs,” they say to Susan, pointing. She goes, leaving me with a worried glance. Two men accompany her.
“Please, Mr. Kleeban, take a seat.” The man gestures to the sofa.
“Mr. Kleeban,” says the man, back in his American accent, “My name is David Anderson and this is all going to go very easily. Your wife is going to call in sick – I’m sure she has already. Your daughter is going to spend a day home with her mommy. And you are going to go to work.”
“And?” I ask, wondering what they need me to do. In my mind, I assign ‘Mr. Anderson’ his chosen name.
“And nothing,” says Mr. Anderson. “You are going to go to work, you are going to sit at your desk, and you are going to do nothing more than you absolutely need to. Follow your routine, but don’t pay too much attention to any reports or keep your eyes too alert for any suspicious activity.”
“Mr. Kleeban,” says Mr. Anderson, “We have a way into your bank’s network. We are going to steal a great deal of money. In this operation, we would not be so stupid as to actually rely on you doing something for us. All you have to do is not notice what is going on. Believe me, that will be better for your career than spotting something and failing to pass it on.”
I nod, stupidly. A hole big enough to steal a vast quantity of money. How? I’m pretty careful and any substantial transfers will be watched by the receiving bank. How can they hope to pull a large-scale cyber heist off? Not only that, but this is just weird. I’ve heard of gangs taking bank executives hostage in order to pull off conventional heists. But taking me hostage to pull off a cyber-heist is very very different – and possibly brilliant.
“Don’t concern yourself with the details,” says Mr. Anderson, “Go to work, don’t do you job and when you come home, your family will be here safe.”
“Now,” he says, “Get dressed.”
Mr. Anderson’s bodyguards follow me upstairs. I get dressed. I come back downstairs and he is waiting for me. “Here are your things. I’ve taken the liberty of replacing your cell phone and your Bluetooth with identical copies. You can’t make any calls or send any emails – but you can receive my calls.”
I nod and take my briefcase, keys and cellphone. The Bluetooth goes in my ear.
“And don’t think about doing anything stupid.” says Mr. Anderson, “You aren’t the only man in your position. And some of the others have instructions to watch you. So, we’ll be watching and listening to everything you do.”
And look at his eyes, and they are deadly serious. He isn’t lying. I decide to press my luck in either case.
“Just to protect my job,” I say, “When can I notice a problem?”
Mr. Anderson considers, and then states, “We’ll be done by 10:30.”
He gestures and I go to the garage, and head to work. One of the bodyguards accompanies me.
I’ve seen the movies. I’ve read the reports. They’ll let me go. Right?
Except… I’ve seen all of their faces. I’ve heard their voices. They know I can pick out details about them. I don’t know much, but it might be
enough to convince them they can’t let me, or my family, live.
I’ve got to find a way out.
It can’t be something obvious. They are watching me. They have spies.
I get to work, and there is nothing amiss. I walk through security with a nod, a flash of my badge and a smile. I walk past my team with ‘a Good morning.’
I can’t help but wonder who is watching me.
My phone rings just as I’m approaching Saul Frank’s desk.
In my ear, Mr. Anderson speaks, “Tell Saul to help Jim with his project.”
Saul is my backup, monitoring web security.
They know where I am, and they’ve thought through the angles.
I tell Saul to change tasks, he’s confused but with a little discussion, he complies.
“Good,” says the voice of Mr. Anderson.
I head into my office, turn on the lights, put down my briefcase and sit down behind my desk.
I’m in no hurry to log in. Maybe somebody will notice.
Mr. Anderson does. “Log in, Mr. Kleeban,” says the voice in my hear.
I comply and he hangs up.
Immediately, I notice a small red icon in the lower right corner of my screen. Tech Support is on my computer. Somebody is watching my screen. I’m supposed to not notice and so I look away and try to get the icon out of my head. My head notices the clock: It is 8:45.
No computer, no cell phone, I can’t trust any people. What can I do? They’ll be done by 10:30 and I’m sure they padded it. I have until 10:15 at the absolute latest.
But I don’t know what to do, so I begin my daily routine.
The clock says 9:25 when I’m struck by a solution. Tech Support can’t see my second monitor. With a few keystrokes, I quickly send a web browser to that screen. I’ll be able to send out a message and they won’t be able to see.
I start typing, and then my phone rings again.
“Don’t try it again. We aren’t stupid.”
I close the browser.
How do I save my family?
As if to answer my question, Mr. Anderson states, “Just keep working.”
And so I do. And he hangs up.
At 10:05, I decide to let nature call. I get up. Predictably, the phone rings.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I state.
“Fine,” says Mr. Anderson, “But understand we’re watching you there as well.”
I need to get a message out, and they can’t know or they’ll hurt my family. I hope to bumpto somebody and give them a message – but I know it won’t work. I see people, but I wonder about every one. Will they report me?
I use the restroom and return to my office. I’m searching desperately for insight. But nothing is there. And so I sit at my desk and stare at the small red icon. The clock is threatening vengeance – 10:15.
I’m out of time.
And then inspiration strikes.
I can’t risk telling one person because. But if I tell everybody, it will be too much for them to stop. I will know my message will get out and they won’t have any more chips to play or any more threats to make. The tables will have turned. I pick up my desk phone and dial the public address system.
My cell phone starts to ring.
I ignore it.
I speak slowly and carefully into the desk phone. “There is a cyber robbery in progress. Call the the Treasury and the FDIC immediately. My family, at 5634 N. Hillside Drive is being held hostage. Call the police and get them there as soon as possible. They should be looking for five men wearing dark blue suits. All are white with light colored hair and blue eyes.”
I put down the phone.
And then with a shudder, I pray to God that it works. I pray to God that the thieves decide it’s better to run that to commit any more crimes. Crimes against my family. I pray to God that the police can get to my house fast enough.
My cell phone is still ringing.
I hope there is something I can do to convince Mr. Anderson he is better off cutting his losses instead of making a point.
I quickly prepare my arguments, and then I pick up the phone.
Mr. Anderson speaks first. “Mr. Kleeban,” he says, “I am not Russian. I am actually an investigator working for your Bank. I was tasked with confirming your problem-solving skills prior to our extending you your promotion. Congratulations, you have passed our test.”
I sit in stunned silence.
Mr. Anderson continues, “I expect you will take the position – not to do so might result in significant embarrassment. Just as a legal matter, you will note that at no point did we actually threaten you or your family.”
I nod, knowing he can see me.
“Good, report to HR when you get a chance.”
With that, ‘Mr. Anderson’ hangs up.