The Anomaly

Dreamcap: Vish could feel the cool spray as he water skied in the Mediterranean. He leant back against the cable as the boat arced across the water sending a shimmering spray in its wake. It was a bright, sunny day and it was exhilarating to feel the cool warmth of the sea.

Rrrrring…Rrrrring. He woke up with the start and involuntarily wiped his face expecting it to be wet. He then realized that he had been asleep and had been dreaming. He took off the ‘dreamcap’ from his head. He had recently bought the latest version of the dreamcap from Illusions Unlimited, Inc. which boasted of near life dream experiences. The dreamcap allowed one to visit and experience places in one’s dream based on personalized choices. “I must download the mountain climbing dream experience” he thought to himself.

The Message: He took a look at his cellphone. There was a brief message “Urgent: Threat of a dangerous net freeze within the next 24 hours. Please check your Wallbook for details. Vish snapped his fingers as he sat in his bed. A screen in the wall across him slid smoothly to the top revealing a LCD screen which came to life on his Wallbook. He closed his fist and opened the index finger and pointed it upward. His email utility opened and displayed a list of messages. Vish pointed his index finger on the screen and followed the cursor as it moved across the messages in his Inbox. There were several messages marked Urgent: Need immediate attention. He pointed his finger at the earliest message of the day, dated 14 Jun 2028, 12:18 am and unpinched his thumb and index finger. The message opened. It was sent by his boss at the Intelligence Bureau (IB). “We have received several anonymous tips about a possible net blackout targeting the entire World Wide Web. We have been informed that a start will be made in the city of New Delhi tomorrow at 2.00 pm and will continue to lockout the entire web within the subsequent 24 hours. I need not tell how serious this threat is and the damage it can cause” Sd. Ravi. He pinched his fingers and re-scanned the other messages. Finally he snapped his fingers and the screen slid back across the wall.

Several thoughts raced through Vish’s mind all at once. A net blackout was the worst possible terrorist threat. The damage, loss of money and the mental agony would be immeasurable. He remembered reading a report in the media which claimed that the number of connected devices on the internet had exceeded 542 billion. The world was so connected that the internet was the umbilical cord for the world. To sever the umbilical cord was almost tantamount to murder. The terrorists might as well “press a reset button and send everybody back to the Stone Age” thought Vish.

GNS: Vish belonged to a unit which held the most important position in his bureau. He was the head of the “Special force for Global Net Security (GNS)”. His team specialized in all forms of counter measures to hacking, information stealing and net spying  and denial-of-service attacks

Vish quickly gave orders to his deputies to start a search for suspicious activity in the internet and in the mobile network in the last week or so. “Start search agents across the net” he ordered his team. Search agents were specialized and automated software code which could scour the net – SMTP servers, messages, and web pages for key words that give away information. The software agents would crunch terabytes of data and detect key patterns to determine the level of threat.

Vish meanwhile contacted Interpol to see if he could get any more information from. The Interpol also mentioned to him that software search agents were underway and they had not as yet turned up any further information.

A few hours later the only information they were able to get was a re-confirmation that the initial attack would be at New Delhi. The latest information found out that the net black out in New Delhi would happen around 8.00 am instead of 2.00 pm. Vish knew that he was really racing against time and he had to crack this as soon as possible.

Messages and calls later only contributed to further frustration. Around 6.30 pm, his chief Ravi called him and said that he had received orders from Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), on advice from the Prime Minister’s Office, to take the services of “The Council”.

The Council: Vish had heard of “The Council” on a couple of occasions during his career. He knew it was more powerful than the highest Intelligence Unit in the country and its word was final and binding on all matters. However there were many said that “The Council” never really existed. He got the address of the office of The Council from his boss and made the way to his car.

Vish got into his car and punched the address of The Council in his GPS unit– No: 8, 5th Cross, Mahatma Gandhi Road, GreenPark, New Delhi-2.  He also set the car on “auto” and pressed the ignition button.  The speaker in his car came to life and said “We will arrive at the destination in approximately 45 minutes and 25 secs through the fastest route. Kindly confirm route” and the display showed the route”. Vish said “OK” and the car smoothly eased itself out of the parking lot and made its way to the highway. Meanwhile Vish checked with his team to see whether any progress was made. He asked his team to ensure that anti-virus and and net sniffers in New Delhi were upgraded to latest version. While he was in the midst of a discussion with his subordinate the speaker of his car came alive again and said “There is an accident at the crossing of 25th Cross and 2nd Street. Need to take a diversion. We will arrive 12 minutes and 22 seconds later. Kindly confirm”. Vish cursed and muttered ‘OK.”.

Finally Vish arrived at 8, 5th Cross onMahatma Gandhi Road. It was house in a rather dilapidated condition. He opened the door and entered into what seemed like a small hall. On the opposite end was a slot which said “Insert identity card”. Vish inserted his plastic identity card and the screen flashed “Vish Aadvik, Special Agent, Intelligence Bureau” followed by a command “You may now enter”. The door ahead of him swung open and Vish entered into a large room which seemed to be empty. As soon as he stepped inside the room he heard announcement “Please say your name and purpose”. Vish said ‘Agent Vish Aadvik. To meet the chief of The Council” he said to no one in particular. “Thank You” the voice said. “They must be using voice recognition” Vish thought to himself.

As Vish walked across the room he was unaware of several horizontal beams scanning him. The beams scanned his iris pattern besides scanning and analyzing his gait as he walked across as the room. Behind the scenes powerful algorithms were analyzing his bio-metric signatures and analyzing the unique pattern of his walk as he shifted his weight from one foot to other. When he reached the other end of the room a door opened accompanied by the announcement ‘Verification successful. Welcome, Agent Vish Aadvik! The chief will meet you shortly”. When Vish stepped to the other side he was surprised to see that he had entered into what seemed to be a small open settlement with several huts spread across among garden that was well maintained.

Every now and then he noticed a few people walk across with golden ochre robes. “This looks like an ashram” Vish thought. Presently, a short but cheerful man, in golden ochre robes,  walked over to Vish with a watering can and said “Vish, I will be with you shortly” and proceeded to water some flowers.  The man later announced “I am Sadhu Arthatma and I am the chief of the Indian wing of “The Council”  he said.

The Ashram: After some time, the Sadhu invited Vish to his hut. They sat cross legged on a mat in the floor inside his hut. Vish said “I expected to see a lot more gadgetry and electronic wizardry here. This appears to be just an ashram”. The sadhu smiled.

Vish fought down the surging skepticism he felt inside but proceeded to relate the facts “Swamiji we are faced disaster. We have received an alert of a possible complete internet blackout within the next 24 hours. We need any help you can provide, though I am not sure how you can help” he added.

The Way: The sadhu then proceeded to explain The Council was a psychical connection between the sadhus of India, Taoists, Zen monks, the abbots and nuns spread across the globe. He said that the ancient concept of attainment of Nirvana or  the ability to experience the Infinite had been perfected by the psychics of the world. They could through intense meditation attain the Brahman also referred to as the Tao by the ancient Chinese or Satori in Zen Buddhism. The Brahman was the collective conscious of all mankind.

Sadhu Arthatma said “The Brahman is an infinite database that contains all the past and present human experiences, ideas and thoughts. It is infinitely more comprehensive than all the information the World Wide Web will ever have in centuries to come. The trick is to be able to tap the right intelligence from this infinite and changeless phenomenon.”  He further added “the difficulty in  plumbing this Brahman or Tao is that a lot of the information in it is non-verbal. It is extremely difficult to decipher the thought process behind these non-verbal insights. In fact we undergo specialized training in cracking this non-verbal code in the Brahman”

“Oh, is this what is also referred as the collective unconscious by Carl Jung, the 19th century Swiss psychiatrist?” asked Vish.

“Yes, that’s right. We go through an entire life of training and practice to be able to scratch the surface of this infinite collective conscious. It requires extreme levels of mental and physical discipline” the sadhu said. “There are only a handful of us who have really made any inroads into this discipline”.

“What is the Tao like?” asked Vish.

The Swamiji replied “The Brahman cannot be expressed in words. The Brahman or the Tao can only be experienced.”

“Swamiji isn’t the ability to experience the Brahman equivalent to obtaining enlightenment or in other words complete freedom from the tyranny of existence” Vish asked.

The sadhu grinned and said “Haven’t you heard the saying – Clean and wash vessels before nirvana. After nirvana, clean and wash the vessels.”

“Life continues as before” he added. Anyway let me communicate with psychical medium with my brothers and find out what they know about the threat you just mentioned” sadhu Arthatma said and closed his eyes and started to meditate.

After a couple of minutes the Swamiji opened his eyes and said “I am  sensing deep pain in several parts of the globe. This appears to be a remnant of the recent flood in Afghanistanand and the enormous loss of lives. We need to probe deeper and identify the areas where the deception is strong. We need to all collectively zone in that area and scour the psychical medium to get more details.”

“I will be probing deeper into the collective unconscious. I just need to muster all my energy as this probe is bound to mentally and physically exhausting” the sadhu said.

At this point Vish got a message in his smart phone that the New Delhi WAN network had been completely paralyzed. The message also mentioned that next target in 3 hours would be New York, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Paris.

Vish urged the Swamiji “Could you please get me the information in the next hour Swamiji. The New Delhi network has already experienced a blackout. The next possible attack is on 5 of world’s major cities”.

The Swamiji calmly replied “The descent into the Unconscious is beyond Space and Time. In this medium there is no real measure of time as we know it. It could take me 5 secs to more than a day depending on my physical stamina” he said.

“But Swamiji, this is really urgent” Vish pleaded. “Let’s see” the Swamiji said and closed his eyes to meditate again.

The minutes seemed like hours to Vish. He was extremely restless and watched with growing impatience at the immobile Swamiji who was lost in a trance.

After about 42 minutes the Swamiji finally opened his eyes and said “Vish with help of my brothers we have located that threat is originating from Sicily. We do not fully understand the technicalities of the threat resulting in the net blackout. However we found that the threat was based on certain patterns of ideas around the following words namely “clock, idle pattern, anomaly, skew. I am afraid to get further information may take us more than a couple of days”.

Vish pondered over the words “clock, idle pattern, skew and anomaly” and wondered how it could be used to bring down the network. Vish said “Thank you” and left the ashram.

Back at his office Vish discussed the transactions with the Swamiji. The IB worked feverishly and threw a lot of ideas around the Swamji’s information

The Anomaly: After about an hour they discovered that the threat was based on a truly ingenious scheme to infiltrate virus code into servers. The modus operandi was to infiltrate virus code into servers by skewing the clocks of the servers.

The chief technologist of the IB explained to team “The data links between servers normally send an idle pattern consisting of the following bit pattern “0111 1110” from both ends to indicate that the link between the servers is healthy. However to detect the pattern the clock frequency on the servers on either end of the link should be perfectly synchronized. The clock’s frequency should allow the servers to check whether a bit is ‘0’ or ‘1’. For this to happen the the clock should allow the bit to be sampled  or checked at  exactly  the middle of the bit to be able to correctly determine whether the bit  is “1” or “0”. The synchronization is based on a centralized view of the time which is based on a protocol called Network Time Protocol (NTP). By skewing the clock frequency of the servers the hackers were able to infiltrate malicious code” the chief technologist continued.

Vish understood that the net hackers were able to cleverly corrupt the NTP protocol and trick the clocks on the servers to run at slightly slower frequency. In between the slower clock cycles the net hackers infiltrated malicious virus code. So while the server assumed it was detecting the idle pattern it was also downloading harmful virus that brought the server down.

No sooner than they cracked the problem, Vish sent urgent messages to Interpol on the scheme and to ensure that a clock was prevented. Simultaneously a crack team tracked the evil perpetrators inSicily.

A serious catastrophe had been averted and Vish felt extremely pleased with himself.

The next day, Vish decided to visit the Swamiji and convey his gratitude. He drove to No: 8, 5th Cross Street,Mahatma Gandhi Road. He entered the house and went through the same process. He quickly walked across the large hall. As before, the door swung open.

When he stepped through the door he was completely taken by surprise.

For on the other side of the door was a large park with neatly manicured gardens. There was no sign of the ashram he had seen just a day before. “Could my experience of the ashram have to do with Augmented Reality (AR)? Possibly a projection of an ashram  was superimposed on the garden” he thought.

He then realized that it was imperative that the coordinates of “The Council” must be protected at all costs and hence the illusion of his having visited The Council.

He shook his head and walked back to his car.

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