Written by Bethany Tucker
Copyright July, 2017
Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop and Save for thirty-eight years, and he wasn’t retiring anytime soon. He had a beer belly to match his extensive knowledge of the local breweries and he knew all the right people.
On this particular afternoon, he also had me right where he wanted me. In his office. On his bad boy list. Even though I was his consultant, not his employee.
No, really, I’m not joking. My name was in red on the clipboard of his personal refrigerator clipboard, right underneath Jenny’s. She must of have turned him down again.
“Do you know why I called you in here, Devon? Do you know? I want to know if you know?”
“I assume it has something to do with your computer, Mr. Rooney.” I stood at parade rest, waiting.
His face shifted like a gargoyle, rolls of half-shaved stubble rippling down to his neck to the grizzled chest hair that stuck out of his dirty button down from JCPenny’s. Why his wife tried so hard, I’ll never know.
“Damn right it’s my computer! I hired you to keep them things working, not break them!”
“How can I help you, Mr. Rooney?”
“Ever since I hired you, it’s this thing breaking and that thing breaking.”
He hadn’t actually hired me. Technically, he’d taken out a contract with my district manager. Who had handed him to me, and taken a trip to Cuba. Or some such place.
“What is currently the problem, Mr. Rooney?”
“Everything!” He stabbed a finger towards the shiny new monitor on his desk, almost lost beneath piles of fast food take out boxes and unfiled paperwork.
I couldn’t resist lifting one eyebrow. “Broken how?”
“It won’t let me in! My old computer, now that baby did exactly what I wanted. You said these new ones would be better. I should take the cost out of your paycheck. This thing doesn’t work for shit! For shit, I tell ya.” Frank stepped back, triumphantly. Yep, he had me right where he wanted me.
The shiny new Dell monitor and black tower weren’t top of the line, but they weren’t shit. They’d worked perfectly fine the day before, when I installed them. I stepped around Frank and fished beneath a pile of pink order forms to locate the mouse. The screen lit up blue with a little box requesting a password.
“Did the password work?” I inquired.
“Of course not, I typed it in five times. What do you think I am, a moron?” he scoffed.
“What did you type, exactly?”
“P-A-S-S-W-O-R-D.” Frank grinned near my face, the gray wrinkled around his pale eyes folding up on themselves. I drew back from the smell of cheeseburger onions.
“You need the new password, sir,” I said. I wiped my hand on my pants behind my back.
“That is the password.”
“That was your old password.” I looked around the desk for the note I’d left him. Even though it went against all my training, I’d ended up leaving a written copy reminding him of the set of letters, numbers, and symbols he’d given me as his new password for the new machine.
“I like my old password.”
“Well, hackers have gotten smarter, Mr. Rooney. We have to stay ahead of them. That’s why we don’t use anything that can be found in a dictionary. They could just send out a tool to try every word in the dictionary and when they got to password, they’d have everything in your computer, just like that.”
I bit my tongue to keep from snarking that smart hackers would just start with the word “password”.
Frank’s face inverted like a sleeping hound. His neck almost disappeared into his shoulders.
“But you said you put a firewall in. That keeps ‘em out.”
“I did install a firewall. It’s called multi-level security. Besides, what if someone broke in here, physically?”
The scowl deepened. He poked the air in front of my chest with a sausage finger. “That’s why I hired you!”
I breathed, audibly. When I’d first come, his computer had been running Microsoft ‘93, his monitor had taken up most of his desk, and half the keys on his keyboard were jammed. His printer had only worked when I gave it a swift kicked up its plastic posterior. It hadn’t been for lack of funds. Everything had all been exactly the way Frank wanted it.
I grabbed a stool and sat down in front of the fridge, with my name in red glory above my head. “Mr. Rooney, Frank, can I call you Frank?”
Frank glowered but shrugged.
I nodded and took another breath. With me sitting, he was only a little taller than me. He wasn’t sitting, yet. I spread my hands.
“It’s like a game, Frank, but really high stakes. You, as a business manager, want to keep your information safe, right?”
Frank nodded, looking at me sideways. He was moving away, towards his roller chair.
“You’re playing keep, like football. The information and your computer, getting into the computer, that’s the ball.”
Frank nodded, slowly. “I like football.”
I grinned. “Who doesn’t? Anyway, right now, you have the ball. But hackers, other people, they’re on the other team. They want your ball. They need your ball. They get the ball, they get points. They sell your information, turn your computer into a zombie doing jobs for them, all that sort of thing. The point is, it’s bad. Because it’s yours, and now they have it.”
Frank gave another shake. I took this as a positive, though the way he was looking at me reminded me of my brother’s dog watching to see if another dog was going to take his bone.
“So, just like in football, you spread out your team against the other team. You’re the manager or maybe the coach, in this situation, I’d be the consultant, brought in for some training, right? So, you need players on your team, and you have to keep them fresh, sharp. The firewall, that’s one player. And your password, that’s another. But you can’t always have your players doing the same thing, you have to keep changing up the plays, moving people around.”
“Uhuh.” Frank sank into his chair and pushed it back towards his second desk, also covered in debris.
“If you keep using the same password, the same play from years ago, the other teams going to run right through you. They keep training, coming up with new ideas to get the ball, new programs, exercises.”
“So what does this have to do with my broken computer?”
“You have to use the new password. Keep changing it up.”
Frank cast a side eye worthy of Gollum at the blue monitor. “They’re out there?”
“Yep. Remember what happened to Sony? The North Koreans, they went right in, stopped everything. Just ‘cause they were angry about a movie.” I stood up and dusted off my pants. My district manager at the consulting firm owed me.
“You think the Koreans are coming after us?”
I shook my head. “Maybe not the North Koreans, but some kid in the neighborhood that you fired, they might be angry enough, break in here, send your wife copies of your emails, read private reports.”
Frank blanched. He reached for his keyboard. “Email? Do they do that same dictionary thing for email?”
“Yes, sir, they do. Email is online. That’s even easier.”
“How do you do that player thing, change it up? So it’s not password anymore?”
“Well, depends. Which service are you using?”
“Well, you’re going to need to log into your computer first. The new password is…”
As Frank typed, I reached behind my back and dragged my thumb through my name on the whiteboard. And Jenny’s too, just for good measure.