Chapter 31

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Keiran has to admit that on some level Danielle is right: part of him is glad to be pursued by the law. He has spent years hacking into dozens of corporate and government systems, but he has never been able to justify actually using his access before. It has always been too risky: every abuse of a compromised system might be noticed and somehow be tracked, could be the mistake that leads to his downfall. But now he has an excuse to flex his virtual muscles, use all the dormant authority he has accumulated over the years, and the exercise of raw power feels good.

First he needs anonymous money. Easy enough. He occasionally advises a group of Russian credit-card hackers on technical matters: in exchange, he has access to their "platinum list" of high-limit, high-volume credit card numbers, the kind for which a single hundred-dollar charge is likely to go unnoticed. Hacked from some upscale travel agency in Chicago, apparently. He uses thirty such credit cards to rent a nearby post office box, then purchase and post to that box four anonymous Virgin Mobile cell phones, two hundred dollars' worth of phone cards, and twenty cashier's checks for a hundred dollars apiece.

After money, identity. In the space of forty minutes, he arranges for three brand-new Social Security cards and California drivers' licenses to be mailed to the post office box he just rented, in the names of Sarah Crawford, Julian O'Toole, and Parvati Rumanujan. Keiran and Danielle's new licenses feature photos from Mulligan's digital camera that display their new looks, touched up to look entirely unlike the pictures in today's newspaper. He goes back to the Russian credit-card list and throws in a secured MasterCard for each of them, with thousand-dollar limits, in the same false names.

"Aren't you worried they could find the mailbox?" Danielle asks, when he explains the outcome of his cyberspace pillaging. She has been sitting quietly beside him the whole time, shoulder-surfing, although he doubts she or any other non-hacker could have followed a tenth of the work he just did.

"They don't know to look for it. And we have to make sure it stays that way. Remember, no phone calls home, no checking email, don't even visit any of your favourite Web sites. We're only omnipotent for as long as we're invisible."

"If you can do this, why haven't you ever just taken ten million dollars from some bank and retired?"

Keiran shakes his head. "Taking money is a violation of LoTek's Law. Always be invisible. Creating a new identity is invisible hacking. If you do it right, no one will even notice. But stealing an identity, or stealing money especially, that's very visible. I could probably steal a million dollars a week from Social Security if I wanted to. Maybe I could break into a bank. Maybe not, they're a lot sharper about security then the government. But even if I did, money is a zero-sum game, there is no way to steal significant amounts without being noticed. More than a few hundred dollars will trigger their alarms, alert their forensic accountants, get them angry. And once they're angry, they will track you down. Once they start they usually win. Authorities are stupid, but they're very big, very resourceful, very persistent. If they find out I exist they'll squash me like a cockroach. But if you don't even know you have roaches, you never call the exterminator."

"It's scary that you can do this," Danielle says.

"Good. Because right now we need to be frightening."

"I can't believe all these systems are so insecure that anyone can break into them."

Keiran smiles. "Not just anyone."

"Sorry. I didn't mean to imply you were mortal."

"Not what I meant. I have a secret weapon. Shazam."

Danielle looks at him. "I've heard of that. I've used it, I had it on my computer in Bangalore. I thought it was a program for downloading music, like Napster or iTunes, right?"

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