The Hackers Chronicles: Stage Fright
It is 2:54 on a sunny Fall afternoon in Greenwich Village. In six minutes I will either be a very wealthy man or in a hell of a lot of trouble and on the run. This all started a month ago today when the love of my life Chris dragged me to my fourth Broadway show in as many weeks. The first couple of shows were OK, but by the fourth show I was ready to hang myself with an Ethernet cable. And with 90 theaters located in a 10 square block radius, it did not look like my beloved was going to run out of venues to torture me with. It was during this fourth show while some hack screamed ABBA songs at me while I sat in the third row I noticed something I had not before; all of the actors that had speaking parts were wearing microphones. I immediately began daydreaming about ways to disrupt this torture session by finding the frequency and throwing a few choice words over the speaker system.
I know you are asking “how can you do that? How can you break into someone else wireless mic and broadcast your own audio”? Well, all the wireless microphones in use in commercial venues today are not on protected or dedicated frequencies. As a matter of fact, they use the “dead space” between the old UHF TV channels (if you are under 25 years old, you will have no idea what that is. Google it.). And, since the government has dictated that all transmissions have to be less than 50 milliwatt that means the signal is VERY weak (about ¼ the power of your home wireless access point) and therefore easy to overpower. Kind of like when lightening crackles over an AM band radio station. So by the time the lead characters daughter is befuddled by her own mother’s promiscuous ways 23 years earlier in life, I am starting to get an idea. I begin counting seats in the theater…
There are roughly 1400 seats in this theater, and doing a quick average of price, people in attendance at this show (not counting merchandise or food and beverage) I figure the theater grosses around $75,000 per show, twice a day. $150k a day times the 90 theaters in a 10 square block radius is roughly $13.5 million dollars per day. My hacker instincts begin twitching almost uncontrollably…I have an idea. Chris asks me why I am smiling at such a sad part. I guess someone just found out they weren’t the “baby daddy” in the play? I remark that I am just enthralled by the plot turns and enjoying the musical as a whole (while I try not to throw up in my mouth). Placated for the moment Chris goes back to the scene while I begin constructing in my head a device that is small enough and cheap enough to be hidden anywhere, has no need for retrieval and can be used to broadcast loud static over the wireless mic frequencies. I have made cell phone jammers before (that is another story in itself) so this would be easy but I don’t just do things to show they can. I wanted to get PAID and from my simple calculations, the theater could afford to do just that. I knew I could build a device that can broadcast roughly 1,000 feet in all directions on all frequencies for about $18. I would need about 20 of them that would last for 2 hours and could be set on time delay. An electronic time bomb if you will. Piece of cake.
Just to show the theaters I mean business I need to cause a disruption at one or all of their venues, and I need to do it during a show so that there are thousands of witnesses, and potential angry theater goers. I throw together a quick jammer and bump up the output to cover a couple thousand square feet, drop a pair of antennas on the device and add an old laptop battery to run it for an hour or so. I head for the theater district with my device in my carry bag dressed as a theater person in New York would dress. Not too casual but with enough flair and ego as to fit in. Once in the theater district I grab a cab at west 40th and 6th avenue and tell the cabbie I just had a fight with my girlfriend and we needed to find her and to drive up 6th toward the park. It is 8:15pm and by my calculation just about every theater should have packed seats and performers on stage. As we pull from the curb I reach in and switch on the device. As we drive I intently look out the window as if looking for my forlorn girlfriend. At west 53rd I instruct the cabbie to cut over to 7th and head back down away from the park. We are now in the heart of the theater district. About halfway down the district we are stopped by a broken down delivery truck that has traffic at a standstill. As we sit for 10 minutes without moving I notice people starting to file out of a nearby theater, and they do not look happy. It works! The longer we sit the more theaters begin discharging their guests as they realize they cannot go on! Traffic clears and we pull away from the scene of the technological carnage. As we complete our circuit I have the cabbie drop me off and I make my way back to the village. I have some planning to do.
I contact Vladi, an old “friend” of mine from the former Czech Republic that has some serious ties to the underworld. Friend is probably a strong word. Vladi is a “facilitator” in the hacking underground. If you need equipment that is not legal to buy in your country- Vladi gets it for you. If you need to launder money- Vladi does it. If you need a drop point for an extortion payment- Vladi is your man. Yeah, he is a GREAT friend (at a 20% “cost for services”). The only thing I can say good about Vladi is that he has never screwed me, and that will be very important for this job. I tell him that a sizable sum of money will need to be received and then laundered back to me. We go over the requirements, the payout terms and his terms. He says he requires 25% on this one due to the large amount that will bring “much unwanted attention to him”. Whatever Vladi. Just make sure the cash is in the account when all is said and done. Next step is to set the hook with the theaters.
Using one of my offshore accounts I send an email to the Broadway Theater Association and all of the theaters letting them know that it was I who interrupted their evening last night and that I could do so at will. I tell them that if they pay the sum of $1 million dollars US to a bitcoin account by the following Friday I will not only tell them how I did it, I will tell them how to stop it from happening again. If they don’t, I will continue to disrupt them at will whenever I felt like it and assured them that when “I felt like it” would be at the most inopportune moment for them. They had exactly 77 hours to comply. I know that if 77 hours and 1 minute goes by, they have decided not to play ball and there is a very good chance that the NYPD and the NSA has figured out who I am. The clock display turns to 3:00 as I check my bitcoin account…