I wanted to try something different with this article series. Since I'm an amateur author I thought I'd put that skill to use. Here's the attempt!
What would you do if highly skilled hackers hired by a competitor infiltrated your environment, planting information siphoning viruses? What would you do if those same hackers began systematically bringing down vital computers used by executives and other high-profile workers. What can you do? These questions are posed to the Players, a fictional group of IT professionals working for Mighty Modern Marketing. This article series will follow their trials and exploits as they face a myriad of threats and issues attempting to derail their position as leader in their particular market.
Part 1 introduces the key players in the story. All characters, events, and organizations in this story are fictitious, and any resemblance of characters, events, or organizations to real-life entities are purely coincidental.
NOTE: Part 1 primarily sets the stage for the use cases. Each subsequent part will cover functionality available through Altiris and Intel vPro technology
Mighty Modern Marketing HQ - Boston, Massachusetts
Jessica Langley used her badge to activate the door, and walked through. The warm air from the sunny streets of Boston gave way to the cool air inside the Mighty Modern Marketing main offices. She offered a greeting smile to the receptionist, who waved back, and quickly made her way past the rows of cubicles housing the Sales Support team. Most doors contained generous windows, allowing natural light and a wide view of the occupants, but the door she approached held no window, with a heavier doorknob and another badge reader set to the side. She swiped her badge and entered the IT center.
Right away she noticed a stooped man sitting in her chair. His thinning hair matched the sallow pallor of his skin, his gray eyes deeply lined with a perpetual frown, and he looked down at a stack of loose papers, his crooked finger tracing over the numbers thereon. He wore a brown suit from another decade, his tie plastered with paisleys.
"Hello Edgar," she greeted, trying to put a genuine smile on her face and failing, He looked up, squinting at her.
"Jessica," he said in a high-reedy voice. "I trust you have some time for me this morning?"
"Of course. You are the CFO."
"Well, yes." He shuffled through the papers. "I wanted to discuss the recent increase in your budget for asset acquirement."
"Okay," she said warily as he stood. Even standing he peered up at her. She quickly sat down in her chair to avoid the impression of her standing over him.
"I see an increase in price for each system we purchase, yet the base price for each system is the same. Care to explain?"
She nodded, swallowing. She thought he'd understood it all when she'd proposed the increase. For such a small man he exuded consternation like a hurricane, and she felt the full force of it as he stared at her, his right foot tapping as if counting up the dollars flitting away even as he stood talking with her.
"Of course. We're replacing our old equipment with new Intel vPro capable systems."
"vPro? Is that another of your cursed acronyms?"
"Yes. Well, no. I'm not sure. It does have a nice ring..."
"What is it?"
She swallowed again. She wondered if Edgar even had one small sliver of humor in his body or if he'd missed the humor allotment when born.
She cleared her throat. "vPro enables me to quickly, reliably, and remotely resolve a variety of issues. The feature set is impressive..."
"Jessica, I'm not interested in that. What I'm interested in is what value does it have for us?"
"The ROI? Sorry, I mean return on investment?"
He frowned. "I know what ROI means..."
"Of course," she responded hastily. "Potentially we can save hundreds per system by avoiding costly desk-side visits for remediation of issues, to mention one common cost-saving feature."
He nodded, but by the expression on his face she thought he meant to shake his head.
"It's all theory. I just don't see it yet on the books. The books don't lie, Jessica."
"I know, but we're just ramping up. The plan..."
"Let me be clear about this. I almost told the ordering rep to nix the vPro technology, but your explanation of the benefits stopped me, for now. You show me the value of this in the next few weeks or we're abandoning it. Understood?"
She wanted to stand up and tell him what she thought of that idea, that she knew the value was there. She also wanted to kick him in the shins, admittedly a childish impulse, but instead she simply pasted a smile on her face, nodding. When she knew she wouldn't growl at him, she added, "I understand."
Edgar nodded. "Good." He stood and turned, but stopped and added, "Have a good day," like an afterthought. He walked away, clutching his papers tightly.
She slumped when he passed out of sight, reaching up to rub at her temples where the start of a headache already tightened.
"Boy did Edgar look riled!" a deep booming voice said, a laugh hovering in his tones.
She looked up to see Tevita standing next to her. The Tongan stood like a solid oak, his broad shoulders and strong features exuding humor. She thought, not for the first time, that Edgar's allotment of humor must have been sent to Tevita instead.
"He's just crunching the numbers again," Jessica responded.
"I know. He asked me all about the vPro stuff."
She sat up straighter, her stomach clenching. "What did you tell him?"
"Don't look so worried. I actually just said it was your baby, and that he should ask you about it."
"Oh. Okay. I think... that's okay."
"He indicated he wanted to pull the technology."
"I have a few weeks to prove myself."
Tevita smiled, though with not quite as much bluster. "Jessica, you're putting yourself out on a limb. The demos all look slick, but demos always do, right? You're sort of rocking the boat."
She frowned. "Tevita, I know you're trying to help, but I know this is what we need to do."
"No worries. Just let me know if you need any help. Oh, that reminds me. The Banner applet Bobby put together is acting wonky again. Can you let him know? It appears to be a server issue."
She nodded, and he smiled, walking over to sit down in his seat. She turned and looked at her computer. She hadn't even logged in yet and already she'd had two confrontations. She sighed as she signed in, opening her email. She read a few, but finally echoed her previous sigh and climbed to her feet. She walked over to another door that led to the server room.
The loud rumble of cooling fans filled the air until it felt like she had water in her ears. The rows of servers gleamed black, the soft glow of green indicator lights softening the severe edges. She walked past these, around a corner to another door leading to a small office tucked in the corner. She walked in, looking down at the top of Bobby Baxter's mop of unruly sandy-brown hair. His thick glasses perched on his skinny nose, his eyes squinting at the row of four LCD monitors in front of him. He sat in a plush chair like a throne, his skinny arms hovering over the mouse and keyboard.
"Bobby," she prompted.
He turned, a frown bending down his lips. "Jessica? What... Why can't you just use the Instant Messenger? Use the IM!"
"I like to stretch my legs," she retorted. "Did you know the banner app is acting up again?"
He hunched his shoulders, looking very much like a sulking child. "Yes, yes. I know. So you needn't have made the trip. I was just looking through the code."
"Well... this isn't the only reason I came over."
He minimized an application filled with source code, pushing his keyboard under his desk, the tray making a rather harsh grinding noise, and swiveled around to face her fully. He folded his arms, looking like she'd caught him pirating music.
"What?" he said warily.
"I need your recommendation for a service provider for the Intel vPro stuff. You hinted earlier that you thought you found the right one."
His petulant expression morphed quickly into a thoughtful one. "vPro, yes. I installed a few applications, like SMS, but then I noticed Altiris already has a solution for it. Since we own Altiris, I figured why not use what we already have in place? I already installed the modules into the Notification Server, so you can get at it. I'm impressed, I have to say."
Somehow having Bobby say those words caused the tension to drain out of her. "I'm glad to hear it."
"The Solution name is Out of Band Management. It has all the pieces for Provisioning vPro so you can get at the functionality."
"I appreciate it."
His frown returned. "A few simple sentences in IM would have sufficed. Did you dye your hair red?"
"What? No, I've told you before. It's natural."
"It looks nice."
He turned around, shrugging uncomfortably, and pulled out his keyboard. She opened her mouth to say goodbye when Bobby's phone rang. He squinted at the LCD, and his eyes widened.
"It's Mr. Johnson, the CEO!" he declared. He picked up the handset. "Hello? Hello, Mr. Johnson, how are you? Yes, this is he. Yes, she's here too. A meeting? Yes, of course. We'll be right there. Bye."
He turned to her as he hung up the phone, his expression slack. "An important meeting in the Executive Conference room! We better hurry."
Dim light glowed from white panels in the conference room, shadows gathered in the corners and under the large oval table. Tevita already sat at the table, his hands behind his head as he stretched out, his eyes focused on a projection screen lit against the far wall. Edgar sat next to him, an unusual deep frown that far surpassed his previous demeanor marring his features. For once the usual stack of papers he clutched lay untouched on the conference table. Bobby moved past her, sitting next to Edgar, and she finally moved in to sit next to Tevita.
"I'm glad you could all make it on such short notice," a rich, resonate voice declared. Jessica jumped, unaware that someone stood in the shadows next to the glowing projection screen. She managed to clamp down on the squeak that tried to escape her mouth.
Mr. Johnson stood like a pillar of strength and courage. Though wrapped in shadows, she couldn't miss the sleek suit, a gold watch gleaming in the light from the screen. He wore sunglasses, and she realized she'd never seen him without them. His perfectly sculpted hair framed his head perfectly, as if he stood in a business fashion magazine. He wore a light smile on his face, that asked for her trust and confidence even in the dim light of the room.
He stepped in front of the projection screen, like a hero emerging from a long battle in the night. "I have always been grateful for the work that all of you do to keep our IT infrastructure up and running. I think you can agree that most of us take you for granted, especially Edgar. Since you are strictly a cost center, he is very keen on monitoring the expenses generated by your team."
With a warm chuckle he stepped to the side back into the shadows, lifting a remote. The projection screen flickered, and a graph appeared.
"This," Mr. Johnson said in his rich voice, "represents the cost of your department. And this," he said, his voice rising dramatically, "is the additional budget afforded you at the start of the latest budget cycle."
The screen showed an increase. It wasn't dramatic, but the numbers fit. Jessica swallowed.
"This increase appeared for two reasons," he continued. "Security and continuity . It is vital that we step up on our ability to protect our infrastructure and intellectual property. To be more specific, you're probably aware that New Nifty Networks is trying to cross over into the internet marketing business, and will become our primary competition here in the Boston area. That by itself isn't significant, but the owner of Nifty is Jake Willis."
Edgar, who'd been looking at the surface of the table with an expression between anxiety and anger, perked up. "Jack Willis? You can't be serious!" he blurted.
Jessica glanced at Tevita and Bobby, but both shrugged back at her.
"I am serious," Mr. Johnson answered. "I attended Yale with him a decade ago. He got kicked out for cheating in a competition. I won't go into details, but wanted to stress that his manner of cheating was not only against school rules, but crossed the line into illegal activities. Now that he's eyeing our business, I'm afraid we may see much of the same."
She tried to swallow but found that her throat had grown dry.
Tevita raised his hand. "Mr. Johnson? What kind of illegal stuff?"
"Electronic hacking, forgery, and, believe it or not, assault in the form of intimidation."
"You're pulling our legs."
Edgar shook his head, reaching up to rub at his eyes. "No, he's not."
Jessica managed to find her tongue. "He wouldn't do those things here, would he?"
Mr. Johnson smiled, a trifle sadly. "That's too much to hope for. He's a lot more careful now, but he will resort to the same tactics. Cyber attacks, hacks, data theft, you name it, and he'll try it. Bobby, Jessica, and Tevita, you are our first line of defense. Be ready."
She wanted to say something, but the room filled with silence until the buzz of the projector pressed against her ears. Tevita wore a smile as if he expected the CEO to laugh and say "Just kidding!" Bobby looked thoughtful, his arms folded tightly against his stomach, and Jessica wouldn't be surprised to find a picture of Edgar's expression next to the dictionary entry for "Disgruntled". She rubbed her arms, trying to warm them from the unusual chill in the conference room.
"Any questions at this time?" Mr. Johnson inquired.
After the meeting Jessica hardly remembered walking back to her cube. She sat there for several minutes starting at her email inbox. She finally turned when a noise caught her attention.
Tevita stood, his muscled arms folded and an unusually thoughtful expression on his face. "I wish today was April Fools," he commented with a quick laugh.
"Not really. Most major corporations face those types of threats all the time."
"Tevita, no offense, but most hackers don't add assault to their tactics!"
"I'm not worried."
She eyed him. "Of course not. You're six-foot-nine and weight a solid two-hundred eighty pounds."
He smiled. "You're what, six foot? You're not a shrimp yourself, plus your husband knows karate, right? No? Well, I'm not worried about you. It's Bobby I'm worried about."
She shook her head viciously. "I'm not exactly muscled... What are we saying? This is ridiculous. It's the computer attacks we need to worry about. Let's get moving. I just have no idea where to start."
"What about the vPro stuff? I seem to remember a lot of security-related stuff there."
She straightened in her chair. "You're absolutely right. Bobby indicated he'd installed vPro management components into Altiris."
Tevita brought a chair over. "Altiris. Why didn't you tell me they had solutions? I might hve been more supportive of vPro."
Jessica pulled up the Altiris Console, her mind racing through the possibilities.
END Part 1
This ends Part 1. In Part 2 the first method or attack against the Mighty Modern Marketing's IT Infrastructure commences while the players scramble to defend their network and business.