It was just a few blocks home.
As he walked, Ned went back over the whole operation in his mind. The state was forced by class action lawsuit to make available a collection of old databases. The one that interested Ned was the forensic investigation files from white collar crime cases. It was part of a larger collection of case files. They were segregated internally, but all part of the same database. The state handed off the actual work to a contractor with a couple of state employees overseeing the operation. People would have to show up at this understaffed operation in one of the old office towers where the aging computers were still housed, and present whatever justification they had for one or more cases. The bureaucracy would decide what to release and charge for a primitive paper printout.
Ned had no intention of submitting to the painfully intrusive queries of the government and call attention to himself for just one record, when he actually wanted the whole database. In modern terms, it wasn’t that large, but there was simply no way to persuade the state to let him copy the whole thing. That wasn’t part of the settlement in the first place.
But he knew that if he could get close enough to some of the terminals, he just might be able to pirate the whole thing using a new proximity field technology scanner. Ned was by no means a hacker, just a serious technology user. He did poke around computer hacking in school, but decided it wasn’t his forte. Instead, he befriended the kids who were quite talented, and worked to support their exploration in other ways. One of those ways was using the kind of physical talents that got him out of that office building without capture. He would sneak into places that had things those kids wanted for their work.
While there was a turnover in those friendships, by early adulthood Ned was still actively supporting a group of hackers working on peculiar projects of interest. One of those projects was that electronic lock pick. But the real crown jewels was an alternative AI project. Despite all the big technology corporate and government hubbub about how AI could challenge humans, Ned’s friends never believed it. They were content with AI just doing more of what computers had always done: process data. The AI angle was to process it better and on much bigger scales. One of the yields from this project was using AI to write its own software, to reprogram itself after surveying existing software. Ned never had to be a hacker because he could tap into their AI to write the stuff he needed.
In return, Ned used his connections through his employer to get them hardware and server space. And not just existing computer hardware; Ned’s employer had access to industrial 3D printers that could construct custom computer components to order. These days just about everything was “system on a chip” as more was crammed into the CPU. Using his friends’ expertise and his boss’s manufacturing lab, Ned had his tablet built to facilitate such things as his electronic burglary of the crime database today. He didn’t simply copy data from their machines, but transferred it through his tablet and uploaded it via the ubiquitous municipal wifi back to his server. The only problem was that his tablet was pulling so hard that it slowed all the machines in that office. It was just his bad luck that one of the state employees was a cop who knew how to use that bug scanner. It wouldn’t pinpoint him, but told her there was a data draw over radio link from very nearby. She guessed correctly that whomever was doing that would be holding an electronic device that was visible.
Ned was hoping after his escape that it would appear to be a mere nuisance, not a wholesale plunder. Otherwise they might keep looking into the incident. Interference was one thing, but the technology he used to pull from those old computers, so far as he knew, was otherwise totally unknown to anyone outside his boss’s lab, where it was developed. Ned never told his friends all that the chip could do, and they didn’t ask. It was their unspoken code of friendship. Besides, they could have worked it out if they wanted. But Ned was also friends with one of the researchers at the lab who allowed Ned to test implementations of ideas like this.
As the researcher explained it, everything in the universe was constantly bouncing and emitting particles and energy waves. From a close proximity in particular, it was possible to read the signature of such emissions passively. That included electrons moving in wires, human DNA signatures, the presence of a void behind stone or steel, etc. All it needed was a tuned sensor and enough AI to interpret the data. Ned’s friends supplied the AI; the lab provided the hardware. Between the two, with Ned acting somewhat as a firewall, he was permitted to field test a chip that worked from a few meters away reading the activity of those old computers.
This allowed him to find out how to work through wifi to slip into the state’s internal network without facing their firewall against outside connections. Then he could emulate a signal that the old servers received as actual commands from a master terminal. Ned had ordered the system to dump the entire white collar crime database through his tablet, onto the Internet via the external wifi and down to his servers at the building where he lived. It had taken two days of hanging around the office in different disguises, each time analyzing and tuning the procedure. It took only a half-hour that morning to get the data, but at the cost of annoying the employees with his hogging the system resources.
But it was his boss who wanted the data. Not that Ned didn’t have his own uses for it, but he would have done almost anything for his boss.