“On July 11th,” he began calmly, “shortly after receiving a bunch of garbled messages, First Chicago received several clean EFT messages. Those messages were purported to be directly from Bendix. Instead you were the one that sent them to First Chicago. Correct?”
“Yes, thereby correcting the communication errors from the garbled transmission.”
He ignored the last part of my response, cutting me off.
“What is your profession? You are a computer security expert. Correct?”
“You design systems to guard against hacking, correct? Things like false messages.”
I could see where this was going. I didn’t answer. He continued anyway.
“So, you falsify EFT messages and you also offer your services as an expert at protecting banks from false EFT messages. Here at the bureau we call that a protection racket. Other people call it blackmail. Call it what you will, it is illegal.”
He turned on his heel, walked back to the table and collapsed into the chair he had vacated earlier.
“The pathetic part of all of this,” he muttered, “is that, like every other hacker, you probably honestly believe that what you do is morally justified. It’s not. It is against the law, and there are good reasons for having those laws. You, sir, are morally bankrupt.”
The agent sitting to the right resumed the questioning at that point. This agent had done very little talking. This is not to say that he sat still like the blonde haired agent with the sunglasses sitting by the wall. No, the quiet agent sitting at the table spent most of the interrogation tapping his pencil on the table. His hands appeared soft but strong. Indeed, his entire physique was soft but strong. He was not burly like the agent in the center, nor did he have the wirey but hard and tough appearance of the other agents. He held his hyper-active pencil between long fingers. His nervous fidgeting was infectious, putting me on edge. Perhaps that was his intention. He was not intimidating like the other agents. He continued to stay with straight-forward questions about facts. What type of computer did I own, he wanted to know. What long-distance telephone carrier do I use, he asked, What Internet service provider do I use? What is my mother’s maiden name?
It was impossible to tell where he was heading with his questions; I simply answered directly and honestly. As I answered these questions I thought about the charges made by the excitable agent on the left.
Was I committing a form of extortion? Even if that was not my intent, I would benefit by a heightened awareness of security concerns, would I not? And by tinkering with EFT traffic I was bound to interfere in ways that would not go entirely unnoticed. So, indirectly I was drumming up business. And, there was no denying that my tinkering was illegal, even if it wasn’t outright theft. Wire-tapping is against the law. My mind was too groggy to allow myself to start questioning my own motives. I did not trust myself to be able to parry the self-doubt that began to well up inside of me.
After four hours of answering questions with no breaks, not for water and not to visit the restroom, I was exhausted. It is good that I had decided early to tell the truth and hold nothing back; toward the end of the interrogation I had little memory of the questions that came earlier. It would have been easy to catch me in an inconsistency now.
Then, quite abruptly, the four men trooped out of the room, telling me to wait there. A moment later the silent agent with the blonde hair and sunglasses returned with a glass of water. He escorted me to the restroom. We then returned to the interrogation room and he left me there alone.
I was deflated. The experiments that I claimed where part of innocent research activity were undeniably illegal. Now I had to face the possibility that my experiments were morally wrong too because they artificially inflated the symptoms of computer crime. Maybe the FBI agent was right. Maybe I was a hacker. Had I slipped over the line between a security analyst working on behalf of security and a hacker contributing to the hostile environment of electronic data interchange?