By Randy D. Singer
WaterBrook Press Copyright © 2007 Randy D. Singer
All right reserved. ISBN: 9781400073344
Prologue THE PROFESSOR
Courage is fear that has said its prayers.
If anything happened to this kid, the professor would never forgive himself. The young man was more than just a brilliant protégé; he was like a son. He reminded Professor Dagan so much of himself at that age. Too much, sometimes. Except that Chow was brasher, bolder than Dagan had ever been.
Chow Zhang possessed his mentor’s gift for complex mathematical theories, but he had something more. At heart, Chow was a businessman. A capitalist. A risk taker.
He had grown restless as a teaching assistant at the university; Dagan could see that. Chow stayed out of respect for the professor. When Professor Dagan told his protégé about the Abacus Algorithm, the young man’s eyes burned with entrepreneurial fire. To Chow, it was more than a math formula. It became an opportunity to piece together a historic agreement that might help millions of his fellow Chinese countrymen and women. He proposed the plan with such zeal and attention to detail that the professor couldn’t say no.
This meeting was the culmination of Chow’s plan.
Dagan said a prayer, his head bowed as he sat in the driver’s seat of the Ford Windstar rental van. He had a bad feelingabout this meeting, something he just couldn’t shake. He had insisted on elaborate security precautions to protect the algorithm.
“You worry too much, grasshopper,” said Chow from the passenger seat, trying hard to inject a worry-free tone into his voice. Dagan had once asked Chow about the grasshopper reference; it was an allusion, as best Dagan could remember, to some old American movie or television show, the type of thing that didn’t interest Dagan in the least.
“That the birds of worry fly above your head, this you cannot change,” the young man continued, with mock solemnity. “But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”
Dagan did not smile. He was known for being jovial and outgoing, having a type of mad-professor personality, which, he had to admit, was a reputation he did little to dispel. But this was not a time for smiles.
Chow had never been one to pick up on subtle unspoken messages. He ran a hand over his own shaved head. “No worries here,” he said.
“Be careful, my son,” Dagan said.
This time, Chow took the cue, wiped the smile from his face, and instantly became the earnest young businessman. He looked professional in his dark blue suit, white shirt, and red tie. Professional, and almost American. Still, he was so inexperienced to be handling such a sensitive transaction.
Dagan wanted to give Chow a lecture, one of Dagan’s patented professorial pep talks, more about life than about academics. But Dagan sensed that the young man had already surpassed his teacher in so many matters of life and faith. The time for lectures had passed.
“God be with you,” Chow said.
“And with you.”
The young man climbed out of the van, grabbed his briefcase, and strode confidently toward the MGM Grand. He did not look back to see the lines of worry etched into his mentor’s face, the birds beginning to nest in the professor’s hair.
“Protect him,” Dagan prayed. He pulled away from the front of the casino, cutting off other drivers and ignoring their horns.
Twelve minutes later, Dagan entered his apartment, breathless from his climb up the outdoor steps. He disabled the alarm system, locked the deadbolt, and pulled the chain lock into place.
The living room and dining area, one long, L-shaped open space, was littered with twenty-four interconnected desktop computers and enough wiring to make the rooms look like a den of snakes. There were no pictures on the walls, no couch or recliner or television set. Just twenty-four desktop units, a small card table set up in the dining area, two folding chairs, and a beanbag.
In the single bedroom were two air mattresses.
Dagan had chosen this unit twenty days ago because it met all three criteria on his list: high-speed Internet access, a monthly lease, and anonymity. He paid cash in advance and signed the application using a phony name.
He hustled across the room, accidentally kicking one of the computers. He checked the lock on the sliding glass door that led to a small patio. He pulled the blinds on the glass door and placed his laptop on the card table so he could hook it up to his improvised network.
Each computer had been maxed out with memory upgrades, according to Chow, and then linked in such a way that the total network capacity exceeded 72GB of RAM. The network was protected by three separate firewalls.
Dagan’s screen flickered to life, and he entered his password. He connected immediately to the Internet, and an instant message from Chow flashed on the screen: Let me know when you get this. Dagan typed in his reply and simultaneously pulled up the video and audio feed from Chow’s computer. When the MGM Grand conference room came into focus, with the same grainy resolution that Dagan had witnessed during the trial runs, he began to relax just a little.
Chow, the more electronically savvy of the two, had wired his laptop with a hidden video camera on the back of the computer, inside a port that looked like an Internet connection. He squeezed a corresponding microphone inside what appeared to be an expansion port on the side. Using a wireless card that connected Chow to the Internet through cell tower technology, his computer now fed Dagan a live, blow-by-blow broadcast of the meeting.
Though the resolution was not the best, Dagan could make out three business executives within range of the wide-angle lens. They sat across from Chow, separated by a large polished-wood conference table. The man in the middle had dressed casually; the others wore suits. All three appeared younger than Dagan had anticipated.
The Chinese American man on the right looked more like a thug than a businessman. He had a low brow and thick neck, with veins bulging from a too-tight collar on his shirt, as if he couldn’t afford a custom fit. On the right side of his face, a scar started at his sideburn and ended at his jaw. His right ear was smaller than the left, as if he had lost part of it in a knife fight and a plastic surgeon had just sewn up what was left. A tattooed cobra was coiled on the left side of his neck, poised to strike at any moment. Dagan pegged him as security.
The man on the left, pale-skinned and tall, seemed infinitely more sophisticated. Eastern European perhaps, with ice blue eyes and short, Nordic-blond hair. He slouched in his seat, a cool, disinterested look on his face.
In the middle, the position of influence, sat a young man approximately Chow’s age, probably the CEO, dressed in a black linen shirt, with long dark hair, a trim goatee, and dark brooding eyes that seemed to pierce Dagan’s screen.
Dagan had missed the introductions and casual conversation, if any had taken place. Chow was sketching out the logistics of the transaction, a complicated matter since Chow had insisted on having the fifty million dollars in the bank before the algorithm was transferred. The men opposite Chow were employed by a deal-brokerage agency that represented the three largest Internet security companies in the world. Understandably, they wanted to test the algorithm before any money changed hands.
“You will forgive my skepticism,” said the middle man, his expression difficult to read, “but the implications of your claims are enormous. Not to mention the fact that our top consultants believe rapid factorization into prime numbers is a mathematical impossibility.”
“Did you bring the numbers?” Chow asked calmly. His voice came across louder than the others, based on his proximity to the mike. Dagan could discern no wavering in it, no hint of the frayed nerves that surely had to be wracking his young partner.
“Then we can talk theory or we can talk application,” said Chow. “I mean, why bother finding out the true facts if we can just sit around and speculate based on the opinions of your experts?”
“We can do without the sarcasm,” said the Nordic man.
The CEO betrayed no emotion as he consulted a folder. He dictated a long number that Chow typed into an IM message to Dagan. Next, Chow read back the digits to the CEO, all one hundred ninety-seven of them, double-checking them slowly. It took nearly two minutes just to verify the number.
Dagan smiled. Child’s play. Using his algorithm, he should have the answer in less than five minutes. His laptop could process this one by itself. He copied and pasted the number into his formula.
As Dagan’s computer crunched the algorithm, and Chow plunked away on his own keyboard, plugging in phony numbers and functions, the conference room grew remarkably quiet, tension filling the air, as if the executives didn’t dare jinx this moment by making a sound. From miles away, Dagan could almost tell what they were thinking: If this works–if this really works–it would destroy the foundation of Internet encryption.
The RSA protocol, used extensively to secure transactions on the Web, would be a sieve. It was, as Chow had exclaimed when Dagan first told him about the breakthrough, “The key to every lock!”
Dagan had started working on his formula nearly twenty years ago as the result of a challenge from a fellow professor. Dagan called it a serious academic pursuit, a scholar’s desire to break new ground. Others called it an obsession. Whatever the label, he dedicated his best and most productive years to accomplishing something unprecedented: discovering an order in the sequence of prime numbers. Most theorists believed that the numbers “sprang up like weeds among the natural numbers, obeying no law other than the law of chance.” It was impossible to predict where the next prime number would sprout, they said.
But where others saw chaos, Dagan saw the faintest outline of order. Over time, the outline became more discernible, the order more predictable, his convictions more resolute. He ultimately developed a complex mathematical algorithm, stunning in its reliability, which could quickly and accurately generate the prime factors of any number, no matter how large.
Delighted, Dagan wanted to publish the formula in a respected, international mathematics journal. But his protégé immediately saw the tragic consequences of such an approach. The Internet would be thrown into chaos until encryption technology evolved in a different direction. When it did, the algorithm would be useless in a matter of months.
Instead, Chow talked Dagan into selling the formula to a conglomeration of the top global encryption companies. “It could help them see the Achilles heel in their encryption techniques,” he argued. “They could take steps to make Internet transactions more secure, to provide better protection for privacy.” Then the clincher: “We could use the proceeds to help the underground church. We could provide theological training. Legal help. Bibles.”
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Dagan jolted back to the present when the answer popped up on his screen after only three minutes of computation. He sent the results to Chow.
Not surprisingly, Chow decided to add a little drama. “If I remember correctly,” he said, his voice gaining confidence, “a recent attempt to find the prime factors of a one-hundred-ninety-three-digit number took eighteen months, with a number of different computers working simultaneously. Altogether, about a half century of computer time was utilized. Is that what you gentlemen recall?”
The three men all looked at Chow stone faced; they did not like being mocked.
“And this number,” Chow continued, “roughly the same length, has just been factored in the amount of time it might have taken you to go to the bathroom.”
“And the answer?” said the CEO. His voice had an aggressive, no-nonsense edge to it.
Chow read the prime numbers while the CEO checked his folder. He shot a glance to his Nordic friend, received a barely perceptible nod, and flipped the page to another enormous number.
“This time,” the CEO said, “we’ll use a number the size our clients would typically use in their protocol. According to the deputy director of the National Security Agency, it should take all the personal computers in the world on average about twelve times the age of the universe to solve it by a traditional sieve method. We’ll see if your formula can do it in a few minutes.”
For ten minutes, they read and checked the digits of the new number. When everybody was satisfied, Chow again surreptitiously sent the number to Dagan, who plugged it into his formula. This time, Dagan put his entire little network on the task. Twelve minutes later, Chow read the answer to the astonished men–two prime factors, each over two hundred digits long.
The business executives no longer tried to act unimpressed. The CEO called an impromptu meeting, stepping back behind the chairs, where the men formed a little huddle, holding their folders in front of their mouths so Chow couldn’t read their lips.
When they slid back into their seats, the Nordic man eyed Chow the way a spectator might eye an illusionist at a magic show–scrutinizing, confident there was some sleight of hand that eluded the normal eye.
“We’d like to try one more thing,” the CEO said, “just to prove our own firm’s security hasn’t been breached by someone on the inside providing the answers in advance. We’re going to call a consultant for another test number, different from the ones we brought to this meeting. It could take a few minutes to get this one last beta.”
Twenty minutes later, after Chow had factored the third number even more quickly than the second, Dagan noticed a final change in demeanor on the other side of the table. Even through the grainy resolution, he could tell Chow was now dealing with converts–men who had seen something that the foremost experts in the world had assured them was impossible.
“Who else has access to this formula?” the man on the right asked.
“Why is that relevant?” Chow responded.
“Our price is based on exclusivity. If we’re the only ones with this formula, it’s worth fifty million dollars. If others have it, the value diminishes substantially.”
“Only one man has seen this formula,” Chow replied. That part was true, Dagan knew. But the person wasn’t Chow.
The men across from Chow nodded at each other, and Dagan breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like they might actually have a deal. Praise God, he murmured. Chow had been right. No worries.
“I think we’ve proven the concept,” said Chow. Dagan could hear Chow rustling papers, probably the draft contract he had negotiated by phone prior to this meeting.
“Let’s get this signed so you can wire the money.”
The CEO nodded but was no longer looking at Chow. Instead, he seemed to be focused on a spot directly above and behind Chow. Dagan heard another noise–a door opening perhaps, or someone entering the room? Chow immediately signed off the instant messenger screen, presumably covering the monitor with his back and shoulders so the intruder couldn’t detect Chow’s communication with Dagan.
The CEO gestured toward the apparent newcomer. “This is another one of our colleagues. Dr. Johnny Chin,” the CEO said, not bothering to stand. “He’s one of our firm’s best troubleshooters.”
Alarm bells went off in Dagan’s head as he watched the Nordic man smirk and heard Chow say a casual, “Nice to meet you.” Dagan was fairly certain that Chow had remained seated, probably worried about keeping his screen shielded.
A troubleshooter? For what?
Without warning, Dagan heard a frantic, “Hey, what’s going–,” followed by a sickening sound like a snake's tongue darting through the air, the deadly hiss of a gun silencer. Red liquid and white fragments spattered the table in front of the video camera and sprayed the shirt of the young CEO. Dagan heard a thud, the sound of bone hitting something.
The CEO sprang from his seat, shouting, leaning forward, his slacks taking up the full screen now.
“Get his head off the keyboard,” he shouted. “Blood will fry that thing.” Continues...
Excerpted from False Witness by Randy D. Singer Copyright © 2007 by Randy D. Singer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.