Strands of binary ones and zeroes course through the digital nervous system, also known as the D.N.S., subverted by criminal syndicates. This story starts with Akira - one of the most notorious cyber scientists, known on the darknet "Reddit" as a white-hat hacker, thanks to his digital avatar that sported a white hat.
When he reached out to me, what Akira told me was simply too stunning to be true. He and his cyber colleagues, he said, had uncovered evidence that high-powered computers in server farms belonging to and associated with Donald Trump's business interests, were using military grade encryption to communicate with each other, and also unknown third parties - potentially in Russia.
How did Akira and his collaborators know? The answer lies in an esoteric branch of mathematics called Prime Number Theory. Prime number theory isn't even taught in schools anymore: in off-the-record conversations for fear of criminal investigation, computer scientists have told me that some prime numbers are so dangerous that they are illegal to even write down or say out loud. Nowadays, prime numbers are used by organizations like the National Security Agency to send unbreakable messages that help protect our nation's security.
Could it be possible, I wondered, that someone at the National Security Agency was leaking secret prime numbers to the Trump campaign to rig the election? To answer this, and to learn the scary truth about the dark forces hijacking the arcane digital nervous D.N.S. system, I had to delve deeper.
By now, the hacker darknet site "Reddit" has penetrated the public consciousness. Even amongst Reddit users, though, hardly any know of a more secret network. Originally founded as the Universal Security Enforcement NETwork in the 1980s, USENET, to use its sinister name, is a dangerous, illicit cyber location. A haven for cyber vigilantes, USENET is a place where outcast computer scientists are free from rules and regulations to experiment.
How dangerous is USENET? The recent outage that affected the Internet in fact came from an attempt by individuals linked to USENET to create something never before seen or attempted: a robotic network intelligence, also known as BOTnet. The BOTnet was a combination of cutting edge, ethically dubious "deep learning" techniques as well as millions of sophisticated net cameras. And now, I'd just learned from Akira and his contacts that the Trump Campaign - by using the same secret prime numbers that power the internet's digital nervous system - was linked to this same attack on the Internet.
The revelation that the Trump Campaign is using prime numbers to attack the Internet and to rig the election is not only terrifying but also raises questions. Where are these prime numbers coming from? Are they really coming from the N.S.A. and if not, how is the Trump Campaign getting them?
This whole investigation was becoming fractal, like a jigsaw puzzle with a million pieces. I needed a guide, a native to the cyber underworld, someone who would be willing to teach me the secrets like the "routing protocol" I'd need to understand to navigate the dark nets. Fortunately, my earlier contact Akira was able to recommend someone who I would only ever know by the pseudonym of "Hiro", a reference they assured me to an underground cyber text from the 90s.
With a chuckle, Hiro sends me on a 'quest', their way of playing with me like a cat does with a mouse, to make me jump through hoops to show that I'm serious about following them on this journey.
It's late. I've been chasing this rabbit of how deep the Trump Campaign is subverting the Internet for days now, with little sleep. I've learned more than I want to, but it's not enough. What I have learned though, is this: our world isn't ruled by power or information anymore. It's ruled by incomprehensible ones and zeroes. Could it be, I worried and wondered, that the Trump Campaign - through actors and assistance unknown - had effectively stolen and subverted the meaning of the very digits that control our world? And what then of the rumors I had started to hear - the most sinister ones, advanced by computer scientists strictly off-the-record - that the DNC and GOP had in fact struck an underhand deal: half the Internet - the ones - to the DNC and Hillary, and the other half - the zeroes - to the GOP and Trump? Was this what Trump was trying to say when he was saying the system was rigged?
I had to follow up this last rumor, at the very least. Sources in the Trump Campaign would later deny any knowledge at all of such a deal to carve up the Internet. It would be inconceivable, staffers said, that Trump would get the zeros and Hillary would get the ones. "Trump," they would say, "is not a zero."