Title: HACKING IT
Author: Kimberly Dean
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Independent software developer Kylie Grant is on top of her game in the world of IT. She has loyal clients, a good reputation, and a prestigious membership in technology giant Afire Industries’ small business accelerator. Things are going well until she stumbles across an innocuous issue with the lighting in the building where she rents space. When she digs into the problem, she discovers something unexpected--a hack.
The incursion doesn’t affect her, but Kylie leaves enough clues to fix the problem. That earns her a visit from Luke McAllister, Afire’s chief security officer. Luke is handsome and rugged and everything that Kylie likes in a man, but she soon finds that he is blaming her for the security breach. Before long, the two are on a collision course, but also secretly looking at more than each other’s digital footprints.
When a fluke accident sends Kylie to the emergency room, Luke fears that the beautiful developer is in danger beyond the online world. Little does he know that she is also hiding a secret that threatens to jeopardize their now sizzling relationship.
Can Kylie fix Afire’s problems without falling victim to the hacker? And can Luke learn to trust her and keep her safe before their enemy strikes again?
It was too danged bright in here again. Kylie Grant pushed back from her desk and glared at the overhead fluorescent lights. It was a subtle change, but, like most developers, she preferred her working space darker. She spent her days staring at a computer screen writing code. The last thing she wanted was more artificial light waves hitting her eyeballs. Grumbling, she grabbed her laptop and headed for the seating area by the fireplace.
This was the third time this week that she’d noticed the change. She tended to stay later than most people at Start ’er Up, and the sun had already set over Puget Sound. That was when the glare became most noticeable. Still, she was surprised that nobody else seemed to be bothered by it.
She stopped at the grab ’n go area for some trail mix and a cappuccino. She liked the coworking space where she and a group of small business owners gathered every day to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. She didn’t want to have to go back to Starbucks, where she had to listen to college kids moaning about their love lives or hipsters strategizing about how to get ahead in the corporate workplace. She’d been there and done that—and gotten precisely nowhere.
She shuddered a bit as she sank onto the sofa. The idea of returning to the cubicle environment or, worse, the open-office land of chaos? No way. If she had to deal with a little glare, she could do it. She used the remote to turn on the gas fireplace and relaxed against the cushions.
Still, she squinted.
She blew out a breath of frustration.
Josie stuck her head around the corner. “I’m heading out.”
“Okay. Have a good night,” Kylie said. She was the last one here, as usual. She was a night owl who didn’t do mornings, but she wasn’t concerned. The building where Start ’er Up was housed was fitted with all the bells and whistles of a “smart” building. The doors operated on a badging system, cameras monitored all entries, and even the shades on the windows operated on a set timetable. Right now, they were down tight. Still, they were in the heart of downtown Seattle. The women here looked out for one another.
“I’ll be here for a little while longer,” she said. She had a website template due for a client tomorrow. It wouldn’t take her long to finish it up, but there were a few other things she wanted to putter around with.
“Hey,” she said after a moment’s thought. “Does the lighting in here seem off to you?”
Josie paused. “Not that I’ve noticed. What’s wrong with it?”
“Too bright.” But maybe not as bright as Kylie thought. She’d seen devs scatter like rats when a light switch was thrown, while the business types just looked at them strangely.
“Let’s check it out.” Josie pulled her laptop out of her bag and took a seat on the puffy chair at the end of the coffee table. She tucked her legs up underneath her as she opened the software for the building system controls.
Josie was the office manager, people connector, and general idea machine of Start ’er Up. She ran the place, but was actually an employee of Afire Industries, the tech giant next door that supported the small-business accelerator. Kylie had never met someone whose brain functioned on all cylinders in so many different areas. Her own mainly functioned in the land of Java and Python.
“It looks like everything is set correctly,” Josie said as she paged through the lighting controls.
Kylie glanced over her shoulder at the screen and scrunched her nose at the page design. The 2000s were calling; they wanted their styling back. “Can you send me that link?”
Josie lifted an eyebrow. “Do you need me to make you an administrator?”
Kylie shrugged. She’d see.
The corners of her friend’s lips quirked upward. She went ahead and added Kylie anyway. “Don’t stay too late.”
“I won’t,” Kylie murmured. She was already mulling over how a bug might be the source of her discomfort.
There was nothing a developer despised more than a bug.
She didn’t even hear Josie leave as she began exploring the software. Building control systems were all the rage these days. They saved money on energy, increased safety, and provided a ton of data on building usage. When she left here tonight, the swipe of her badge would let the building know to turn down the heat and shut the lights off entirely. Maybe a setting Josie hadn’t noticed had gotten bumped or a sensor that monitored ambient light was going bad.
Kylie felt her curiosity start to bubble. The final touches on that website were going to have to wait.
She fell into the zone. Being added as an administrator saved her some time. She quickly checked out the most obvious possible causes, but soon, she was poking here and prodding there. She downed her cappuccino and munched on her trail mix. She was well into her second helping when some cross-site scripting opened a door and begged her to enter.
“Well, hello there.”
She sat up straighter when she realized what she’d uncovered. This was no bug. The building control system for Start ’er Up had been hacked.
She worried her teeth against her lower lip as she assessed how bad it was. The infiltration was clever. Whomever had hacked the system had gotten in by way of the Internet of Things—all those computer-chip controlled devices that were hooked together to make operating the building easy. Anything with an IP address could be hacked. That meant the routers, the printers, the smart phones, and potentially even the coffee maker were susceptible to cyberattacks. She’d secured her own devices the moment she’d bought them, but Start ’er Up had obviously been vulnerable.
And they’d been breached. By somebody pretty good, she had to admit. They’d tried to cover their tracks, but she could still see the path they’d taken. From what she could tell, they’d only made one mistake. Her lights.
“They’re mine now,” she said as she fixed the glitch in the lighting system.
She secured the network in a matter of minutes. There was only one problem.
The hacker was already in. By now, they’d made other entryways.
She crossed her legs at the ankles atop the coffee table and stared into the flames jumping in the fireplace before her. What to do… What to do…
The hack had been on Start ’er Up, but who’d want to hack a group of small potatoes like them? All the small companies here had potential—well, some of them—but most were still struggling to get off the ground. The hack could have been made by a green hat (a hacker just cutting his teeth), but those types usually started with the Wi-Fi systems of the neighbors next door.
No, there was a much more obvious reason why Start ’er Up had been chosen: Afire.
The innovative giant owned this space. The building, the computer network, and even the sofa on which she was seated were its property. Afire supported the entrepreneurial ecosystem by providing a coworking space for fresh thinkers, but by doing so, it had left itself vulnerable.
What to do… What to do…
Kylie rubbed her hands over her face. This wasn’t her problem. She was just a renter here. It wasn’t her fault that Afire’s security team had 1) left a back door open and 2) hadn’t noticed the breach. She didn’t even like Afire.
Well, it wasn’t so much Afire Industries, per se. It was that whole hotshot male-dominated tech industry. She’d given too many headache-filled hours to a company just like that and been discounted, overlooked, and basically taken for granted. It was why she’d set off on her own. She was her own boss now, primarily making websites and databases. And doing other odd jobs… It paid the bills. She liked setting her own hours and working with her own clients, and her aching head felt so much better.
The ceiling in the tech industry wasn’t made of glass; it was made of titanium.
Her sensitive eyes had led her to find the hack, and she’d fixed the lighting problem. She wanted nothing to do with any more of this.
Kylie groaned and dropped her head back against the sofa. She didn’t want her friend to get in trouble for this, and, darn it, she was still a recovering good girl. As much as she wanted to just walk away, she couldn’t. The temptation to follow the hack was too strong. How deep did it go? How much havoc had it caused?
“This isn’t your fight,” she warned herself. Afire could protect itself or pay the price. Still, her curiosity had been roused.
“Drat it all.” Deciding that sleep wasn’t going to happen tonight, she returned to the grab ’n go area for another cappuccino before diving back in.
Her fingers flew across the keyboard, and, soon, it wasn’t caffeine that had her mental juices flowing. She found the knothole where the hacker had moved from Start ’er Up into Afire’s systems. Time flew as she followed them behind the firewall into areas where she wasn’t supposed to be. Keeping an eye out for security flags or trapdoors, she followed the hacker, learning more and more about Afire and the hacker himself as she went. More than once, she had to remind herself that this was a scouting mission only.
It was well after midnight when she finally backed her way out. She closed the lid on her laptop and stretched to pop the kink in her back.
“Ahh,” she said with a sigh.
The infiltration was like a cobweb branching out across Afire’s massive network. She’d been tempted to dig even deeper, but in the end, she’d decided to just leave breadcrumbs pointing out the breach to the people who were supposed to be watching for those kinds of things. Maybe that would light a fire underneath them.
She chuckled to herself. “Good one.”
And she’d been good for as long as she could stand. She turned off the fireplace and gathered up her things. Her work was done. Afire’s so-called security “experts” would have to take it from here.
About Kimberly Dean
When taking the Myers-Briggs personality test in high school, Kimberly Dean was rated as an INFJ (Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging). This result sent her into a panic, because there were no career paths recommended for the personality type. Fortunately, it turned out to be well suited to a writing career. Since receiving that dismal outlook, Kimberly has become an award-winning author of romance and erotica. When not writing, she enjoys movies, sports, traveling, music, and sunshine.