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Cancer

Looking at a picture of my mother laying in her hospital chair taking her chemo medication makes me think about cyber. Our bodies are a network of connected computers. Blood and lymph are the communication channels that relay information between these computers. The mainframe, of course, is your brain, which is another highly connected network of computers.

When cancer invades it starts by infiltrating a system. The system is homomophic usually, which makes it easier for the cancer (cyber infiltrator) to gain its foothold. Sometimes the infiltrator moves fast and runs through multiple systems wrecking havoc. Yet there are those infiltrators who move slow, learning each system as it goes slowly through the entire system. Nonhodgkins Lymphoma is that slow hacker. That's what my mother has. She's had this for a very long time. Mostly ignored by her "doctors" 8, 12, maybe 30 years ago, finally they see the infiltration and recognize the need to respond.

Once the cancer becomes apparent, like the infiltrator, we struggle to figure out where it started. That's where we need to address the treatment otherwise we just move it around. That sounds exactly like the cat and mouse chase of counter infiltration. How do we backtrack?

None of the medical "doctors" who work on my mother are savvy enough to even think about this concept. They are mostly preoccupied with billing medicare and collecting their fee for their time. The nurses care, but they're so overwhelmed (like those network techs) that they don't have time to think deeply. Who can stomach a deep dive on the root cause when your system is about the suffer a catastrophic failure, right? Dead humans make for bad test subjects.

Let's work backwards from the visible evidence of infiltration. We see the "cancer" tumor which is the equivalent of a malware drop or data erase, or even a damn DNS exfil that the Cisco guy described. How the infiltrator get into that zone? We look at the path you would take, follow the network, the connected lymp tissue and where it could stage. Look for a similar exploit in that staging area and then again, backtrack. Like a worthy infiltrator, you eventually find rings of exploit that lead back to themselves. That's the frustrating part, and it's the part where most just stop looking. There's always a trail, often some escape that transcends the homomorphic nature of the system.

So you jump across system barriers too. Instead of on a Windows system, you look into the Linux network that has a physical separation (maybe it was your IB HPC network). This is akin to looking into the circulatory system (blood) where it intersects with the lymphatic system, i.e. the liver. The liver would be another computing system with an embedded switch. You look for signs of collateral infiltration, for instance signs of renal cancer (she had that a few years ago).

In all of this backtracking you keep looking for the infiltrator. There is a fingerprint out there, there is always a fingerprint. No matter if it's cancer or a hacker, each infiltrator leaves its mark where it started. Not even the most fantastic NSA red team hacker is immune to leaving a trace. Not every trace is measured in the system they infiltrator.

I am a firm believer that most cancers are the result of viral infection that goes unstopped by an immune system. Sometimes that IPS doesn't know how to handle the foreign "zero day" known as cancer. Maybe one day I will be able to reconnect with Travis, the virology cohort I knew during my SERS experience.

Until then, somebody still needs to collect on the $100 challenge. How many neutrons does it take to make a black hole? My hundo awaits...

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