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JPublic Will Play It - February 2011 - Hacker Evolution

Posted 02-05-2011 at 12:10 PM by jpublic
Hacker Evolution
Developer: Exosyphen Studios
Publisher: Exosyphen Studios
Platform: PC/Mac (Steam/Impulse/Exosyphen) also iOS version
Price: $15-20

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Continuing a theme for 2011, our February JPWPI game is also focused on the computer/hacking mythos. This time we're looking at Brian Spencer's (or Exosyphen's) Hacker Evolution. Now, it should be noted this is the first game in the 'modern' Hacker series. Apparently Exosyphen made some previous hacking-themed games, but they don't talk about them much. There's also a sequel, Hacker Evolution - Untold, but I felt like doing the original game. I should also note that I've got the free Reinsertion expansion installed, but it's a continuation of the story, so we're not going there.

So after downloading and installing (man, I hate Impulse), I start the game. How very... amber.

The splash screens that show as you start the game tell the story. As it's told, in the near future someone comes up with a way to transmit data packets at faster-than-light speeds. They keep on pushing this, until they eventually achieve a sort of time travel, where packets are arriving before they're even sent. The phenomenon is kept secret, and an artificial intelligence is developed to control and manage things. As the AI continues to develop, it is discovered one of the consequences of this phenomenon is that you can have an infinite number of parallel processes running in time-slices. So the AI basically develops to the point that it can't be controlled. It doesn't want to kill, it just wants to survive. And you have to fight it.

Well.

I start a new game, and enter my handle (jpublic) and start... the tutorial mission! Woo. In it, we're introduced to a bunch of concepts. First, we learn how to CRACK into a site. Then how to SCAN for one not shown on the world map, and how that also gives us some info on the site. With that, we're shown how to DECRYPT an encrypted site, so we can CONNECT (login) to it. If the site is an ATM, we can TRANSFER funds. If it has files, we can DOWNLOAD them. If we have an exploit, we can EXEC it to break into a system instead of cracking it.

It's about this point that you're introduced to your Trace Level stat (a percentage). Every time you perform a hinky (to use the technical term) act, you increase your trace level, which is a sort of visibility rating. If it hits 100%, game over. Also, every time you perform a hinky act (like say, illegally transferring funds from an ATM) you're actively traced. If that trace completes, you're in massive trouble, because your trace level goes way up. To slow down active traces, you bounce through servers you've compromised. However, each server has a limited number of times it can be used as a bounce, so you have to be careful.

If your trace level gets too high, and you have some cash, you can spend a bit to run a KILLTRACE, which reduces your trace level by 10%.

Once I'm done, I get a score for my performance. Not very good, but who cares, it's a tutorial.


The game interface. Note that it is very amber. :D

On to mission 1! The backstory: You're Brian Spencer, a former intelligence agent. In 2008, your family died in a mysterious car crash. In 2009, you retire to a private island to work on developing security systems. In December 2015, you're contracted to find out what happened in the recent NY Stock Exchange crash. It is believed it is the work of a hacker...

Ack. I start the mission, and notice that following the directions in the tutorial has left my trace level unacceptably high at 48%. I reload and rerun the tutorial in a slightly more efficient manner (like not using the crack command unbounced) and end up with a lower level of 2%, and $4000 in the bank to boot. Right, now we can go. Based on some advice, I'm told that CPU, Firewall, and Modem are my top priorities. I decide on bumping up the first two.

Looking at ny-exchange.com, I see that I can get in on an open port 80 (httpd) and a 8-character password-protected (yipe!) port 99 (x-filemanager). Let's go in on 80, and look around. Hmm. The site was designed by xenti-design.com, and according to this index.new file, it was defaced by dot-hackers.net. We'll scan both of those sites. Xenti-Design appears to be wide open on 80, while Dot-Hackers is both encrypted 128-bits (easy) and password protected at 4 characters. We'll be hacking the hackers, methinks.

I decrypt and crack dot-hackers.net, not even bothering to bounce. I hate using the CRACK command, as it loads up your trace level something fierce. Looking around, I find an exploit for x-filemanager, so I won't have to crack the Exchange's port 99. Good thing, as the only way to safely do it would be to bounce through two servers, and from what I understand bounces are precious.

Exploit run, and I'm in port 99 on ny-exchange.com. I download the connection.log file, and peruse it for info. I find a few sites in there, and scan them to see which one exists. I also get a request from the FSA (the people who contracted me) to upload the file to them, and do so.

Gah, I need a faster modem. Uploading 1GB at 1MB/s is too slow. Heh.

Since according to the log terminal-83.xenti.com is our culprit, and it's protected out the wazoo (12 characters, 512 bits encryption), I'm going to need to bounce a lot to crack it without being traced. I manage, and connect to the server. Lo and behold, the file I need (users.log) is too big for my system to handle. Maybe I should have upgraded memory. I have to delete the connection.log I got previously so I can get the users.log. I *then* have to try to figure out who was the hacker. Luckily, I managed to remember the approximate time of the hack, or I'd have a pain of a time trying to look at both files when I can only have one at a time on my system. Apparently our evil hacker is 'tjohn', from xenti.com.

Right. Scan xenti.com to see what's on, and... crud. 16 characters, 512 bits encryption, better set up a bounce link to get this done. Gah, even with the bounces protecting my from a direct trace, by the time I'm done I'm at 71% trace level! This is not good. Still, I connect to xenti.com, get tjohn.profile, and upload it to the FSA.

Right. Mission 1, done. On to mission 2, in which we discover that the internet uplinks to the Xenti satellite have gone down, and this is Not of the Good, since 90% of all internet traffic passes through it. Since you designed most of the systems said uplinks rely on, they want you to fix it.

Right off, I notice that my trace level is still at 71%. Joy. Looking around, I see control-center.xenti.com and xenti.com as investigative locations, as well as the files.fsa.gov I'm going to have to drop my evidence on. I scan the control center, and discover a web server on port 80 (8 character password), a x-filemanager on 99 (4 char), and a kernel_services on 210 (16 char), as well as an overall encryption of 256 bits. Since I've got a firewall and two CPUs, I can decrypt and crack that port 99 easily, and not have to mess around with using xenti.com as a bounce host. My trace level is ludicrously high, though, at 91%! Nonetheless, I download the connection.log, and debate restarting the game. Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much in Mission 1, so I could have money to run a killtrace.


Mission 2, with an alternate game skin - a minor change, that supposedly a preview of the one from Untold. Still amber.

Well, hell. This is at once inconvenient, and useful. We get a message from dot-hackers.net, who ask for the file I got, and offer knowledge of an ATM with $10k on it as recompense. But, with my trace level so high, I'm trapped. I could sell my equipment, killtrace, and try to work things that way, or... we can cheat. I upload the file for the name of the ATM, and then I restart the level.

This time, knowing the ATM's hostname, crack it, steal $5000, downgrade my trace level a bunch, steal the other $5000, and then continue with the level. It's not too hard, actually. I don't even need to crack the control center's port 99, as the connection.log in the ATM leads me to terminal-83.xenti.com. I hack (decrypt and crack) xenti.com to get the history.log the FSA guys want, then do the same to port 200 on control-center.xenti.com to discover there's a trojan there. Joy. I delete the trojan, and then start digging through the files I've downloaded to discover that the true source is not terminal 83, but terminal 84! Aha. Scan it, and complete the level.

I'm going to admit now, at this point I'm cheating my ass off, using advanced knowledge. This game is hard to get right, and I don't really feel like constantly restarting the entire game every time I screw up.

Mission 3 starts with Brian noting that something here doesn't add up. His contact at the FSA (a John Davis) doesn't seem to really be working for the FSA. He could hack the FSA to find out, but that would raise suspicions on him. He resolves to go looking for more information about these random acts of chaos around the world. In this mission, we have to not only look into John Davis, we have to reestablish some links at interlink.net to try to fix things.

Since I have to get into interlink, let's do that. I scan it, and... wow. Okay, there's no way I'm going to hack that directly. With 512bit encryption, I have no chance of running a decrypt without some intermediary bounce hosts, which I don't have. But wait, there's a clue here. On port 150, there's a secure connection to sec.interlink.net. I wonder if I can hack it?

Yep. 128bit encryption with a 4 character password on port 55, that's cake. Oh look, the password for port 150 on interlink.net, isn't that convenient? And with this handy hacked host, I can use it as a bounce to decrypt from as well. With our new handy password, I log into 150 on interlink and look around. I download the connection.log, and get a message from dot-hackers.net that they'll help out if I give them a copy of the file.

Eh, why not? I do, and they lead me to xterm.xenti.com. I hack it using sec.interlink.net as a bounce point, and find Davis' bank account number in an e-receipt.log file, which I download. I also find his monitor.bin, which is his monitoring tool, and two files: conmanager.bin and xconmanager.bin. Looking at both of them, I discover the latter is a hacked version of the former, designed to shut down connections. Like the ones interlink uses. Well, to get rid of it, you simply delete it and replace conmanager.bin. Right. I hack into interlink's port 152 (which is in charge of the connections on the server), delete the hacked file and upload the proper one.

Cheat on this level - I found some clues that if I hacked terminal-83.xenti.com, a site listed in one of the files, I could get a clue to ns1.sbd.com, which is an ATM with $5000. I jumped sequence and hacked the ATM directly.

Mission 4 is on us, and we're looking at the Central Bank of Asia, which is the last part of this series of global attacks we're investigating. I scan the only available site, cb-asia.com, and notice a link to atm.au-bank.com.au. Well, let's just hack and steal the money ($4000) from that one, shall we?


Mission 4. with the Reinsertion skin. Grey and amber, yay! I use this one for the rest of my play.

Using the ATM as a bounce, I decrypt and crack the web service on cb-asia.com. There, I find a link to ns.cb-asia.com, which I break into and steal $4000 from, and I also find a handy connection.log file which I download. And lo, the guys over at dot-hackers.net want the file, and offer my a way to break into another service on cb-asia.com in return. Eh, why not?

They tell me if I hack into port 100, I can get a hash file, and they have the trick to pull the password out. Handy. Using the password, I login and connect to port 110, where I snatch up the transaction.log file. And lo, the dot-hackers.net guys want that too. I drop it off with them, and they give me a password to connect to another port on their server, where I can grab their report. Which is... very scary.

It looks like all this chaos was caused so that someone could buy a massive amount of stock and then sell it at a vastly inflated price. This trick would only work because someone screwed around with the connections at interlink, cutting off the exchange from most of the world. CB-Asia was used as the money source for the venture. And the only one who could do it? The AI running the FTL internet links. It's clearly gone out of control. Yipe.

While I'm here, I get a hint to hack dot-hacker.net's port 80. There, I find news about a contest over at black-haxors.com, and a couple handy exploits. I hack black-haxors.com, and steal the $2000 prize money. Hee. Finally, I hack into cb-asia.com's port 200 and delete the trojan (tj.bin) that was left there. Tada, mission over.
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jpublic's Avatar
Roundup

So, Hacker Evolution. The graphics are decent, considering it's fairly old and is simply trying to present a realistic Unix-esque hacking interface. The music is peppy techno that I only found annoying after a fairly lengthy (7 hour) play session. The sounds are appropriate to the simulation, including the standard soothing female voice for various actions. The plot is fairly interesting, and managed to keep me interested enough to finish the main story.

My only criticism is the game is limited and unforgiving. In each mission you have a strictly controlled set of servers you can screw around with, and you have to plan your moves extremely carefully to limit the trace level you build up so as to not use up too much money mitigating it. This leads to having to basically play in a trial-and-error format, where you have to optimize your actions in a stage based on lessons you learned in a previous attempt.

And really, once you're done the game, there's not a lot to do with that content other than try to get a better score and/or a lower trace level, to achieve an even better ranking on Exosyphen's leaderboard. Wait, that's not quite true. There is the Reinsertion expansion, which continues the story, and Exosyphen hosts a couple mods that give you an alternate story to play. But still, after that, you're done.

The sequel, Hacker Evolution - Untold (and it's expansion Flight Zero) apparently improves on Hacker Evolution in every way.

It basically comes down to this: It's not Uplink. It doesn't pretend to be. But it does provide a fairly unique and compelling story in a hacking simulator that is designed well enough to be almost believable.


1) The JPublic Fun Rating: 3 out of 5

2) The JPublic Irritation Rating: 5 out of 5 (I'd give this a 6 if I could, this game is MEAN.)

3) The JPublic Value Point: The game is offered in a few places in a collection of Hacker Evolution and Hacker Evolution Untold for $30. I wouldn't buy it unless you find a sale where you can get the collection for $12.50 or less.


Comments in the discussion thread, here!
Posted 02-05-2011 at 12:11 PM by jpublic jpublic is offline
 

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