The Killchain

Summary: What happens when ubiquitous automation meets the spirit of Herostratus?

The Newark massacre was the first time the public saw the Killchain's handiwork. An automated streetsweeper, a lumbering elephant of smart city infrastructure, plowed through a class of students crossing a busy street. It backed up over those unfortunate enough to have survived the first pass, reducing children to pavement stains. The adults faired little better, given the weight and power of the murderous machine. A demolitions team and sniper with an anti-materiel rifle finally stopped the rampage, but not before two dozen were dead and twice that many were injured.

What made it worse was the streaming video from the front-mounted camera. Not only did the world have a front seat to the carnage, but the authorities were nearly powerless to stop it. Authorities never quite dealt with the ability to shut down the streaming films, although some states became more capable at it. The investigations that followed became public horror shows, as they found commonalities between incidents.

Cyber-sleuths connected the dots on a network hiding not only in the darknet, but also hidden in plain sight. A file fragment surfaced first, detailing an exploit for slipping malware into common urban robots during updates. A seemingly innocuous tweak to the tele-operational protocol opened the door for an unknown hacker to take command of the vehicle. The web address of the infiltraror was bounced around the world, but it was not digital forensics that found the culprit.

Instead, the prime suspect began boasting to classmates and neighbors about it. He was a New Jersey high-school student with wealthy parents, bragging about getting away with murder. He had little background in electronics, but the timing of his descriptions matched video footage to precisely. Once arrested, he immediately cracked.

He received an email from an unknown party, offering him the chance at instant fame. The message came shortly after he advocated genocide on a white supremacist forum he frequented. Curious, he was given the chance to operate a small delivery drone for a second, and he was immediately impressed. He requested something bigger, and he was given control of the street sweeper during the exact time of the massacre.

Even to the police, he bragged his high score still stood. What this meant was disturbing, even to veteran detectives. A virtual lexicon of robot exploits was encrypted on a blockchain, distributed across the internet. A modified smart contract script searched web traffic on certain sites for people matching certain behavior profiles, and emailed them with a chance at infamy. After the rampage concluded, the truly horrific procedure began.

The total number of casualties were counted, and the total damage caused was tallied up. Fatalities, injuries, property damage, coverage, creativity, and similar metrics were rated by a random subset of those on the list. The top ten rated massacres and scores were displayed to all members of the network, with a half rhetorical question beneath the chart: "Can you beat them?" The Newark massacre still topped that grisly gallery.

The perpetrator of the Newark massacre was brazen enough to enter his real name on the score chart, which provided the final evidence necessary for his conviction. While the prosecution and the families of the victims gladly saw justice done, they correctly realized more would follow.