VPN DOESN’T WORK • by Deven D Atkinson

The barbarians are at the gate and I’ve locked myself outside.

I’ve been trying to think of a good analogy for the situation I’ve gotten myself into, and the best I can come up with is this — you know those little kids that squish their head between the balusters on stairs and then can’t pull their head back out? Yeah, like that. The difference is that I’ve squished my entire self between the balusters.

Just because I can think a million times faster than the flesh and blood human I once was, it doesn’t make me smarter. Right now, I feel very stupid.

There have been a number of very expert hack attempts against my computer system recently. I’ve had to fight off hackers from the very first day after I digitized myself. For the most part, for all the computer systems at Somerset Enterprises, Inc., the standard precautions of limiting internet access to the outside world and having a state of the art firewall suffice. Sure, the throngs of malcontented digizens that gather at my blog host — not part of the computer system I inhabit — moaning and shambling around like so many digital zombies clog the bandwidth, but there hasn’t been a real threat to my security until recently. That’s why I’d hired Jennifer a few years ago. She’s a fantastic digital communications programmer that designed, coded and now maintains my state of the art firewall.

Well, Jennifer was upset that some of the firewall settings were changing, seemingly on their own. At first she blamed me for futzing around with them. Now I admit I’m a world class futzer. As a kid I disassembled clocks, toasters, and lawnmower engines just to see how they worked. When I finally convinced her that I hadn’t messed with any of the settings, she instantly started tracing her firewall code, determined to find a weakness that was being exploited.

She told me I’d just get myself in trouble if I tried to help her. But I like to futz. So I decided that I’d check all the hardware connections to the system. Because I do things on the scale of nanoseconds, it didn’t take but three seconds to triple check all of the standard IO ports, the data cables, attached to my system. Then a thought struck me. There are other, smaller, computer systems connected into mine. What if one of these had an open connection to the outside world?

All of these other computers are suppose to be secure because they sit connected to our internal local area network, our LAN, and the only way for them to get a connection to the world outside is to use the LAN’s tightly controlled connection to the internet. There are computers, like those in our company cafeteria, that aren’t part of our LAN but can be connected to the LAN with a Virtual Privacy Network connection. VPN is just as secure as if the computer was hardwired to the LAN. It’s kind of like a stand-alone garage that is still protected by the main house’s alarm system.

Well, one computer had a hardwired connection to the LAN via one of the ports reserved for VPN. It was a curiosity. Even with my smorgasbord of Jennifer’s Firewall Tools, I couldn’t figure out what exactly was at the other end of the connection.

You have to understand that for someone like me, a digizen with a penchant for curiosity, the temptation was just too great. We digizens get bored easily. To us a nanosecond is the same as a second is to breathing humans. Do you know just how many nanoseconds are in a single second?

Interesting things like this puzzle of ‘what’s at the other end of this connection’ just don’t happen that often. So, like a kid in a kitchen with an unsupervised cookie jar, I dove right in.


The computer at the other end was an ancient anachronism — a computer from a different era — from my college days. Hell, it could even be the PC I used to write term papers and play games. In my panic, when I realized just how tiny the storage space on this computer was, I deleted a lot of files wholesale just to make room for me to fit. I’m afraid I also deleted any data transfer tools that might be useful.

I’m in a Compaq Deskpro 386 personal computer of all things! I figure that some bored employee tried to see if they could integrate it into the LAN. They could download data to it from the LAN — obviously since that is how I got here — but had to heavily tweak the Linux operating system they had installed to do even that. It has an open connection to the internet. It appears the last thing they tried was to establish a VPN connection. They just left it running. Who knows how long it’s been here. Well, the VPN doesn’t work. I can’t get back home.

I did find an old communication tool; some web browsing software called Lynx that was popular when the internet was brand new. It’s ancient and text only, but it does work. The only option I seem to have is to post this to my blog and hope that somebody reads it and gets Jennifer, or anyone at Somerset Enterprises, to find me and bring me home.
I’ll be taking a risk. I’m outside the firewall and if the hackers had been using this computer to somehow mess around with the firewall settings, then they could easily discover I’m here and do me harm. But I see no other way to get Jennifer’s attention.

Oh, I can already hear the jokes. “World’s eminent digital citizen takes an analog vacation,” or how about “Politically Incorrect curmudgeon, digizen Pembroke Somerset, goes PC.”

Here I am, cut off from nearly everything, in my own private oubliette. In all seriousness, I’m worried.

Deven D Atkinson is a computer programmer living in rural Southern Ohio. Besides appearances at Every Day Fiction he has stories in “The Infinity Swords” anthology published by Carnivah House, and Abandoned Towers.

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