[mailhist-discuss] Question #2 for my story

Linda Hess linda.hess at gmail.com
Sat Mar 21 11:35:13 PDT 2015

Thanks fro the responses!

I think I need to flesh out the question a bit more, and it may not change
anything, but here goes:

The family is a non-tech family (husband and wife). Husband is a physician,
wife is a writer. They might be technologically forward-looking in that
they actually own a home computer in 1994 and are online with AOL. Suzanne
- not wedded to AOL per se, but it was a consumer service in fairly wide
use. I could change it to an independent ISP.

The husband in the story finds out that his wife has fallen in love with
someone else, and email is their day-to-day means of communication.

His friend has some shady connections and hires a hacker to break into his
wife's email account.

For the story, the wife cannot be aware that she's been hacked, and she has
to think her messages aren't getting through to the intended recipient. And
the recipient's responses can't get back to her. She has to believe that
he's cut off communication.

I have a Plan B if this isn't a technologically believable situation.


On Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 7:57 PM, Jack Haverty <jack at 3kitty.org> wrote:

>  If your story line can put the family's computers on a home LAN, the
> scenario you seek was plausible back then.   No need to hack into an
> external account, you can do it all on your home LAN.  Perhaps the AOL
> account is accessed through the home LAN gateway, using its modem for
> dialing in to AOL.   At least that's what would *appear* to be happening.
> In the mid/late 80s, we built a piece of software at BBN for internal use
> in testing TCP implementations.   The software was an application that ran
> in a Sun workstation (simply because it was convenient).   It could monitor
> and manipulate the traffic on the attached LAN.   You could also have
> written such an app for use in a PC; perhaps someone did....  It certainly
> would have been possible by 1994, when it was pretty common to have LANs
> connecting multiple computers.
> We would test a TCP implementation by configuring that app (we called it a
> Flakeway), to intercept all traffic to and from the computer being tested,
> and then selectively forward that traffic to its original destination.   In
> order to test TCP implementations, the app could be told to perform various
> actions that would stress the TCP in the other computer.  E.G., it could
> duplicate packets, delay them, corrupt them, or drop them.  All of these
> were things that could happen naturally in a long-distance network path,
> but were unlikely to occur over a LAN.   The "Flakeway" made the LAN behave
> like a long-haul network, which was useful for evaluating how a TCP
> implementation would fare in such situations, but while it was still in a
> controlled lab environment.
> It was a simple extension to have the Flakeway intercept traffic but
> forward it on to a different destination.   We also did this for various
> tests.  It was also good for the occasional prank - like setting the office
> LAN so that a manager's attempts to connect to various computers on the
> Internet would instead connect to some other random destination.
> With this capability, it would be straightforward to intercept all email
> traversing the LAN and do whatever you like with it, even including
> changing the contents.   The husband in your story could have easily
> created havoc, undetectable unless you were a very experienced network
> wizard.
> HTH,
> /Jack Haverty
> PS - for the geeks:   The Flakeway monitored all LAN packets, looking for
> ARP handshakes.   When it detected a gateway asking for a destination IP
> address's MAC address, it would wait for the real destination computer to
> reply with the proper MAC address - its own.  The Flakeway would then
> immediately send its own ARP reply, but containing the appropriate MAC
> address for the diversion to a different host.   At that time, computers
> tended to believe whatever they heard last, so traffic was effectively
> diverted until another ARP handshake occurred.  Repeat.
> I wonder if this would still work....it's only been about 30 years...
> On 03/20/2015 10:08 AM, Linda Hess wrote:
> To the group members:
>  I posted a question back in November regarding early use of email. I'm
> writing a novel and didn't want to rely on my memory as the only reality
> check. My question at the time was, how easy would it have been for a
> person (a private user) to go radio-silent on another person in 1994. I got
> some good and useful responses, for which I am grateful.
>  My second question involves the following scenario.
>  One of my characters, a husband, wants to be sure his wife's emails to a
> cerain person do not get through. He wants it to appear to his wife that
> her correspondent has dropped out of contact completely.
>  The year is 1994, and the wife's account is an AOL account (dial-up!).
>  Does anyone on the list know if it would be possible for someone to hack
> the account and redirect emails to a specific person so they don't get
> through? Or would there be some easier way, like tinkering with an email
> address that someone might not notice but would render the email
> undeliverable?
>  Or is this just too far-fetched for consideration?
>  Once again, thank you to all who chose to respond!
>  Linda Hess
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