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Rated: ASR · Fiction · Mystery · #2258424
A five-minute mystery. Can you figure whodunnit?

The Stolen Files

          "An outrage, an indecency, an outright theft!" sputtered Dr. Jering as he unlocked the door to let me in. The tiny scientist was a miniature tornado of righteous rage.
          "Someone has stolen your robot?" I prodded. I had just walked into the university's Carston Robotics Laboratory in response to a telephoned complaint.
          "Not the robot, Detective Clark. The software, the control system. Without that, the robot is mere mechanical junk. Even the microcomputers that operate the robot are electronic garbage without the programming. We're in the running for a multi-million dollar development contract from the Department of Defense. Our cutting-edge software is incredibly valuable." He swirled around me to check that the door had locked behind us.
          "So, you're missing some floppy disks, or what?"

          "Nothing so simple and physical, unfortunately. Our server log shows that an unauthorized copy was made at 08:15, shortly after the lab opened, while I was under the robot with a wrench."
          "Server log?"
          "A server is a large computer that connects the other computers; the log is a record of the activity of all the computers in the lab. It is monitored automatically, so we learned of the illegal copy fairly quickly. Anyway, the copy could be on a memory device the size of your thumb, or even of your thumbnail. At least we know the files weren't emailed out of the building, because our server system also runs the telephones and internet connections."
          "So you must know who did it. Passwords, user ID - surely you restrict access," I suggested.
          His whirlwind of indignation suddenly died. "Well, yes. Um, the log showed the copy was made under my ID and password."
          I raised an eyebrow.
          "We maintain strictest security," he insisted. "User ID names and passwords must be memorized, never written. Passwords must be changed weekly. No one could have learned both my UID and my password. Though it appears that someone did."
          "Well, perhaps you'll introduce me to the other staff, and we'll see."
          Jering called over his team. "They all know of the situation," he explained, "and they realize that suspicion must fall on all of us, so please ask what questions you must." One by one, he introduced the group. "Please tell Detective Clark your job and what you were doing this morning at 8:15."
          Karim, tall, dark, and arrogant, scowled at me as though I were a piece of defective equipment. "I am a mechanical engineer. My job is to design and perfect the chassis, the drive, and all the mechanical systems. I don't play around with fuzzy Artificial Intelligence software, Clark. At 8:15, I was at my computer redesigning linkages for the manipulator arm. And I particularly resent any insinuation that I would have done such a thing." He crossed his arms and glared.
          Shelley, a graduate student, was chunky, cheerful, and bright. "I do sensors, providing the robot with its sight, hearing, sense of touch, and its ability to navigate by GPS," she explained. "I am also the team photographer, recording our progress for the archives. At 8:15, I was archiving yesterday's high-res images and video." She held up an expensive-looking digital camera. "I'm looking forward to shooting today's field trials out at the research farm."
          Balbir was older, sleek, well-groomed, and good-natured. "I am a programmer. Along with Dr. Jering, I am writing the AI code that is interpreting the sensor data and making what we hope are intelligent decisions about direction of movement, speed, and that sort of thing. At the time of which you are asking, I was reviewing some questionable decision-making routines. We were all here, we were all working at our computer stations, and any of us could have logged on under Dr. Jering's code and made the copy. You have got your work cut out for you, Detective."
          "So it would seem," I replied. "Dr. Jering, how long have you and your staff been together on the project?"
          "This is our third year. Balbir and I have been on it from the start. Shelley has been on the fringes for months, but just joined us officially last week, filling in for Gareth Kalnesian who suddenly fell ill. But she was one of Gareth's students, so she picked up quickly and the work wasn't interrupted at all. And Karim has been on the project for the past year."
          "Has anyone else come in, or has anyone left the lab since it was opened this morning?"
          "No, we have all been here since I opened the doors at eight, and no one has been allowed in except you."
          "Well, Dr. Jering, we'll have to review your security procedures. After that, I think we might have your stolen copy back before too long."
          What has Clark spotted? Who stole the files?
- - - - - - - - - -

          Suspicious of the sudden illness of one team member, Clark thought that Shelley might have used her fancy camera to take a video of Jering while he entered his code and password at some time earlier during the week. She could then have studied the video to decipher the keystrokes. That morning, under the guise of uploading images, she was actually downloading files. Because she was new to the lab, she had not known the server log routine. The memory card in the camera proved to contain not pictures, but the stolen files. Shelley had expected to swap memory cards once she was out of the lab, and Kalnesian would then sell the files to another robotics company.
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