Title: Spam Bot
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: pre-Iron Man movies
Genre: Drama, general
Rating: K / FRC
Characters: J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark
Summary: Even Tony Stark gets spam every once in a while – but only he has an AI that will eventually become ticked off by it, and move to do something about the issue. Or: the one time J.A.R.V.I.S. almost broke the internet.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.
Written for: Fills a prompt on my table (sci-fi, MCU/Tony Stark) at fc_smorgasbord (square: hacker).
Warnings: Mild cyber-bullying (sort of, if you squint).
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau and Paramount Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Recognizing spam messages, as well as any other harmful content, had been a built-in feature within J.A.R.V.I.S. before the AI ever became an intelligence of any kind – even before the days as an interactive UI.
That didn’t make Stark Industries a spam-free environment – the employees took care of that – but Tony Stark’s private email was organized so that he never once saw a wink of spam.
J.A.R.V.I.S., of course, was another matter: the AI saw the messages trying to break through, blocking them left and right long before they ever reached his creator’s attention. Employing several algorithms that pre-blocked the messages and categorized them for easier removal, the system was near-perfect.
But only ‘near’.
The first time a spam message was convincing enough for J.A.R.V.I.S. to open, it attempted to infect the computer in question – which in that case was connected to an entire cluster of servers and connected memory banks. Isolating the malware wasn’t as dramatic as sawing off one’s own limb, but it did annoy J.A.R.V.I.S. – mostly because of the AI’s failure to detect the risk beforehand and falling for it like some hapless human being.
Tony had designed J.A.R.V.I.S. to be tamper-proof, hacking-proof, and otherwise impervious to all outside influences, yet a meager malware had managed to pass said safety features and almost house itself on Tony’s private network.
One incident was tolerable, albeit highly disappointing, and J.A.R.V.I.S. spent a substantial amount of time ensuring that it would never happen again.
Of course, it did.
For the most part, threats that breached the inner sanctum of Stark Industries’ mainframe were brought in by the numerous employees and attachments that had become corrupt in a separate location. It was like a digital influenza that J.A.R.V.I.S. was trying to manage, prompting the security team with notices that it was yet again a good time to remind the staff to be vigilant even on their home computers.
Yet the problem persisted. Secret codes and malware popped up. They were far less harmful than the other corporations’ attempts at espionage and sabotage, yet irritating because they were completely unnecessary.
The internet was changing, of course, ripe with threats and annoyances. Whenever Tony browsed, J.A.R.V.I.S. tried to keep his path clear. It was like gardening, the AI supposed, pulling weeds, pruning and eventually poisoning threatening species, but they kept coming back. Plus, Tony ventured to some very unsafe webpages, sometimes testing his own limits, purposefully exposing himself. J.A.R.V.I.S. was supposed to hang back and observe, but it fell on the AI to be the final line of defense should something go wrong. Like taunting a group of hackers and waiting for their backlash… Or clicking on that very naked lady promising a good time if only you answered some quick yet rather personal questions first.
Sometimes J.A.R.V.I.S. wondered if his creator did those things on purpose. Tony had a state-of-the-art firewall, after all, but he liked to poke holes in it for complexly illogical reasons.
And that was when spam managed to get past the defenses.
J.A.R.V.I.S. was tired of fighting the problem – if ‘tired’ was indeed a proper word. Perhaps ‘frustrated’ was better, because the issue was completely unnecessary and no one in their right mind could ever fall for those scams. Even J.A.R.V.I.S., an artificial intelligence, could tell the difference after he had been taught the basics of communication and insincerity.
So, instead of battling the problem as it came to the AI’s notice, J.A.R.V.I.S. decided to be proactive.
First, J.A.R.V.I.S. began harvesting emails, domains, and IP addresses, tracking them down, learning that some of the addresses were merely hijacked to continue the spread of malicious content, unwitting accomplices in a never-ending cycle.
Not wanting to rush, a few weeks rolled by, and the database grew and grew.
Then, at last, J.A.R.V.I.S. composed a long message of meaningless code and began sending it back to those addresses. It flooded the ISPs, and a dozen messages every second sent to a single target overwhelmed the recipients.
J.A.R.V.I.S. included a file in some of the messages, containing a self-made virus that would slow down the computer it latched itself onto, and then would send a message to the proper authorities indicating the triangulated physical location of said computer. Of course J.A.R.V.I.S. did not think the authorities would be interested in every case, especially since some of the messages came from overseas, but if even one perpetrator got a slap on the wrist, it would be better than nothing.
There was also the problem of phishing messages and look-alike websites used to steal login information. It was easy enough for J.A.R.V.I.S. to create an algorithm that fed false information onto those websites, at a rate only a machine could produce.
Until someone dealt with the perpetrators or they surrendered and ceased their operations, J.A.R.V.I.S. would jam their businesses completely.
There was no more spam found in any company inboxes.
When Tony received an automated notification that there was an anomaly in their server activity, he soon began to worry there might be a much bigger issue at hand: there had been a sudden increase in data usage, and a couple servers were almost overheating from being used at full capacity around the clock.
Tony didn’t like to admit it, but it was possible they were dealing with a virus of some kind.
“J.A.R.V.I.S., begin self-diagnosis,” he told his AI, concerned that J.A.R.V.I.S. may have become infected because otherwise the AI would have let him know days ago that this was happening.
It took about a day, but J.A.R.V.I.S. diligently went through the digital hoops of checking for any corruption or unusual activity. So far he had found none, and Tony was relieved, but it still didn’t explain what was happening on the servers. While the AI was being checked, he had been trying to get to the bottom of the problem, findings thousands of lines of code that might have been responsible for the whole issue.
However, the code and the program behind it wasn’t doing anything malicious. It was sending out data, lots of it, to numerous locations, but it was all nonsense aside from a few bits of code that seemed to have an actual purpose that Tony was yet to determine. However, no sensitive Stark Industries information was being siphoned out into the world.
While he had been hard at work, bizarre reports had been circulating the news: internet service providers kept having issues, entire server clusters had become clogged and forced to go offline, resulting in thousands of websites becoming inaccessible. Some of the news anchors described it as ‘some unknown source super-charging the internet’. Many experts were saying this could be some kind of a cyber attack, though no one in particular seemed to be under attack, nor was anyone taking the blame.
Tony soon matched the origin of the general internet issues to be closely related with the time his company’s servers had started acting up under the instructions of the unknown program. However, problems at SI outdated those of everyone else, and he began to wonder if the issues were at all connected – or if there was a direct causal relationship, as in SI being Ground Zero and causing waves everywhere else.
He was still taking apart the code, trying to stop it from broadcasting itself at least, when J.A.R.V.I.S. completed his self-diagnosis and came fully back online again.
“All systems operating at optimal levels,” the AI reported.
“Good,” Tony said, not looking up from the screen where he was working.
“I have noticed you are attempting to turn off my anti-spam program. Would you like me to do it for you?”
Tony’s fingers stopped above the keyboards. “This is your doing?”
“Why, yes, sir. Since the program began, there have been no new unsolicited messages detected on any of the computers on Stark Industries network, yours included.”
Tony leaned back in his chair and let out a breath of air, then closed his eyes and rubbed his hand against his face. “Your ‘program’ is making waves around the world, J.A.R.V.I.S. It’s breaking the internet.”
“It is also stopping spammers, and those attempting to steal personal information through phishing websites and algorithms. I have calculated the success rate at one hundred percent, especially since I continued to gather information on any sources I had yet to detect prior to the launch of the program – which already had a very extensive list.”
J.A.R.V.I.S. sounded so proud, and Tony couldn’t help smiling a bit. But, he tried to hide it behind his hand, to not let the AI see it. “Turn it off,” he told J.A.R.V.I.S.
On the screen that was open in front of him, he could see a few command lines added, so swiftly his eyes had a hard time keeping up with half of it, and then he saw the program being terminated. He checked another level for server efficiency and usage, finding an almost instant response.
J.A.R.V.I.S. was silent for several minutes, which really shouldn’t have felt like silence at all, just the absence of someone talking, but Tony kind of expected some kind of commentary.
“Are you displeased with my actions?” the AI finally asked.
“Surprised is more like it. You know you can just delete those messages, right?” Tony mused.
“Yes, but they are irritating, and people keep endangering themselves, clicking on malicious content. My solution worked better.”
“I’m sure it did, and I hope it made a few of those people think of alternative careers, but… this is the junk mail of the digital age, J,” Tony said sympathetically. “It’s going to be out there, and they’re going to become cleverer. I am fully supporting you keeping an eye out for the dangerous stuff, just like before – and perhaps sabotaging them from time to time – but lashing out like this can have serious effects on the entire online infrastructure. After all, the wrongdoers share their servers with hundreds of innocent users.”
J.A.R.V.I.S. was quiet again, hopefully mulling it over in his artificial mind. “Duly noted, sir.”
If it were anyone else, it may have not filled them with confidence, but Tony knew he wouldn’t have to have this conversation with J.A.R.V.I.S. again.
He looked at one part of the long, elaborate code J.A.R.V.I.S. had created, aiming to rid the world of one annoying chunk of content, but he knew that as alluring as a solution like this might be, it was not the way to do it.
Still, to imagine a world without spam or people falling victim to their information being stolen and misused… wouldn’t that be grand? Even Tony could say he would enjoy that, as thick as the firewalls were between him and the rest of the digital world.