Numerous answers to my last question suggested the best way to anonymously share future data was to hack the limited protection of early 90s internet. I know the first publicly available BBS had just came online in 1989, so with enough money, our time traveler can access them to post data. My only question is: how can he do this anonymously?

Given the importance and magnitude of data our protagonist has to share, most people across the world are going to want to know its origin. Anything he shares will likely result in top level government effort to trace it back to its origin, he wants to ensure they do not succeed.

Our protagonist is willing to use any exploit to hide his identity so long as it doesn't do serious harm to others, but does not want to destroy systems or use a killer poke. Given that he appears to be five years old, most social engineering approaches are going to be out as well.

While the protagonist can eventually take back as much knowledge or hardware as he requires, I'd like a strategy that doesn't require extensive hardware or more knowledge than he could reasonable be expected to memorize if possible, as that allows him to do it sooner.

Finally an approach that he can pull off without expensive 1990 hardware would be ideal, to avoid the difficulty of convincing someone to spend that much money on a 5 year old. But he is willing to arrange to win a small lottery if necessary to fund buying more expensive gear.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In 1990 bulletin board systems were accessed over telephone lines. Directly over telephone lines, not over phone lines used as carriers for TCP/IP. Directly over analog phone lines, to be exact. So the question comes down to how can a person in 1990 make a phone call anonymously. (They must also have a portable computer and modem at hand.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 31, 2020 at 18:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If the government is going to spend all this time and effort tracking him down (which, who cares? he can just time-jump to the future), would they not simply order the BBS to take down the offending data? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Oct 31, 2020 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ I guess it depends on what you mean by "hide his identity". If he's just trying to avoid a positive identification, it would actually be pretty hard to identify him even if he was caught. Since he wasn't born (and didn't exist) before 1989, there are no records on him. If he doesn't state his name, and carries no identifying information, then his name will never be known. If he can time travel out of his jail cell, then it he will remain an enigma. $\endgroup$
    – cowlinator
    Oct 31, 2020 at 23:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @cowlinator, if you read the linked question, the protagonist actually "jumped back" into his earlier self... so he's physically five years old (in 1990, anyway) but definitely is "in the system", so to speak. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Nov 1, 2020 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ So... the short answer is, if someone is sufficiently determined to trace him, he can't. However, there are certainly ways (of questionable legality) to make it difficult. Strongly recommended reading: The Cuckoo's Egg, a non-fictional account of chasing a hacker and spy that is set right smack in your target time period. (On the plus side, if he's employing such methods, it will likely require a warrant to track him, which if he isn't doing anything obviously shady besides trying to hide might be difficult to obtain.) $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Nov 1, 2020 at 14:57

4 Answers 4


Building off a response from Ash:

With a Single Custom-made USB-sized Interface

Ash went into an excellent amount of detail about how to bring back a bunch of tiny computer chips and scatter them to the winds and make finding you an impossibility. I read through your original post o nthe limitations and goals of the time jumping, and I think it can be made much simpler if you do a bit of prep-work in your 30s.

Note: This Will Not Be Possible Until Your Second or Third Run

The first step is to figure out exactly what systems you are going to hack into, how, and at what time. This will have to be done as a child and you'll need to write it down and save it so that you can write the program that automates the process in the future.

Once you reach your 30s, you use the most advanced miniaturization tech you can get your hands on to build a specialized circuit-board that will connect to a standard phone jack and then execute your program. Your program will then automatically hack into every system that you've designated and dump all the data into those systems.

The key to this is that it needs to be something you can plug in and then walk away from while it spends hours uploading data to a variety of systems worldwide. This also only works once, because you're going to inspire the growth of security protocols the world over (some of which may be in the papers you publish). When this is done, the butterfly effect takes over and you will never be able to assume that you can hack anything anonymously again.

You do, however, have this one free shot before the world changes, and thankfully you're in the 90s so it's a lot harder to get caught than people seem to think. You've developed a simple one-off device that you plug in and then walk away from, so the second step is to find a place that you can plug it in without being surveilled.

Thankfully, it's the 90s, and you've spent at least 50 years casually (or actively depending on your level of paranoia) thinking about how the government tracks people. You find a place to plug in your device that's close enough to your home that you can manage to get there at 5 years old (it's the 90s so kids even at that age have a lot more free reign of the outside world), and you never deal with it again.

The beauty of the idea is that it can't mess up. Once you manage to pull this trick off the first time, you can do it exactly the same way every cycle because you won't have changed anything until after you plug in your device.

Major Limitations

As I can see it, there are a few major limitations:

You have a very limited amount of data you can upload in one shot like this

Bandwidth limitations of 90s what they are, I don't think it's reasonable to assum you can upload more than 1 GB of data TOTAL before your system get's shut down. This is not 1 GB per system you're uploading to either, so unless you're building in a powerful virus designed to take over the system and then copy the data to other systems (not a bad idea come to think of it), each of the systems you try to connect to will reduce the amount of information can send to each of them.

You can still get caught by paranoid time police

Ok, so time police don't exist...yet. If you introduce the verifiable fact of time travel, there's a good chance that someone will invent time police to try to find you. They will realize that someone is sending scientific papers back in time, and they will also realize that they will grow up to become time police once it comes out that papers are coming back in time. They will then send themselves coded messages in important scientific papers in order to find you.

You will forever change the state of internet security and may make future hacking impossible

I don't know for sure that I need to go into this, but I'll mention it anyway. If you want to have any hope of advancing the future, you're going to be including papers about digital technology including the most advanced security protocols of the modern era. Even if you don't put forth the best security protocols of the modern era, they are sure to develop their own after your sophisticated and wide-scale hacking spree.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a good sugggestion, but I especially appreciate your mentioning the bandwidth limitations. I'd been thinking about the bandwidth limitations since shortly after I posted this question. I think bandwidth, and storage, limitations alone are a major limiting factor with this whole scheme, so thank you for being the first to point it out. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Nov 2, 2020 at 14:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I was pretty generous at a GB. On the bright side, you can do some truely remarkable things with data compression if all you're interested in is moving Text files, so you could first send a text file in whatever format they're used to reading with a decompression algorithm and then have the rest of the files heavily compressed. On rough estimate, you could probably fit over 5000 pages in a single megabyte repository if it's properly designed, but with 90s bandwidth and storage restrictions you'll still probably have to hand pick the scientific journals you want to send back. $\endgroup$
    – SirTain
    Nov 2, 2020 at 15:10

With some untraceable, tiny modern tech

How small can you make a computer that can talk to a 1990s BBS system?

This is the PSoC 4000, it's 1.45mm x 1.45mm by 0.42mm (for the Americans - 1/16th inch x 1/64th inch. Think smaller than a grain of rice).:
enter image description here

It's basically a tiny 32-bit computer on a chip the size of a pixel on printed paper at 1990s tech. Runs at 16Mhz (5000 times faster than a modem of the age), and comes with 16kb of storage. It's $73 Including development and programming tools.

To connect that to a phone line you'll need a very simple circuit, all of these parts existed in the early 1990s, and are available today:

  • A battery of some kind.
  • A voltage divider (2 resistors) to get the (comparatively) high voltage phone line down to something which can be measured by the low voltage of the chip.
  • A transistor, to get the low voltage signal from the chip up to phone line voltage.
  • A "play" button. (or you can just attach the battery and have it auto play)
  • Terminals to attach to the phone line directly.
  • Mount them all on a simple circuit board, which you can make at home using pen and copper and low-strength acid. Bit of home soldering to mount the parts. You can get it made professionally for only a few dollars, but the lower quality you get from making it at home will help it look like tech from the 1990s, (minus that one mystery component).

A simple modem program compatible with the tech of the day will easily fit into 1kb, a decompressor can fit into 1.5kb, leaving 13.5kb for compressed text, so you should be able to get about 45 pages of text into this tiny chip (30 lines per page, 79 characters per line, 8:1 compression ratio of typical English text).

Build the circuit. Paint the chip pure black. Test it. Then travel back in time.

The simplest way is to connect your device directly to the phone line and then hit play on your tiny modem (it can dial the BBS directly by simulating either pulse dialling or DTMF tones). You could also connect a speaker and microphone directly, but that makes sounds which can attract attention. When you're finished, bend the board until the chip detaches, and throw it in a fire. The circuit board is not beyond the tech of the day so can be thrown in the garbage consequence free.

Extra credit idea
The microcontroller can be powered by the phone line via a voltage divider (another 2 resisters). So make 10 circuits, and get 10 blasting caps. Get 10 antique phones. Program the tiny controllers to sit idle for a month after being powered up, and then randomly start trying to dial the BBS and upload the package. If the package upload succeeds, send power to the blasting cap which is a tiny 1mm x 1mm black dot glued to the blasting cap.

Travel back in time, and donate these phones to various charity shops. They'll find their way into various homes, 1 month after being plugged in, they'll start trying to upload the data to the BBS, when they've succeeded, they'll explode (the explosion will be small and will be unlikely to injure someone unless they're very close).

Some poor housewife will be sitting there having a calm afternoon tea, and the phone she bought for cheap from the thrift shop last month explodes, then later that day, FBI kicks in the door.

You've had over a month to get away, all the security footage of you donating phones has been taped over, all the investigations lead to confused housewifes with exploded phones, and the forensic investigation is unlikely to find the tiny black dot which housed the modem and the sensitive information. And if they do, they're unlikely to be able to hack past the read-only mode and enter programming mode, and even then, they're unlikely to link it to you.

Really don't want to take any modern tech back? Another way:

  • Set up an anonymous BBS system in the present day.
  • Buy from an antique shop:
  • Setup a recorder to record the sounds your modem sends down the line (filtering out what their modem plays back, and the sounds from the phone company).
  • Use the old computer to upload your data to the BBS system.
  • Once the upload finishes - stop the sound recorder.
  • Travel back in time.
  • Go to a remote payphone late at night.
  • Wearing gloves, dial the BBS number.
  • Hit play and put the speaker up to the microphone.
  • Once the recording finishes - walk away with the tape.
  • Burn the tape ASAP.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fabulous answer! +1. But why use such a small and technologically advanced chip. You could send more than 45 pages if you upgraded the hardware idea. The thrift shop phones are brilliant. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2020 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ It sounded like the OP was saying the character could only jump back into his own earlier self, hence him being five years old. How can he carry something, even something that small. Neat idea, though, I'd want something larger and easier to hook up. $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Nov 2, 2020 at 4:12

Start by hiring an assistant who at least appears to be a grown up. A few of the steps in this process are going to require in-person interactions which might be hard to pull off while looking like an unattended five year old. Your assistant should be female and approximately the correct age to have a five year old child. It wouldn't hurt if she were a little nerdy so that her interest in computers is not surprising to others.

For full anonymity, she should have been chosen before travelling into the past, from a historic report of the fatalities of an upcoming airline crash or train wreck. Once you are done with the information distribution steps of this plan, your final step will be to make sure she gets to her plane/train on time. If allowing her to die as history demands is outside of your moral code, you can rescue her at the last minute and take her with you back into the future, as long as surviving witnesses recorded her getting onboard.

Now for the information distribution. Research the names and mailing addresses of every 1990 BBS owners using a mixture of future historic records and 1990 phone books. Provide your assistant with cash to buy a computer, some postal supplies and a lot of 1990 style floppy disks from local stores. Record your information on the floppies and then just mail them, along with hard copy printouts to the BBS owners.

Any attempt to investigate the origins of the information might get as far as the public post box into which the letters were dropped. If the detectives get a luck break, they might find the stores where the envelopes, stamps and floppy disks were purchased. In the unlikely case that they somehow trace these cash purchases back to your assistant, they will find that she died in a disaster which could not have been predicted before hand.

From there, you can depend on age-ism to obscure your involvement in all this. Five year-olds can get away with just about anything. Apparent innocence and being cute are an amazingly powerful combination.

Addendum... Depending on the nature of the information which is to be distributed, you can further protect your identity by giving the investigators a false trail to follow. In addition to your assistant, find a few scapegoats using future history records and phone books. These people should all have specific characteristics which make them interesting to the detectives. Maybe some of them have relatives who work in industries closely related to the information. Others might have criminal histories and radical beliefs. A few social activists and a Russian immigrant would round off the group nicely. Have your assistant contact and hire each of them. Have her pay them cash to help her copy floppies and stuff envelopes. You don't have to attend any of these meeting. Now the investigators have a fully staffed terrorist cell with an accidentally killed leader to keep them busy. With all that intrigue to chew on, they won't need to look further for an explanation.

  • $\begingroup$ This was also hinted at in the previous question. I nominated "his parents" for the job... $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Nov 1, 2020 at 17:10

Well, there is a lot of (sometimes badly written) Russian Sci-Fi on "how to fix past things with time travel", where most involve "not being caught by KGB" (or what was its name in the era). I am borrowing heavily from those.

Use (older) spy techniques

Record the data is some way, stash it somewhere safe in the past (you have the time, since no one knows you are stashing something), alert your government contact / journalist of your choice / local police officer.

If you want, the alert step might involve BBS, but should not. The good thing: the actual live communication is short, less options to be traced.

As far, as I understand USA, you can just hook a modem to a phone in a phone booth in the middle of nowhere, send a short message, unhook the modem, and drive away.

Further sources of inspirations would be the communications operations by some intelligence services done before small electronics kicked in. Read the memoirs! Or some mafia transactions of the kind "let's exchange this suitcase with money for this suitcase with cocaine and let nobody get shot".

Efficient recording

Since your protagonist is stashing a memo (about 9/11, Kennedy assassination, etc.), they might just write it down. As long as no one is there to catch them and to demand a comparison of handwriting in court, this is Ok. Extra bonus for some too good or unusual typesetting. (For example, folks from 1930s would be rather surprised to see modern bleach-white paper printed with a laser printer. They will be able to find out, this is not printed in their-modern way, trust me. Or just take a look on differently-printed paper under a microscope.) If the memo is openly stating "I came from the future to prevent XY, this adds credibility.

You might use some data storage, you know, exists in the era. Such as a set of floppy disks or microfiche.

The best approach I have seen, was to:

  1. Use stenography for a compact writing (requires learning it, but helps a lot. You can also use computer-based typesetting, there were some approaches for that.)
  2. Fake foreign handwriting when doing so (hard, might be unrealistic, so this is optional)
  3. Photograph the written sheets on a usual film camera (requires some fiddling, but is generally doable)
  4. Place the film in the hideout from above
  5. Alert the KGB chef, his package lies in the secluded place.

Basically, your recipient would be responsible for picking the film up, developing it, printing the frames, decoding the writing, acting on US missiles in Turkey (or what not). Guess, what is the hardest part?

Again, if a computer might play a role, then a (modern) one in 1 and (contemporary) one in 5, with a modem and somewhat secure / pseudonymous connection.

You do not want the session to be fully anonymous, it suffices not to be caught. Hence, "random entry points" cross the country might help. Or hacking. Oh, the hacking!

Blue boxes

In the 60s, there was a lot of action in the telephone department. Some custom-made devices could play the role of the phone company equipment and do magnificent things. Of course, they were illegal. For example, a blue box allowed you to call long-distance for free.

Using such a device for the transmission would not throw a large, state-sponsored intelligence division completely off-track, but would help to slow them down. There was/is a strong community around the colorful boxes, so some connections and a lot of googling in their time would help the protagonist.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .