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This is something I wrote and posted elsewhere, but I thought would make for a good topic of discussion and debate here. The aim of this piece is not to discuss 'gamism' - IE, 'but it isn't fun if the group isn't together' or 'I don't want to run a separate run for the hacker' - that is a matter of personal preference in play style, and no amount of argument is going to change anyone's mind on that, I believe. This is more a look at how the matrix would probably work, from a realistic angle, using modern networking and needs, and extrapolating how this would progress as civilization evolved. Alternate theories are welcome, as are extrapolations and expansions on various aspects of these concepts. Please, enjoy, and play nice. smile.gif

I've seen complaints about hacking in Shadowrun - how the character doesn't even have to be with the group to do his job, and is effectively doing a run that's separate from the PCs. I don't see a problem with that - a hacker is often fairly squishy, and if they're on the run they're more likely to be a liability rather than an asset. I've heard people come up with various methods to prevent the hacker from being a 'stay at home', and honestly, I find most of these ideas to be fairly unrealistic. I've personally not had this problem with my Shadowrun games, because of how I run it for the character - they're a part of the run, acting somewhat as an omnipresent figure who provides assistance. Sort of a 'god in the machine' that's running with the PCs.

I tend to look at the matrix in Shadowrun from two angles - the first angle is from a 'reality' standpoint, while the other is from looking at examples in anime and fiction. A good example for me is Ghost in the Shell, and how the matrix works there. In GitS, you can hack from virtually anywhere, and hit nearly anything. The characters in GitS are wired to the matrix 24/7, via something called a 'cyberbrain', which acts as virtual storage for memories and information that people have access to. It expands the memory capabilities of the individual, and allows them to run programs and various other things via thought. It's passive, acting more as storage, until someone links in directly, which then opens up a lot more options by letting the person become part of whatever they're connected to (such as when the Major connects to the vehicle she's in to command it via thought -- Shadowrun's Riggers).

When I look at the matrix, I try to do so from a reality-based standpoint. By this, I mean that I look at how I think the matrix would function, and what it would be used for, and this provides me a template for what a hacker could do within it. I also use real-world parallels to help keep me grounded, so my players and I have a point of reference when I try to explain aspects of the matrix.

The first thing I look at is 'wireless' hacking. The matrix is a virtual and augmented reality, which overlays the physical reality. In the real world, this would be a combination of wireless and lined internet connections -- for example, I have a line running from a central point outside my house (a hub), that goes into my home, and connects to a number of points in the house. I have it connected to a wireless router, which then allows wireless computers, laptops, and smartphones to connect to it from anywhere in the house. However, I have three computers which are not wireless, and they plug into the router directly. The 'matrix' of my home would be as follows: From a remote location, you could get to my house via the landline, which would take you to the router. You could then follow the direct connections to any of the computers hooked up to it (two on the top floor, one in the basement), or try to ride the signal to one of the wireless devices connected to it.

I can see Shadowrun having the same framework. A lot of things in Shadowrun are wireless -- this allows mobility and a certain amount of freedom to work or play from anywhere. A scientist can work on something in his office, have a breakthrough, and walk over to the lab to show his colleague what he's been doing. Now, some people mention having the building use something to dampen wireless signals - and I've no problem with this. You don't want the people inside using their commlinks to send information outside. Sure, this makes sense. However, I'm also certain you'd want them to be able to use their commlinks to communicate with each other inside the building. So, you'd use an internal wireless hub, which allows the company to keep track of communication on their network. However, you would also want to be able to send information into and out of the building - so this hub would be connected to the matrix via a wire, which filters and monitors what's passing through it. Effectively, this would be a choke-point.

Now, when the building is 'off' - you could close this choke point, thus preventing the network inside from being accessed. That's fine, too. However, this is where a Shadowrun team comes in. Rather than bringing your hacker with you, the Shadowrun team goes in, and turns on the connection. This allows the hacker to ride the wire into the building, and access the network from there. Alternatively, the hacker simply goes in while the building is up and running, but I doubt most Shadowrun teams want to go in during such a period... you never know, though.

The thing is, I feel it is important to look at the matrix through the modern lens. What is the matrix used for? How would it be laid out in a building? What are the uses versus the liabilities of ignoring it? I mean, for example, you could not have an entire office 'closed' from the matrix 100%, that would be unrealistic if it is a place where people need to work. Information has to flow through the building between people working there, and out to people who have a vested interest in what's going on there. For example, if Lofwyr has a project going on he wants to keep tabs on, he won't take 'sorry, this building's sealed, you'll need to come in person' or 'you will need to wait while we have someone copy the information onto a commlink and transmit it to you once they've left the building'. If there's some emergency data needing to go in or out, it needs to be able to work immediately, and blocking the building from transmitting or gathering data is counterproductive.

For real world examples: Considering how in recent memory, we've had more than one American agency hacked, and we've also had Sony hacked. It is highly unlikely that these hacks were done by someone actually inside the building that was hacked - and you would think the information taken would have been secure - but because of the necessity of communication and the sharing of information between locations (for example, the CIA needs to be able to access profiles from anywhere), and the fact that an organization may have multiple buildings in the same city (or even in different cities), it is very unlikely that any given piece of information is not accessible from outside. I would predict this would be even more the case in Shadowrun - where you could build labs or projects in different countries, looking for a place where it would be cheapest to work on 'this portion', then using Augmented Reality to overlay the projects so people could communicate in AR space at the same time. This would allow, for example, engineers in Germany to talk to programmers in the UCAS, both working on the same project, while keeping touch with each other in real time. It would be cheaper to build the physical components in Germany, while the programmers are all UCAS citizens. Instead of having to up and move entire families around the globe, they can stay home and do their work.

Again, look at Ghost in the Shell - the hackers there can get almost anywhere remotely. The amount of information floating around the matrix is staggering, but the world has evolved where the instinct to communicate remotely has grown from it. This has happened here, in the real world, so why wouldn't it become exaggerated as the ability to share information becomes easier? Hell, look how things have grown here: We've gone from BBS and UseNet to IRC and Web Forums, from E-Mail to IM, and now we're moving from telephone to cell phones and internet phones. As we progress, it is easy to see how these kind of things are going to evolve and meld together, until we're at a point where our ability to communicate will be a part of us, anywhere, anytime. And as we progress, human nature is going to try to make this as easy for the individual as possible, meaning that it will (unfortunately) be easier for hackers to access these things.
I agree with most of your ideas, but there's more to it.

First, for information - including sensitive information (such as corporate projects or financial data) - to flow, there need to be some security. At least enough so that the gains the information flow brings offset the cost of the possible hackings. But if it's possible to completely secure the information, hackers would be out of the game.

Hopefully, this is not a all-or-nothing situation. Security should be as good as required for the information (keeping in mind that high security has higher costs, not only in money but also in time or ease-of-use), so that hackers would be able to easily hack simple systems and low-impact system but would need more work (and to take more risks) to get highly secure information.

Second, the Internet has been built by Universities. It's made to share information for free. The Matrix has been built by corporation. It's made to sell and control information. I expect it to be a lot more controlled for the end-user. There's no reason why a normal user's Matrix access should let him connect to a server containing private corporate data.
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