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“The next generation of terrorists will grow up in a digital world, with ever more powerful and easy-to-use hacking tools at their disposal.”

Dorothy Denning

In the 21st century, computers dominate our lives. Telecommuting, internet banking, and social networks have placed the vast majority of our lives on the ‘net, from work to finance to our interactions with our closest friends – and that isn’t even counting the mountain of electronic records, from police or academic to medical. In this age of ubiquitous computing, it isn’t just information that can be gained from computers – they are invaluable tools in almost any skill, and they can control any of a number of important networked devices, from automated security systems and door locks to sentry guns and cyberware. If you are willing to Run right off the Edge and into the Net, you can have access to all of this right at the tips of your neurons – but if you aren’t careful, someone else might perform a Run on you!

Netrunning is the colloquial term for what used to be called ‘hacking’ – exploiting weaknesses in a computer network, with the aim to take it over or otherwise use it for a purpose other than the intended. In the early 21st century, hackers typically relied more upon patience and social engineering to break into systems, but advances in computing technology have rendered most of those techniques either obsolete or pushed to the background. With the new technologies, a netrunner is capable of running a number of smart programs that, with his help and input, could potentially crack even the most secure systems, while the old-school hacker would need to rely upon unsecure terminals and passwords left on pieces of paper taped to the computer’s monitor.

State-of-the-art netrunning bares little similarity to the hacking of the early 21st century; while it’s possible to perform netrunning tasks using an old-school physical terminal, virtual reality simulations and implanted logic co-processors have revolutionized the computer security industry. When using high-quality VR simulations with the appropriate hardware, a netrunner is able to react much faster than one using a classic terminal interface, while implanted co-processors or direct neural interfaces give the netrunner more direct, almost instinctive control over his computer systems – it’s reportedly like the computer becomes an extension of the user’s body and mind. Of course, when using VR or a neural interface, there are certain drawbacks – chief among them the dangers of the VR or interface software being hacked, possibly directly injuring the netrunner’s brain; the dangers of complete immersion in an artificial reality are only a little less.


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