CthulhuTech - Once Were Men
Modern Polydimensional Network Ecologies
“Who shall stand the burning datalight of tomorrow?”
Dr. Alain Vien Nguyen
Transcript of the Seventh Unified Network Group
June 18th, 2085
Leaving aside political considerations and other barriers to international networks before the outbreak of the First and Second Arcanotech Wars, the situation of collabex nets (collaboration-exchange networks) at the beginning of the Aeon War was tenuous at best and rapidly worsening in the face of orbital, undersea and atmospheric disruption on a scale never before encountered in network engineering history. It is to address the severity of the situation that SUNG (Seventh Unified Network Group, the previous six being casaulties of war and politics) was created, not only to impose unified standards but also to increase connectivity in a war-effect environment based on previous standards and existing systems.
The goal was to restore a partial global network on top of attenuated, dis-integrated and infiltrated systems that still existed and could provide carrier service at the hardware level. In simple layman’s terms, we had to recover what we could of the old net and build on top of it. Build new, salvage old and recover what we could. That was the hardware and interface layer, lead by SUNG, the first step which allowed us to reconstitute the noosphere upon which our civilization depends. The creation of the Data Recovery Foundation, in collaboration with the world’s leading universities and the Ashcroft Archives, was the second necessary step.
The weaknesses and strengths of the previous network order were exposed for all to see during the conflicts preceding this one; namely, the fragility of high-density computational clusters based around large populations vis-à-vis orbital bombardment and envelopment strategies (cf. Dr. Mera Vaku, Initial Effects of Nazzadi Atmospheric Envelopment on Network Resources), and, concurrently but paradoxically, the inadequacy of dispersed high-survivability resources to deal with informational demand, especially during periods of intense military operations. The tyranny of geography is a killer in this regard. You need high-capacity computation and transmission, but the minute you focus your resources in a given location it becomes a prime military target, quickly destroyed. Well, that’s why we invented flexinodes, brachiated info-ecologies, obscurants and the whole field of Information Network Modulation.
So what do modern network ecologies look like? By way of analogy, imagine a dense, sub-tropical cloud forest, with all its component biotic strata of rhizomes and fungi (the communication layer), midgrade vegetation (basic business and consumer systems), upper foliage (governmental and academic systems), insects (autonomous systems and independent nodules) and finally mammalian fauna (military expert systems and sophont-grade limited AIs). Now combine that forest with a complex, very rigid but extremely high-throughput crystalline structure that exists in almost the same space and interacts with the cloud forest at the semantic level. That’s the global network ecosystem. Its principal components, in relation to the above analogy, are the Ashcroft Data Corpus and Chrysalis’s Electroma supermesh. Both are suppported at the hardware level but processing filaments embedded into every human structure and by scattered ASURAs in the countryside, uninhabited areas and even enemy terrain.
ASURA stands for Autonomous Survivable Ubiquitous Recoverable Assemblies, tiny nanoscale bundles of switches, processors, memory and repeaters that provide instantaneous computing power and connect to each other in a mesh network structure. These seeds are scattered all across the Earth and are powered by ambient electromagnetic energy, sunlight or minute thermal differentials. Destroying them completely in a large area is extremely difficult, and so far the Migou have not even bothered to try, though the Rapine Storm has managed to degrade this infrastructure by other means. ASURAs are sometimes referred to as flexinodes.
In game terms, the data corpus allows access to every kind of information you can imagine, and it’s available almost everywhere on the surface of the planet. The downside is that the data corpus cannot sustain full virtal reality environments (simulspaces) and is much more susceptible to hacking, giving it a higher ambient Corruption rating (see below, p. XX). Electroma, on the other hand, is much faster, contains more proprietary data and can sustain full virtual reality interfaces, but is only available within major arcologies (Processing +1 when using Electroma).
- Nodes are small devices with computing power
- Cores are powerful, large devices with a lot of computing power
- Systems are collections of nodes/cores run by a single organization
- Zones are collections of systems within a specific geographic area
- Datomes are specific types of data, detailed below (data biomes)
- Interlocks are heavily-defended security gateways between zones
- Links, or netlinks, are the personal hardware used to access the net
- Rig is a set of tools, programs and physical gear used to break into systems
Hackers use a variety of tools to get what they want: offensive and defensive programs, exploits, on-the-fly utilities, social engineering, cryptographic algorithms, spoofing, etc., but they can’t know everything. Specialization in hacking certain types of systems, or performing certain types of hacker tasks, is common and necessary. Suites are abstract representations of a hacker’s skillset, programs, knowledge of exploits and tools, connections in the trade, bribed insiders, friendly contacts and other assets. Each suite represents a function or general task that is commonly performed by a hacker and not a specific program. At any given time a hacker is plugged into half-a-dozen systems keeping track of the latest patches, the newest 0-day cracks, the most effective tricks to gain entry into particular operating systems and the most recently-discovered weaknesses in various programs. This collection of assets is the hacking suite, of which 15 are listed below.
Hacking tools combine with regular skills to perform most tasks. For example, in order to bypass the magnetic locks in a building, the hacker would roll Security + Lockpicks to succeed. Challenge ratings are shown under each tool description.
- Cracking — penetrating systems, medium, slow
- Crashing – overloading and destroying systems, fast, hard
- Spoofing – faking credentials to get inside a system, slow, hard
- Stealthing – sneaking into a system undetected, slow, easy
- Scan [Observation] — surveillance, video, geneprints, sensors
- Lockpicks [Security] — alarms, weapon systems, elevators, gatelocks
- Dossier [Psychology] — info on people, criminal records, gossip, history
- Locator [Research] — finding files, avatar searches, sifting databases
- Telematics [Pilot] — remote control devices, robots, vehicles, appliances
- Structure [Engineering] — building schematics, HVAC, electrical, hydro
- Mediafeed — news, vidphone, trideo, entertainment manipulation
- Geolocation [Tracking] — vehicle guidance, airports, highways, subways
- Financial [Business] — bank transfers, securities trades, audit trails, taxes
- Wiretap [Communications] — intercepts, dataline monitoring, decrypting
- Municipal — power grid, street control, sanitation, sewerage, zoning
A variety of custom skill-focused tools exist to aid specialists in a given field. For example, medical simulations may prepare a surgeon for a complicated operation. A hacker who obtains and uses a specialist tool can add ½ the tool’s rating to a skill test. Custom tools cover only specialties, not broad skill groups. For example, an Oceanography 6 tool, if used for 6 minutes before the test, would provide a +3 bonus to an Oceanography skill test used to identify a species of deep-sea fish.
Despite tremendous advances in computational power, quantum computing, and metadimensional system design, there is always a shortage of resources and a need for faster processing, more network elements and a better distribution/allocation of computing cycles. While photonics and biotronics may have replaced electronics as the standard components of computing hardware, the principles of faster, larger, better are still in effect. The computing hardware of 2085 consists of trinary distributed nodules within dense, sophisticated network ecologies that even their designers cannot fully map or control, but this vast complexity can be boiled down to only a few key game concepts.
The first of these is Processing, a measure of how many processing cycles the hacker can harness to do their work within a given network region. Processing limits how much you can do with your Suites. Since computing elements are embedded into everything, there is no need for a “personal computer”; the hacker’s digital persona lives within a web of resources that can be as far-flung as other continents without having to carry any physical hardware on their body. However, it takes a lot of effort, time and money to create that web, and this is reflected in the cost of buying and continually upgrading the Processing trait. Processing is rated at 1-10 and can be modified both by the hacker and the network environment he is in.
The second hardware trait measures the degree of infiltration by foreign forces – whether they be NEG counter-hackers or strange infofauna from the depths of the Cryptosphere – and how it degrades the hacker’s web of resources. Corruption is kind of like insanity for the hacker’s hardware elements: the greater the degree of corruption, the poorer the performance of the hacker’s software suites and the stranger the response and behaviour of the infosphere. Corruption is rated at 1-10 and can be modified by the hacker, his network environment and infolife such as limited AIs.
- Sequencer – quickly unlocks old-fashioned electronic locks
- Burner – destroys specific photonic equipment in a given radius, EW
- Jammer – interrupts wireless communications in a given radius, EW
- Splice Injector – firmware which injects attack programs into hardwired facilities
- Shielding – protects against burners, jammers, injectors, EW
- Neurocollar – computer-brain interface that wraps around the neck
Hacking is not something the NEG tolerates with a light hand, but it’s hard to avoid nonetheless. Bewildering numbers and varieties of programs and defences have been constructed to protect vital data and systems from prying eyes, but like all warfare it’s a continual game of oneupmanship. At any given time the defenders may be winning, but a single exploit can quickly turn the tide in the attackers’ favour.
Hacking Limited AIs
Sometimes AIs go rogue or need to be bypassed, and even the best of hackers needs something a little more powerful than the standard hacking suites to defeat them. Artificial Intelligences, even limited ones, are extremely good at hacking and consequently will quickly overwhelm a human hacker in microseconds. The hacker’s only defence is to go on the offense with a suite of complicated philosophical problems that will slow down LAIs enough for the hacker to battle them on his own terms. These AI-cracking suites are known as Enigmas, and their possession is not only illegal but sometimes dangerous to a hacker’s own programs. Enigma suites include the following programs:
Eschatology, Sophistry, Ontology, Basilisks, Synaesthesia, Psychotropics,
Mesmerism, , Solipsism, Hermeneutics, Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology, Zen