Ever wonder why corporations would build vast computer systems only to connect them to an unsafe global network teeming with malignant viruses and predatory hackers just itching to destroy them? I get asked this by my players a lot. The answer is that — somewhat unlike today — being connected to the global net is vital to the operation of a successful modern business. Basket weavers may not have needed management or telephones to be profitable, and today businesses may not require the Internet to succeed, but as times change so will the need for staying connected. After all, you connect to the Internet despite the risks of catching viruses, having someone snoop on your computer (it's so easy with IE and Win95), or having someone intercept your email (difficult, but everyone thinks it's easy). And most people surf the net for fun, not profit. If the success of your company depended on the Internet, how much more of an incentive?

In an informatics economy, everything runs on information and telecommunications. Interviewed executives all reply that "keeping in touch" with various people takes up 90% of their time even today. In the future, corporate computers are hooked up to nanosecond stock market updates, news feeds are streamed into risk-analysis models, research designs are updated globally by the second, groupware is used for designing and discussing every project, programmers in one time zone work on their distant sleeping comrades' files, Artificial Intelligences swallow oceans of trivial data, processors collate and analyze mountains of data for the next work day, systems back up files to other servers, ecetera ad infinitum. If you're not connected, you're flying blind as a bat (well, the proverbial bat anyway).

So why not build private networks to escape the 'sewage' of the Internet? Why not build your own private ghetto? First, there's cost. It's incredibly expensive to replicate a global satellite/oceanic cable/landline/microwave network - it's much cheaper to pool resources with several thousand other rich corporations and institutions around the world to spread the cost around. Second, private networks are no safer from espionage and hacking than the 'lawless' internet. In fact, the false sense of security and lax internal safeguards tend to make intranets more susceptible to intrusion. After all, you still have to connect to the Internet somewhere, and those gateways not only form access points but also create a bottleneck that slows your business down. Even a totally isolated system will have access points for employees, and these can be subverted.

Now keeping data in cold storage may be sensible when you're dealing with static data such as diaries or books, but most data in 20xx is dynamic data. This means that it's updated, refreshed, enhanced, interlinked and manipulated in countless ways in a few seconds. You might notice the trend already in Internet Explorer 4 or Encarta, both programs which update themselves on an irregular basis to stay current. In the future all data and programs will continually update themselves, and will thus require a connection to the net. Some programs become obsolete in hours — putting them in cold storage will basically ruin them. Things like wage payments, bank accounts, production orders, inventories, personnel files, ICE, icebreaking tools, and especially hacker programs will absolutely never be in cold storage. The few things that could be in cold storage are the aforementioned personal notes, diaries, books, and secret notes which people keep around. However, most net-addicted users in the future will rarely take the time to put these things into cold storage, or have the right equipment to do so (obviously your home computer will always be online in hot storage). So throw out all those isolated 'private systems' you find so often in Shadowrun (which uses them to force deckers to go in with the team) and make sure that nearly every system is connected.

A final caveat: top-secret military data and super-classified research projects would probably have no need to have a real-time internet connection. These projects are so cutting-edge that outside help is useless, and any software updates can be (clumsily but effectively) handled by physically moving software between open and closed systems by hand and foot. Security procedures in top-secret installations include removable hard-drives which are stored in impregnable vaults when employees are not using them (such as night-time), as well as databanks which can only be accessed by special time-and-geneprinted terminals; these machines are firmcoded to only operate under specific hardware conditions (such as having a disk in the drive) which cannot be fooled by cracking programs. These kind of measures necessitate a physical penetration of the facility, but they are very rare! Also, very large enterprises may sometimes develop their own operating systems for internal use. Obviously, such systems would be incompatible with any outside software, so cracking becomes impossible unless one learns that OS and rewrites one's entire software library for it. Note: the US military currently uses publicly-developed commercial software such as Windows NT, Unix, DEC servers, etc. for its systems. Even they cannot afford to built their own machines and operating systems to compete with the high-speed American computer industry.