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.