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Cracking

Hacking Computers the Old-fashioned Way – Cracking

Computers have changed drastically over the last several decades, but one thing remains constant: they use electronic signals and circuits to store and deliver data. The methods by which people access computer systems are very similar; there were several trials throughout the years to change computer interface devices and output technologies, but many of the “Virtual Reality” prototypes failed in the 2040s due to widespread concerns about their safety.

The traditional “mouse and keyboard” that had been around for nearly 60 years finally went the way of the dinosaur, but we still interact with computers using input devices.

The general public hopped off of the VR train when they realized that the best way to interface with Virtual Reality was to plug a wire directly into their skulls. However, most of the common public decided this was not the route they wanted to go with their computing devices, so a different interface method was devised around the 2040s, one which had actually been developed in the first decade of the 21st century but was temporarily abandoned when newer and shinier VR tech came along.

The most common method of human-computer interaction nowadays is through motion-censored gestures. When viewing a computer’s output device—such as a 2D organic screen or a 3D holographic image—the user can manipulate objects they see just by making the appropriate gestures with their hands, eyes, feet, and facial expressions. This (some say primitive) method of interacting with technology gives people the impression of Virtual Reality without requiring any special hardware beinstalled in their bodies. It’s ancient tech by today’s standards, but it is not without its improvements.

Modern improvements to this design have ensured more accurate, real-time responses, but that is only a natural evolution of the old technology. The biggest improvement comes from the way in which these interactions are prevalent in our everyday lives. We now interact with everything from personal computers to personal communication devices in much the same way and everything from cash machines to billboards can be controlled by anybody on the street (wait your turn though, please).

The term “PC” has evolved since the early decades of the 21st century. A PC used to be a standalone machine that sat beside one’s desk, which was interfaced with by using a mouse and a keyboard.

Nowadays, nearly everyone in the world—including those in third-world territories—owns a PC that they carry with them daily. These self-charging, light-weight computers contain a video screen capable of producing 2D images or projecting 3D holograms and in most cases a user will simply hold it in front of him and gesture appropriately to access the requested data.

When a user wishes to fully immerse himself in the 3D experience, he can set down the PC and project holograms that he interacts with almost as normally as he interacts with another human being, though taste, scent, and touch are still sadly lacking (rumors have it that Macroware, Inc. is working on a solution to this issue, though). This allows users to run communication and entertainment applications and experience them in the best way possible “next to stuffing a plug in your head”.

But what does all of this mean for you, the prospective computer hacker? It means that while you don’t get to take control over someone else’s body without some kind of mental powers, you can take control of their information—a veritable life’s history of any given individual—just by grabbing their PC and cracking their security. Pay close attention, since these same methods are used to hack ATMs, billboards, electronic locks, vehicles, and anything else you might find with a chip.

 

Cracking

The term “cracking’ refers to illicit access of any electronic device, not necessarily just personal computers. In order to crack in to a system to gain access to its information and control of its contents, one must first possess the skill required to do so.

If you are specialized in either the Computer Security or Electronics skills, you may attempt to crack a computer system (though you may not have any idea what to do with it once you’re in). Having a higher level in the Technical skill gives you a better chance of breaking in and a better idea of how to access information. With this skill you can even alter the functionality of a system so that it does exactly what you want it to do.

To crack a system, you must have access to interact with it. Access is obtained most easily by having physical access to the system you wish to infiltrate, though if you have access to the device’s Unique System Identifier (USI) you may be able to infiltrate it remotely.

A device’s USI is a 32-digit alphanumeric identification number, similar to an old-fashioned bar code or IP address, with the exception that all devices are assigned one so they can access The Network. In most cases these identifiers are not made readily available for the public to see and the majority of the population has no idea what their own USI is.

Once you have access to the system, make a Technical skill check to enter it. You don’t need to make a check if you are legally accessing a computer system of some kind, only if you are trying to do something outside of the ordinary scope of daily computer usage (such as stealing bank records, downloading cash in to your personal bank account, or assuming control of a vehicle).

The difficulty for this check is based on the security level of the system you are trying to access. Each device may be different, and unique devices will have their own anti-cracking software built in that may change their security values from the norm. Use the chart below to find a general idea of the difficulty of common systems, but note that a GM may increase or decrease this value depending on his needs.

 

Table: Computer Security Levels

Device

Difficulty

Personal computer

Fair

Corporate computer (average employee)

Good

Corporate computer (management)

Great

Corporate computer (upper-management)

Superb—Wonderful

Publicly accessible device (ATM, billboard)

Superb—Phenomenal

Personal vehicle (car, motorcycle, etc.)

Great

Corporate or government vehicle

Superb

Electronic lock

Great

Corporate or government electronic lock

Superb – Wonderful

Corporate or government flight vehicle (helicopter, private jet)

Wonderful

Megacorp or government mainframe

Phenomenal

Failing the check will alert the system’s defense software to your presence, which may or may not have additional consequences (see Consequences of Failure below).

Once you have succeeded at your computer use check to crack the system’s basic security, you still need to access the information you are looking for. Since you’ve already bypassed security, this check is easier than the last, but systems with high levels of security also have high levels of defense that may alert the system administrator to your presence or even attempt to kick you out of the system entirely.

Luckily for you, there’s no immediate physical danger to you just because you’re cracking in to a high level government system. Since you’re not plugged directly in to anything, the computer’s defense software can’t reach out and fry your brain. Unluckily for you, it can detect your presence, lock all of the building’s doors and windows, alert corporate security, and send men with guns after you. Better be careful after all.

To gather information about a system, make another Technical skill check with a +1 bonus. Once more, failure means bad things for you (see below) but success means you’ve found what you’re looking for. You may freely download one file (a collection of bank records, a dossier of contacts, a calendar of events, etc.) for each degree of success on this check.

You may take control of a system, rather than just glean information from it, by making a separate Technical check with the same +1 bonus as outlined above. Succeeding at the check means you can tell the system to do something specific, within the bounds of its normal capabilities. For instance, you can reprogram the images a billboard is showing, open an electronic lock, start a vehicle’s engine, or shut down all of the security cameras on one floor of a building—all depending on which type of device you are accessing.

You may issue a single command for each degree of success by which you surpass the difficulty check; make another check to attempt to issue additional commands.

Note that gaining access to certain systems may not give you total control over them. If you crack a vehicle’s security and manage to start it, for instance, this skill conveys no special ability to actually drive (or pilot) that vehicle. You may still need a separate skill to do anything with the system, unless you have an appropriately skilled colleague waiting to take over once you’re finished doing your own dirty work.

Consequences of Failure

Cracking a system comes with its risks. If you fail your check, you alert the system that there is illicit activity. Depending on the device, the computer may react in a variety of ways, some more dangerous to you than others.

Also note that the worse your degree of failure, the more dramatic the result. In systems whose security rating is Great or less, you may be able to attempt your check again to shut down any security the system is leveraging against you, but a system with a security level of Superb or better will completely lock you out of the system with no chance for further access.

Personal computers and other systems with security levels of Great or worse are the most lenient to intruders, since they lack the more complicated security features of higher-end systems and are usually not connected to a larger intranet. Failing a check against one of these systems simply blocks that attempt and logs you out of your computer session (if applicable). You may attempt another Computer Use check to enter the system again, but you must start over from scratch. An Abysmal (-3) failure may lock you out of the system permanently, though the system simply uses facial recognition software to remember who has been banned.

Systems with Superb and better security levels get a little trickier. Most of them are connected to a larger intranet—a network of computer systems linked together by a central server. Any time you have a Poor (-2) or worse failure when accessing one of these systems, the computer sends a signal to the intranet’s mainframe, which then executes security protocols depending on its programming.

With a Poor result, these systems will not only lock you out, but send a signal to the mainframe about your exact location. Depending on where you are and what the facility’s security is like, you may find yourself surrounded by armed guards in a matter of minutes (or less). Systems with Wonderful or higher security levels often lock all of the doors in the room you are in so you have no chance for escape.

For vehicles with these levels of security, you may find yourself locked inside the cab until security shows. If you happen to be in flight when the system cuts all power to its engine and refuses to give you control, you may find yourself at the epicenter of a self-destruct protocol (that spells bad news for you).

Larger failure rates mean faster response times or more harsh security measures, in general. A Poor or Abysmal failure may result in more drastic measures being taken against you. Inside the cab of a government helicopter, for example, a Poor failure may only lock you in and alert security, while an Abysmal failure will cause the vehicle to effectively self-destruct underneath you; the cost to replace the vehicle is usually less than the cost to recover it, plus any damages or sensitive information that may have been compromised by letting you escape with it.