Saturday, 17 February 2018

What can - and can't - be hacked in Icar

Saturday, 17 February 2018
Hacking is good fun. As virtual worlds bleed into and augment the real world, the amount of fun you can have increases. In Icar, reality and the virtual seep into each other seamlessly such that inventive hacking can cause chaos in the real world. There are limits to what can be hacked and in this post we explore why.

What is Gaia?

Gaia is the internet after 90,000 years of evolution. A virtual world that mimics the real world. Physically speaking, it exists in a parallel dimension (called the third medium) that is filled with a constantly changing ocean of energy patterns. The third medium is superimposed over the real world, as you live your life, your representation in the third medium also changes.

Gaia's energy patterns can't be sensed from the real world directly as they have no shape or mass in our dimension, instead you need a Gaia chip to do that translation for you. The Gaia chip translates specific energy patterns and updates them like a C21 computer reads and writes data to a hard drive. The Gaia chip could be laced into your bionic cerebral cortex or, more commonly, installed in a holoroom or Gaia card.

Gaia is a Virtual World

When you use a Gaia, be it immersed in a holoroom, viewing a three dimensional projection from a card or from within your own head; you interact with a virtual world that is based loosely on the real world. The vast majority (but not all) of the planets, stars, colonies are reproduced in Gaia but you are not bound by physics; allowing you to virtually visit anywhere instantly - as long as you know where you're going.

On the smaller scale: spacecraft, buildings, rooms, farms, forests, vehicles are all modelled in Gaia. When your car's autopilot plots a route through a city, it uses both its own sensors and what it can see in Gaia. They do not always match but they do enough for safety and efficient route planning.

Not everything in Gaia has a real world doppelganger. Intelligent software called Gaia Entities live and work in Gaia and make up the bulk of the action inside. Simple Gaia entities (such as security guard entities) are not very intelligent and can be duplicated easily. As the entity's complexity increases, copying introduces faults until artificial intelligence reaches level 5 and the entity is considered unique and not copyable.

What cannot be hacked

The Imperium make the tiny Gaia "chips" that read and modify the energy patterns within the third medium. Inside that chip is a unique energy pattern whose parent is owned by the Imperium. The energy pattern cannot be read, nor can it be copied but access as an encryption key for everything in the third medium. This hardware cannot be hacked. The encryption key is woven into the hardware and unlocks Gaia - attempts to read or modify it would change the key, rendering it useless.

In a C21 sense, the hardware and operating system of Gaia cannot be hacked.

What can be hacked

The virtual world inside Gaia can be thought of as data: malleable, constantly changing and morphing. That data is open to abuse and that is where our hacker comes in. Hacks can change and delete parts of the virtual world and the Entities living in it.
The more complex a Gaia Entity is, the more difficult it is to hack. Entities with a high Artificial Intelligence power require more time, perhaps even a life time and are, as such, impractical to hack.

Critical systems are protected by being able to generate billions of Entities very quickly and root out compromised Entities. This is why spacecraft are impractical to hack. You can break in through their security and start deleting Entities but you would need to do that faster than every single intelligent Entity in the spacecraft can create them and that simply isn't practical. For example, the Life Support system typically has over a million duplicates of each of its monitoring and control Entities. Even if you could find and destroy a thousand a second, one of those Entities would spawn thousands more. If you modified a thousand a second then your modified Entities would soon be spotted and deleted by the others.

Hacking examples

  • Change the Gaia representation of your car into an ambulance, other traffic will give you right of way.
  • Convince a security systems that you are allowed into that secure room.
  • Steal hidden documents.
  • Delete security footage of you shooting that bad guy (for the common good).
  • Change all the holographic adverts for a company to a dancing banana, this would appear in the real world too.
  • Make a derelict colony look thriving by hacking the Gaia representation and filling it with fake entities.

Campaign Ideas

Bending the rules I've given above can lead to some interesting campaign events. Be warned that some of them have side-effects!

Star Sci are no longer the only ones to make Gaia chips

An artificial intelligence has figured out how to read and write to Gaia directly. The players need to destroy the AI and anyone with the knowledge.

Gaia seeps into the real world; for real

As Gaia is stored in the third medium along with the energy patterns of everything in the universe, it is possible that a Gaia chip could create an energy pattern and insert it into Gaia and for it to appear in the real world. Gaia chips are naturally low energy devices so whatever it is would exist only for a short period of time.

Trapped in Gaia

A standard holodeck adventure: the consciousnesses of the player characters are trapped in Gaia and need to find bionic bodies that they can inhabit before their energy patterns loose coherence and they become noise. Someone in the real world is going to have to help them.

Beaming through Gaia

Not possible; but if it was then you would be able to cross any distance immediately - as long as there was a Gaia holoroom there.

Gaia goes down

Imagine if the internet completely went down for a day; the chaos would be extraordinary! In the aftermath, people would trust it less and look for alternatives.
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