Wednesday, November 13, 2013

317: Programmers Without Borders

ENTRY 317: Programmers Without Borders

"I don't care about your imaginary lines. I am here to save lives. Get the fuck out of my way."
- Doc Trollman

A need is recognized, a call goes out, and across the Solar system comes the response. Hackers from Mercury to Uranus work to isolate infected systems, forcibly closing connections if necessary to contain the infection, while closer response teams deal with the source malware and work to rehabilitate the living victims; non-active participants work on distributed programming to create the software tools that the response teams use in their fight to save lives. Brushing past official firewalls and security measures, the Programmers Without Borders go where they are needed, and do what must be done.

Transhumanity runs on software. A bad patch or update can cripple a morph. Basilisk hacks can disable and infect entire networks. Poorly programmed nanotech can consume a habitat. These are just some of the software threats that can target anyone, anywhere, at any time. Threats that ignore the ephemeral borders of politics, spreading anywhere there is a network to carry them - which, in the contemporary era, is almost everywhere. No single habitat, hypercorp, or consortium has the skill and power to respond to these threats as they arise, and especially not the ability to overcome the legal, economic, and political barriers erected between habitats and fashions.

The Programmers Without Borders are a network of fast-response hackers, nanoprogrammers, neuroprogrammers, communication specialists, etc. who work together to monitor and respond to outbreaks of digital viruses, malware, rogue AIs, aggressive nanoswarms, bad patches, and outdated or overwhelmed computer systems whose failure threatens the lives of transhumans. While they mostly get the press for their bold actions quarantining stations and the on-site response teams that risk life and sanity to deal with exsurgent digital threats, the majority of the PWB's work is done quietly and behind the scenes - releasing corrected patches, updating firewall definitions to deal with malware, promoting cybersecurity awareness and free firewall programs, and upgrading overburdened legacy systems in scumbarges to ensure that the systems controlling critical environmental systems don't collapse.

The response teams are put together on an ad hoc basis depending on skill, location, and availability; network members located near an outbreak are typically contacted and asked to change their status to "active," which unlocks a number of special resources - long lists of exploits supplied by network members, donated software and equipment, special access rights, etc. - whatever the network thinks they need to get the job done. Active members are coordinated through a controller or operator, who helps direct them to the source of the threat, access points into the infected network, shortcuts around security, and so on. The pressure is immense, but the temporary teams understand that lives are on the line, and give their best.

Sometimes, it's enough.

Using Programmers Without Borders

PWB is a transhumanitarian aid organization with a clear remit and enough grit that they don't take shit off anybody - they will blow through a Jovian Republic embargo to get to an afflicted station if they think lives will be saved, and will ignore the niceties of hypercorp suzerainity or habitat safety and security protocols if it gets the job done. They are explicitly hackers and crackers who utilize exploits to undermine and bypass firewalls and security programs and make no bones about it: they aren't tech support, they're triage squads that seek to save as many lives as they can, and if that means sealing a station off and letting the exsurgent virus burn itself out by eating the brains of everyone on board, then that is what they will do.

Player characters might be members of Programmers Without Borders, and there are worse beginnings to a campaign than have a random group of PCs brought together as a PWB response team while an omniscient operator gives them clearly-defined goals and limited assistance as needed. Unlike Firewall, PWB deals with a wider variety of threats, from rather mundane (if sneaky) stuff like stealth upgrades of hardware and software to being stuck in an orphanage habitat with a decaying orbit and a nanoswarm that's eating everything. Of course, if the PCs end up releasing a digital virus or make a habit of flashing a basilisk hack to solve problems, they might get flagged by the PWB and end up in the unenviable position of fighting the "good guys" of the setting. Likewise, many political and corporate parties take a dim view of the PWB's cavalier attitude toward legal spaces, and while few would risk the bad PR of crippling the network might hire third-parties to disuade, block, and disrupt PWB efforts - particularly if the PWB's actions to contain and/or eradicate a threat run conflict to their own interests.


  • A rogue PWB group have released a "helper worm" that infects systems and forces them to update their firewall settings - unfortunately, this infection was flagged as malicious by hypercorporate firewall programmers and a PWB response team (the PCs) has been called in to contain the "threat." The result is a confusing situation where the PCs are getting conflicted orders and information as parts of the PWB network actively work against each other, the "helper worm" virus apparently mutating to whatever response the PCs use to try and remove it. How the PCs resolve the situation is up to them, but as the transhumans with the boots on the ground in this scenario, they're more likely to twig to what's really going on first - and perhaps discover that this is all a smokescreen to keep the PWB too busy to see the real threat.

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