Saturday, November 16, 2013

320: Ego Keys

ENTRY 320: Ego Keys

"You are the key."
- Message from an Alpha Fork (Aswald Catallus, Bellagio Park Publishing, Luna, AF 9)

The security of any system is only as good as the security of its keys; all the lasers and sentient landmines and biometric-scanning urinal stations in the world are useless if the CEO chooses "GOD" as their personal password. While public key encryption is reasonably safe and secure for the majority of encryption purposes, some transhumans prefer a greater level of personal security and control, which led to the development of ego keys.

An ego key is a handful of specific memories that make up part of an ego and are used to encrypt data reserved for a single user. While still vulnerable to quantum codebreaking, no hacker can steal or copy the password to an ego key-encrypted file, since they are unique to a given ego and those of its forks which share the specific memories - or so they are advertised. Still, since each ego key is customized to a single user they retain a certain appeal to the paranoid and eccentric, and are often used for private archives, brain boxes, and secret accounts intended to be accessed only be forks if anything happens to the original ego.

Culturally, ego keys have a reputation as last year's fad in spy/thriller/amnesia media, inspired mainly by Message from an Alpha Fork and its tens of thousands of derivative works. In that story, a beta fork named Prophos awakens to itself after the alpha fork it was created from succumbs to a digital weapon, and finds that it is being sought out both by the Jovian Secret Police and the Counterintelligence Hypercorp Alliance Committee (CHAC) of the Planetary Consortium. Both groups believe that Prophos unknowingly possesses the ego key to a file, and Prophos (along with competing lovers Xia and Giles) must follow a series of clues left by their former self to find the program first. Message and its imitators are considered cliché now, but the fad caused a spike in the usage of ego keys that has not yet died off.

Using Ego Keys

Ego keys are storytelling tool to throw a slight wrench into the traditional story of a locked box/encrypted file. As a twist, it has the innate advantage in being a password that you can't beat out of someone, so there is less incentive to beat them. While it is occasionally fun to bypass a retinal scan by ripping out the security guard's eyeball, it is also interesting to have a game where killing, torturing, or mutilating a character is not in the best interests of the individuals involved since they need actual cooperation to get what they want. So ego keys are designed both to protect NPCs whom the PCs need to open a file, and vice versa. As an added twist, ego keys are another onionskin layer onto Eclipse Phase's material on forking and brain hacking. Whether or not a fork of an ego has the right memories to match the ego key depends on which memories were picked and how complete the fork is.


  • Particularly secretive or paranoid egos back themselves up, create an ego key, and then delete themselves so that the backup continues on unaware of their status - until some preprogrammed condition causes the muse to alert them to the fact. This process is known as "hedging" and is generally more trouble than it is worth. So what does it say about the PCs when their muses pop up with a pre-programmed alert alerting them to the existence of a file encrypted by all of their ego keys...but getting to it requires following a series of clues that the character left for themselves. What did the PCs stash away together, and why are they being alerted to it now?


  1. A good psychosurgeon can make a captive ego want to open the lock, torture the ego into compliance, or convince them that they should. Plus, with a good backup you have an arbitrary number of tries to get it right. Sure you need to steal a fork, but you don't need traditional cooperation.

    1. That does remind me, I might need to do an entry on torture at some point.