Ah, the digital web. It is a land of unlimited possibilities, where man is limited only by the sharpness of his mind. All through it, various networks are protected by overzealous programs called ICE (Interactive Counter-Espionage). Most such ICE simply track, bounce, or otherwise deter a would be intruder if they fail to identify themselves properly. Others, Black ICE, assault the user directly, causing their computer to shock them, reformat their brain, and otherwise inflict direct bodily harm on the hacker.
If that wasn't enough to dissuade, there are also other people. It's hard to be alone online. People roam around all the time, some just browsing, some busily tending to their tasks. They can be friendly, uninterested, or downright hostile on sight.
If you thought people came in all kinds of weird shapes in the real world, you haven't seen anything yet. Many of them have representation programs running to give them a specific appearance. However, many don't bother, and appear as the default for whatever operating system you use. For serious hackers who don't use user-friendly OSes, this ends up being a crude amorphous blob with a name hovering over head.
Representation programs allow for almost any appearance one could wish for. Be a swirling fractal pattern, a huge intimidating dragon, a buxom maiden, or whatever else. The only limit is your artistic ability and coding knack. There are many representation programs out there waiting to be downloaded or purchased that have canned(pre-fabricated) icons. Serious hackers often mark down someone who can't make their own icon. The more creative, the better.
Moogle OS, the most popular user friendly OS around, gives its user a default icon of, you guessed it, a Moogle. The fur color is chosen randomly on first log-in, but the user can select any shade of the rainbow for fur, wing, and even the deely-bob. While the icon is detailed quite intricately, it is universally seen by 'those in the know' as a total newbie sign.
Personal Networks can and often do set limits on icons. Most often, this comes in the form of size limitations. You can code a one hundred foot tall dragon icon, but you'll shrink down to human size when you step into that cyber cafe' over there. Some networks run advanced image recognition sub-AI to scan icons and insure that they fit a particular theme, or to screen out those of objectionable nature. Don't expect to sneak succubi icons into the library access point.
Most representation programs also make the activities and actions of the user quite apparent. Attacks against other users and ICE are represented visually and audibly. A dragon might breath fire, the moogle pulls out various small tools and zaps things or unlocks doors.
Coding your own Appearance
Making your own representation program is quite possible, even recommended for those serious about their online venturing. The scope of the program is always very specific unless you want the program to cover a selection of appearances with a shapeshifting/toggle between them. The power of the program depends on the detail and outlandishness of the icon. The more detailed and catchy you want it, the more powerful it gets. Making an icon of just a floating square is easy. Making an icon of the entire city of Neo-Junon, complete with moving cars and people, that's God Code.
See Programming for further details on making your own code. Note, representation programs are inherently small, cut the end result size in half. While coding, unless the icon is purely math based, the programmer must also make Perception:Artistry/Computer Graphics checks. Not until BOTH reach 20 is the program ready.
The start of any good surfing starts with logging in. There are several ways of going about this.
Now that you're in and you have an icon, you want to do something. If you know where you're going and have the address in hand, it's a lot easier. If you don't have the specific address, then you have to search for it, which makes the trip longer.
(Peek into the reasons behind the rules)
Normally you make a roll once per cyber round, modified by the effect on time. The roll is Intelligence:Computer/Navigation vs 7 (modified by the effect on difficulty). You want to amass 20 successes. A hidden place requires 30 succs, even if you've been there before or have the address. If the system is on the same network as the starting point, cut the time in half and apply a -4 difficulty.
If you don't put your full attention into searching, the roll falls completely into the hands of whatever search program you have running. If you don't have one, then you MUST put full attention into the process of navigating. It is possible to both run the program and search, adding the generated succs together until you amass the 20/30 you need.
Once you've arrived at your destination, it's time to go inside. Most places have some form of security or another. For some, it's as simple as a prompt for name and passwords, and others require adaptive codekeys and retinal scans. The most advanced tend to read the users 'fist'. A fist is a profile of the user's activities on a computer. The typos they tend to make, the keystrokes per minute, the way they go about things. It's extremely hard to imitate someone else's fist.
Assuming you have an account or the site is open to all, you can freely step from the open web and into the site. Your icon becomes bound by whatever limitations/rules the host is running and you can interact with the users and programs within the site.
If you don't have an account and the site is closed, then you'll have to break your way in. There are many ways to hack your way into a system. Your options are limited by what ICE is running and your imagination. For simple user/password security, a brute force dictionary attack (random password guesser) will eventually power through it. This sort of brute methodology fails miserably if the system has a hostile ICE waiting for such things.
As soon as you fail to log in, the computer may be tracing you. Tracing you is as hard for the computer as navigating to a site it has the address to, normally. It's possible to write masking programs that mask your address, and also possible, but much harder, to write programs that make your address considered 'hidden', thusly increasing further the time it takes to find you. Some sites will deny access to users with masked or hidden addresses.
Once a host has navigated to you, it knows your physical location. If you've been a bad boy, there may be some corp cops on the way to teach you a lesson in proper etiquette. Sometimes host computers trace users just for demographics and also as a preventative measure. Hackers are less likely to try something if they know they've already been tracked down.
A simple way of delaying a trace is to log in through multiple sites. If you have a shell account at a site, you can log in there, and then from there log into the target site. The site will then have to navigate to the dummy system first, and then from there find you. It takes you longer to log in, but it takes them just as longer to trace you. The more 'hops' you do in this fashion, the more time you can buy yourself.
It should be noted that 'Combat' refers to active confrontation between two or more users. When ICE is involved, it's called intrusion. It is possible to be in both combat and intrusion at once, if a system has both ICE and human operators protecting it, thus making it all the harder to penetrate.
So you ran into someone you didn't like, now what? In the cyber world, combat is a contest of the minds. The aim? Crash the other person's computer, or turn them into a vegetable, or something along those lines. Some odd sorts have made it an official 'duel' of a sense to corrupt the other person's icon into something appropriately humiliating, thus proving your l33tness.
Programs are the meat and blood of cyber combat. If you don't have programs for combat, you're stuck for options. Fighting raw, as it were, allows you to attack the user's connection, or flee.
If you choose to attack, make an Intelligence:Computer/Combat vs 6+(The speed of their computer). Every success is a bit of interference, spam, and general noise that weakens their connection to this point in cyberspace. If the victim amasses more than 20 of these points, they get sent back to their home site. Shielding programs are very effective against this simple form of attack and are at double efficiency against it.
If you choose to flee, it becomes a matter of navigational prowess. You can only flee on your initiative. When you do so, the person in combat with you can choose to let you go, or give chase. You make the appropriate navigational rolls for wherever you are fleeing to, and the person following rolls as if moving to a place he knows the address to, barring you running a masking or hiding program of some sort. If the pursuer ever meets or beats your successes, he has that round to act against you. As usual, when you reach 20/30 succs, you reach where you're fleeing to, as per normal navigational rules.
If the fleeing party reaches the new point and flees from there before the chaser can arrive, then they have truly 'escaped'. Finding the escapee will be as difficult as navigating without a destination (You're not completely sure what you're looking for, but it's not hidden, on the chart), or nigh impossible of the target is running a hiding program (Not only do you not have the address, but it's actively hidden)
If you're serious, you will want to use programs designed for cyber combat.
Some people can't leave well enough alone. So you've encountered a system that won't let you inside, or, you're inside but it won't let you go to a certain area where all the good stuff is. This is where the fine art of intrusion comes into play.
The definition of intrusion, for the sake of cyberspace, is the assault on ICE. ICE comes in a few flavors, depending on how it deals with the intruder that sets it off.
No matter the color, ICE is the enemy of a hacker. Many forms of ICE are inter-connected, with white grade ICE providing a log-in screen of sorts and Yellow->Black ICE behind it to provide punch if the user proves to be malicious.
Most ICE operate by attacking the user with a rating. They roll this rating and the user rolls his armor or shield rating, if he has any such programs running and ready. Every time the ICE breaks a certain threshold, usually 10 or 20 succs, something horrible happens to the hacker.
Like in Cyber Combat, the user can opt to spend a full round defending, rolling Intelligence:Computer/Intrusion and using the succs to counter the succs garnered by the ICE. Unfortunately for the user, systems are not limited like they are. A system can direct up to three separate ICE onto a single intruder if it wants to.
Offensively, the hacker can activate and direct one program per turn against a particular ICE. Like Cyber Combat, he can't aim more than one program at the same ICE, but can direct them at multiple ICE _IF_ more than one ICE is engaging him. He cannot direct the programs at inactive ICE while active ICE is attacking.
Also like cyber combat, if left to its own, attack programs will happily use their own rating. Ideally, however, the user should focus on a particular program and roll Intelligence:Computer/Intrusion and add his own succs to those garnered by the program.
A user without ICE-Breaking programs can still try to get in, the hard way. They must roll Intelligence:Computer/Intrusion vs 10 and hope for the best. Unless it's weak ICE, chances are against them.