Computer Use (Int)
Check: Most normal computer operations don’t require a Computer Use check (though a character might have to make a Research check; see the Research skill description). However, searching an unfamiliar network for a particular file, writing computer programs, altering existing programs to perform differently (better or worse), and breaking through computer security are all relatively difficult and require skill checks.
Find File: This skill can be used for finding files or data on an unfamiliar system. The DC for the check and the time required are determined by the size of the site on which the character is searching.
Finding public information on the Internet does not fall under this category; usually, such a task requires a Research check. This application of the Computer Use skill only pertains to finding files on private systems with which the character is not familiar.
Size of Site DC Time
Personal computer 10 1 round
Small office network 15 2 rounds
Large office network 20 1 minute
Massive corporate network 25 10 minutes
Defeat Computer Security: This application of Computer Use can’t be used untrained. The DC is determined by the quality of the security program installed to defend the system. If the check is failed by 5 or more, the security system immediately alerts its administrator that there has been an unauthorized entry. An alerted administrator may attempt to identify the character or cut off the character’s access to the system.
Sometimes, when accessing a difficult site, the character has to defeat security at more than one stage of the operation. If the character beats the DC by 10 or more when attempting to defeat computer security, the character automatically succeeds at all subsequent security checks at that site until the end of the character’s session (see Computer Hacking below).
Level of Security DC
Breaking into a secure computer or network is often called hacking.
When a character hacks, he or she attempts to invade a site. A site is a virtual location containing files, data, or applications. A site can be as small as a single computer, or as large as a corporate network connecting computers and data archives all over the world—the important thing is that access to the site connects the user to everything within it. Some sites can be accessed via the Internet; others are not connected to any outside network and can only be tapped into by a user who physically accesses a computer connected to the site.
Every site is overseen by a system administrator—the person in charge of the site, and who maintains its security. Often, the system administrator is the only person with access to all of a site’s functions and data. A site can have more than one system administrator; large sites have a system administrator on duty at all times. A character is the system administrator of his or her personal computer.
When a character hacks into a site, the visit is called a session. Once a character stops accessing the site, the session is over. The character can go back to the site in the future; when he or she does, it’s a new session. Several steps are required to hack into a site:
Covering Tracks: This step is optional. By making a Computer Use check (DC 20), a character can alter his or her identifying information. This imposes a –5 penalty on any attempt made to identify the character if his or her activity is detected.
Access the Site: There are two ways to do this: physically or over the Internet.
Physical Access: A character gains physical access to the computer, or a computer connected to the site. If the site being hacked is not connected to the Internet, this is probably the only way a character can access it. A variety of skill checks may be required, depending on the method used to gain access.
Internet Access: Reaching a site over the net requires two Computer Use checks. The first check (DC 10) is needed to find the site on the net. The second is a check to defeat computer security (see the Computer Use skill description). Once a character has succeeded in both checks, the character has accessed the site.
Locate What You’re Looking For: To find the data (or application, or remote device) the character wants, make a Computer Use check. See Find File under the skill description.
Defeat File Security: Many networks have additional file security. If that’s the case, the character needs to make another check to defeat computer security.
Do Your Stuff: Finally, the character can actually do what he or she came to do. If the character just wants to look at records, no additional check is needed. (A character can also download data, although that often takes several rounds—or even several minutes, for especially large amounts of information—to complete.) Altering or deleting records sometimes requires yet another check to defeat computer security. Other operations can be carried out according to the Computer Use skill description.
Defend Security: If the character is the system administrator for a site (which may be as simple as being the owner of a laptop), he or she can defend the site against intruders. If the site alerts the character to an intruder, the character can attempt to cut off the intruder’s access (end the intruder’s session), or even to identify the intruder.
To cut off access, make an opposed Computer Use check against the intruder. If the character succeeds, the intruder’s session is ended. The intruder might be able to defeat the character’s security and access his or her site again, but the intruder will have to start the hacking process all over. Attempting to cut off access takes a full round.
One surefire way to prevent further access is to simply shut the site down. With a single computer, that’s often no big deal—but on a large site with many computers (or computers controlling functions that can’t be interrupted), it may be time-consuming or even impossible.
To identify the intruder, make an opposed Computer Use check against the intruder. If the character succeeds, the character learns the site from which the intruder is operating (if it’s a single computer, the character learns the name of the computer’s owner). Identifying the intruder requires 1 minute and is a separate check from cutting off access. This check can only be made if the intruder is accessing the character’s site for the entire length of the check—if the intruder’s session ends before the character finishes the check, the character automatically fails.
Degrade Programming: A character can destroy or alter applications on a computer to make use of that computer harder or impossible. The DC for the attempt depends on what the character tries to do. Crashing a computer simply shuts it down. Its user can restart it without making a skill check (however, restarting takes 1 minute). Destroying programming makes the computer unusable until the programming is repaired. Damaging programming imposes a –4 penalty on all Computer Use checks made with the computer (sometimes this is preferable to destroying the programming, since the user might not know that anything is wrong, and won’t simply decide to use a different computer).
A character can degrade the programming of multiple computers at a single site; doing so adds +2 to the DC for each additional computer.
Scope of Alteration DC Time
Crash computer 10 1 minute
Destroy programming 15 10 minutes
Damage programming 20 10 minutes
Fixing the degraded programming requires 1 hour and a Computer Use check against a DC equal to the DC for degrading it + 5.
Write Program: A character can create a program to help with a specific task. Doing so grants the character a +2 circumstance bonus to the task.
A specific task, in this case, is one type of operation with one target.
The DC to write a program is 20; the time required is 1 hour.
Operate Remote Device: Many devices are computer-operated via remote links. If the character has access to the computer that controls such systems, the character can either shut them off or change their operating parameters. The DC depends on the nature of the operation. If the character fails the check by 5 or more, the system immediately alerts its administrator that there has been an unauthorized use of the equipment. An alerted administrator may attempt to identify the character or cut off his or her access to the system.
Type of Operation DC Time
Shut down passive remote (including cameras and door locks) 20 1 round per remote
Shut down active remote (including motion detectors and alarms) 25 1 round per remote
Reset parameters 30 1 minute per remote
Change passcodes 25 1 minute
Hide evidence of alteration +10 1 minute
Minimum security –5 —
Exceptional security +10 —
Maximum security +15 —
Special: A character can take 10 when using the Computer Use skill. A character can take 20 in some cases, but not in those that involve a penalty for failure. (A character cannot take 20 to defeat computer security or defend security.)
A character with the Gearhead feat gets a +2 bonus on all Computer Use checks.
Time: Computer Use requires at least a full-round action. The GM may determine that some tasks require several rounds, a few minutes, or longer, as described above.