You patch in the fast connection, making sure your wristplugs are tight. You slam down the "GO" switch. Instantly, your mind is filled with the gray white static of the drop to "on line." Then, with a sickening, falling sensation, your hurtle forwards into a maze of shifting neon shapes and spinning grid lines.
You're in the Net.
The Net is a vast telecommunications network that joins all of the computers and telephones on Earth. It is formed by radio, telephone, and cellular phone links, with microwave transmitters beaming information into orbit and beyond. In the late 20th century, the Net was only accessible via a computer terminal, using a device called a modem to send and receive information. But in 2020, the Net can be entered directly, using your own brain, interface plugs, and complex interface programs that turn computer data into perceptual events.
Netrunners are outlaw computer jocks who are advanced versions of the computer hackers of the late 20th century. Netrunners operate on both sides of the complex and draconian laws covering computer-crime in the Cyberpunk world. Hard driving computer cowboys, Netrunners literally take their lives into their hands as they tackle the mighty data fortresses and the deadly counter-intrusion programs that guard them - the ultimate challenge of Man vs. Machine.
Some people do it for glory, or because it's there, but most run the Net for money. Inside each computer system linked to the Net is information. Some of the information is trivial and useless, like recipe lists or notes, but much of the information is incredibly valuable. New business plans. Insider stock tips. Secret blueprints. Blackmail information. Hot new programs and software. Money you can transfer electronically to your own bank accounts. The formula for Coke Classic. Even if you can't use what you find, you can usually sell it to a Fixer who will in turn sell it to someone who can.
Another reason people run the Net is to back up other Cyberpunk teams. If you need to send someone into a heavily secured installation, the installation's computer may have maps of the entire place. Once inside, you can use that same computer to override security systems, open computer controlled doors, even eavesdrop through computer controlled security cameras and observation devices. Most heavy duty Solo teams have at least one 'Runner on the payroll, just to gather intelligence about secure areas and obstacles to a battle plan. Corporations also hire Netrunners to protect their computer systems and to commit their own corporate computer espionage.
The laws of the 2000's are extremely draconian about computer crime. Most government agencies can freely use any and all means to eliminate intruders. Most Corporations are equally hard-line (except with their own pet 'Runners). Even without resorting to highly illegal black programs, the law allows Corporate authorities to locate and arrest intruders on the spot. Heavy prison terms and possibly mindwipe are just samples of what awaits a computer felon.
But you're not planning on getting caught, right?