Five Minutes To Midnight
The Grid was originally created as an augmented reality project. With an eyepiece, users could see an overlay of adverts, directions, and so on over the world they lived in.
It was a success. Enormously so, in fact. Soon, business was being conducted entirely on-Grid. People started accessing it remotely through a neural connection, rather than having to actually be there. And then people started making cubbyholes: areas of the Grid that didn’t correspond to any physical location, just for people entering remotely.
The Grid overlays the city anywhere that a broadcasting node can provide a signal, and although its main highways correspond to real-world throughfares, off the beaten track the local geometry is pretty much down to whoever owns the local node.
The Grid is used primarily for communication and socialisation. Secure information doesn’t go there, and nor does the ability to actually affect the world in any way. The only reason you’d ever want to hack into anything in cyberspace is to find out who’s saying something and track them down in real life. Which is a more common motivation than you’d expect: virtual real estate isn’t expensive and there’s plenty of room for dangerous or subversive ideas to be broadcast in there.
The system is policed, but only superficially: there’s a lot of money to be creamed off the top of anything illegal, so the corps don’t like to discourage it too hard.
The Grid isn’t perfectly safe, but it’s pretty good. The rig you’re using has a direct connection to your brain, of course, so if you’re physically there it’s quite possible to booby-trap a rig to kill the people who use it. Or you could just plant a bomb in it and blow them up that way.
A more subtle approach is the stinger: media that contains harmful sensory stimulus, which the rig will then relay to the user: the impossibility of comprehending what they see causes long-term psychosis, similar to the aftereffects of abusing hallucinogenics. There have been constant attempts to develop a stinger that will do more than just give someone brain damage, but nobody’s ever succeeded, and consensus is that it’s not possible.
There is a constant arms race between those developing rigs that will shut down protectively when exposed to stingers and those developing stingers that will get around it, but the broadcast of stingers is one area the corps really do crack down on securing: they want the general public to enjoy their barrage of online advertising in comfort and safety.