Switch on the TV or scan the headlines and somehow it's become a case of another day, another hack. Multinational companies, governments, global news organizations, social networking sites, celebrities and politicians are all among those that have been left counting the cost of assaults on their e-mail systems and websites. Members of the public have had their personal information stolen and pasted all over the internet.
From their relatively innocent origins of college students in the 1950s and 1960s today's hackers are professionals who are creating a fast, effective and efficient industry profiting from attacks to our IT infrastructure.
What can we do to protect ourselves against these unknown IT criminals?
As users of the internet, we have our part to play by regularly updating passwords, limiting the amount of information we share on social networking sites, not opening emails or attachments from people we don't know and so on.
However, this is only the tip of a very big iceberg. Individual consumers aren't usually the target of these so-called 'professional' hackers. It's the critical infrastructure companies these guys are after - banks, utility companies, defence companies, broadcasters etc. They are targeting the organizations that form the backbone of our society today, including many which we increasingly rely on and share more personal information with as we conduct more of our day to day business online. From credit card details and financial transactions to photographs and even our medical history, we allow these companies access to our most sensitive information. And for a hacker, this information is pure gold (literally!).
With every new high-profile hack hitting the headlines, companies today increasingly have to accept the reality that they are operating in a world of not if they'll be targeted, but when. If we as consumers are doing our bit to protect ourselves online, what are the professionals doing? How are they keeping the hackers at bay? How are they preventing the zillions of terabytes of our personal and company information they hold from getting in to the wrong hands?
The battle against hackers is a game of cat and mouse, that's for sure. But next time you're thinking about changing your bank, moving to a new Internet provider or signing up to a social network, here are some questions you might want to ask the provider first:
• How are they tracking what's going on out there?
• How will they protect my personal information?
• What tools do they have in place to limit the chance of their systems being hacked?
• If their network does get hacked, what do they do? Can they find out how the problem got there? Can they stop it?
• How long will it take their IT to recover?
The truth is that where IT security is concerned there is no silver bullet and as hackers become ever more cunning, it is a major challenge for organizations to stay one step ahead. Whilst I've been writing this I can guarantee that the hackers will have broken through another company's IT defences somewhere. However, increasingly it's the way companies deal with hacking incidents when they happen that really matters. Having smart plans in place to detect, prevent and if necessary remediate quickly can mean the difference between a minor technology hiccup and a full system meltdown.
Given the choice I know where I'd rather put my money.