Crime Online

Hackers are everywhere. In a recent FBI survey, nine out of 10 businesses, schools and government agencies had detected computer-security breaches within the previous 12 months, with hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The online crime wave stems in part from the tech-boom rush to get software to market without regard to security. As the Internet evolves into the Grid, cybercrime is likely to get a whole lot worse. "The vast majority of crimes in the future will have some cyber component," says Michael Vatis, a former director of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center. "There will be machine-to-machine mobile attacks, thieves using computers to break down physical barriers [like alarm systems] and evidence gathered by tracking trails of digital data left by perpetrators."

The real concern for 2012 will be the ability of hackers to take control of mechanical devices. On the Grid, not only could a hacker potentially break into an auto company's database via the wireless unit in one of its cars, it's conceivable he could take control of the car. Likewise, an arsonist might be able to start an electrical fire by commandeering the cybercontrols of a home appliance. Experts worry that law enforcement is not yet ready for this.

Britain recently set up a National High Tech Crime Unit, but with a staff of only 40. The FBI has hundreds of agents working on cybercrime, but there may be millions of cybercriminals out there. How to keep up? Mark Doll, a tech-security expert at Ernst & Young, foresees "a kind of national reserve force of cybercops," made up of Feds, Ph.D.s from companies like Intel, even reformed hackers. Chief security officer will become a board-level job in big companies. Insurance firms will offer "cyberrisk" policies. Ironically, experts say, the most effective defenses may be very low tech, like penalizing employees who don't turn on anti-hacker software. Note that in "Minority Report," the cop on the run (Tom Cruise) got past the eye scan at police headquarters because some dope forgot to delete his retina from the database.