While the Internet teems with "angel" investors searching for the next jackpot, it suffers from a shortage of guardian angels. Criminals have been wreaking havoc all over cyberspace lately, while governments and corporations have struggled to keep up with them.
In February, an international gang of criminals reeled in $40 million in 10 hours by hacking into a database of prepaid debit cards and draining ATMs around the world. Last month, the Associated Press' Twitter feed, allegedly hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, falsely reported explosions at the White House, causing stocks to plummet. And last week, members of a hacker group known as LulzSec faced justice in London. Their exploits included crashing the CIA's website, stealing and divulging private contact information for 50,000 Sony customers, and posting false stories on News Corp. and PBS websites.
To the surprise of many, three of these four hackers were teenagers at the time of the attacks. In the virtual Wild West, teenage pranks can endanger our privacy, security, and economy. More alarmingly, Chinese and Syrian hackers aim to disrupt the West's media, defense, and financial systems.
As cyberspace expands to encompass ever more facets of our lives, the stakes are rising. Nowadays, crucial infrastructure such as power plants and water supplies is intertwined with cyberspace.
Government, individuals, and corporations can all contribute to cybersecurity. In this year's State of the Union address, President Obama announced an executive order to strengthen cyber-defense and urged Congress to pass legislation to deter cyber-terrorism. Entrepreneurs need a reliable ecosystem to build the next online engines of economic growth, and government can help by investing in next-generation security technology and offering incentives for firms to establish security standards.
Individuals can do their part by maintaining up-to-date antivirus software, strong passwords, and caution toward suspicious e-mails. Like vaccines, individual cybersecurity measures generate positive effects for society.
Also, this graduation season, students should consider careers in cybersecurity. While a plethora of programming prodigies code for gold in the Silicon Valley, fewer code for the public good. Just as off-line nonprofits balance out the profit motive, the online space needs do-gooders, too.