Jolyon Jenkins investigates whether we have lost the war on cybercrime and looks at a new criminal economy which has grown to feed the demand for our most private details.
Jolyon finds that the security details of ordinary members of the public - their bank details, passwords, and secret security questions are being openly traded in cybercrime forums. He hands over his own laptop computer to an 'ethical hacker' and finds that it takes two minutes for its password to be cracked. Within a few more minutes, the hacker has installed a key-logging Trojan that secretly passes all his computer activity - passwords, emails and all - back to the hacker's own computer.
He finds that we are all vulnerable to criminals who trade on our human weaknesses: our magpie-like obsession with gaudiness and trivia, and our willingness to click the OK button without thinking through the consequences.
Ever since the internet became mainstream, we have been hearing warnings about hackers, spammers and other renegades of the online world. The internet security business now threatens to overtake the Chinese army as the largest employer on earth. But what has this army of consultants achieved, apart from spending billions of dollars? Every year the situation gets steadily worse.
The threat comes not from lone hackers, but from networks of criminals who have developed an astonishingly complex and mature organisational infrastructure that the authorities seem virtually powerless to deal with.
Entire internet relay chat rooms are controlled by the criminal underground economy and the turnover of cybercrime is possibly as big as that of the global illegal drugs trade. And as many as one billion computers - 12 per cent of the world's total internet-connected machines - could be hiding malware of one type or another. Some experts think it's only a matter of time before every PC in the world is infected.
The anti-hacking world is almost entirely privatised - its growth mirroring the rise of the opposition. Frequently, criminal networks have been closed down not by law enforcement authorities but thanks to investigations carried out by dedicated volunteers.