Two decades after the first warnings about "hackers," the threat has only grown with individuals, companies and even nations at risk. Washington Post reporter Robert O'Harrow Jr. answers six questions about personal and national vulnerability.
Q: How vulnerable am I?
Contact information ( * required )
A: Everyone who connects a personal computer to the Internet or uses a smartphone or similar device is vulnerable to an intrusion, spying or theft. Hackers trick people into downloading malicious software.
Q: What can I do as an average person?
A: Update software to ensure that your computer or smartphone has current security "patches." Don't click on email attachments or Web links unless you are sure they come from a trusted source. Use a variety of complex passwords for work, banking, Facebook, etc.
Q: How vulnerable are we as Americans?
A: The United States is probably the biggest target of hackers, including those working for other governments. That's because it is among the most wired nations in the world, with the most to lose. Many industrial control systems are vulnerable to hackers. So are data systems, which have been targeted far more often and have suffered huge thefts of intellectual property.
Q: Is the problem getting worse or better? Why?
A: The problems grows and becomes harder to solve, even as the benefits from computing, networking and cyberspace skyrocket. Virtually every system driven by computer code and linked to networks is a potential target. The math of the risk is pretty stark: The more systems online, and the more code, the more targets there are.
Q: After reporting, what scares you the most?
A: I'm not scared as much as I am amazed. I'm a great believer in the embrace of new technology and the benefit of networks. I'm dazzled by the complexity that comes with billions of people and machines interacting while adversaries are constantly changing their tactics.
Q: Why write this explanatory story?
A: Everyone, including regular people, needs to understand the basics of the digital world and of cybersecurity before coming up with lasting, effective solutions. We are aiming to help, even as we try to break the latest news about what is happening in cyberspace.