What's going to happen in 2012? Some things are easy to see: we'll see more attacks by criminals. We'll see more attacks by hactivists (like the infamous Anonymous group). But most importantly, we'll see that many of the future real-world crisis will have a cyber element in them as well. Certainly, any future war between technically developed nations is likely to incorporate computer attacks.
These changes are happening right now, during our generation. It's hard to forecast where they will take us.
But what we know already is that, in the real world, you generally only worry about the criminals who live in your city. In the online world, you have to worry about criminals even on the other side of the planet. The Internet has no city limits or country borders.
Today computer viruses and other malicious software are no longer written by hobbyist hackers seeking kudos among their peers. These have been joined by professional criminals who are making millions with their attacks. These criminals want access to your computer, your Paypal passwords and your credit card numbers.
Joining criminal online gangs has become an increasingly attractive option for people with high level computing skills but few job opportunities . There is now a well-established global market for sinister crimeware - viruses, worms, trojans, spyware - that is produced and distributed on underground sites on the Web.
The international community has failed to address the real nature and extent of the problem. National police forces and legal systems struggle to keep up with the rapid growth of online crime. They have limited resources and expertise to investigate online criminal activity.
The victims, police, prosecutors and judges rarely uncover the full scope of the crimes that often take place across international boundaries. Action against online criminals is often too slow, the arrests few and far between, and the penalties often very light, especially compared with real-world crimes.
We are sending the wrong message to online criminals. That’s why online crime is continuing to grow rapidly. Right now, would-be online criminals are encouraged by potentially large profits and the relatively limited risk of getting caught and punished.
And online security issues are not limited to criminals. Governments are increasingly behind online attacks. Stuxnet, Duqu and the security breaches at defence contractors are good reminders of what's at stake.
The security of the net is being threatened from many directions. Our generation was the first generation that got online. We should hope that the net will remain for future generations to enjoy.