The number of computer "hackers" who tap into networks for sensitive corporate and personal information has soared as an increasing number of new technology products hit the markets.
These cybercriminals have found ways to assault systems previously thought to be highly secure and sophisticated: The International Monetary Fund, the French Ministry of Finance, and global security company Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) have all been hacked this year.
Computer industry sources estimate that more than 400 new threats to data security - targeting everything from huge government and corporate processing systems to smartphone applications - are identified every month, according to a CBS News report earlier this month.
What's worse - protection from these threats isn't cheap.
A report released by online security specialist Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) in early September said cybercrime "cost victims $388 billion in time and money" in 2010, "hitting 431 million people in 24 countries."
And these cyberthieves are just getting started.
Cybercrime: A Growing EpidemicWhile cloud computing has been a game-changing trend for the computer industry, it has a dangerous - and pricey - side effect. It has increased the avenues hackers can take to access sensitive data.
The booming smartphone industry has also created a vulnerable consumer base. Symantec estimated that 54% of adults who access the Internet via their computers or smartphones have been victims of virus or malware attacks so far in 2011 - a percentage that's almost certain to climb much higher as smartphone users download increasing amounts of data.
And the risks aren't limited to computers and phones, as evidenced by the hacking last April of Sony Corp.'s (NYSE ADR: SNE) PlayStation Network. The attack exposed the personal information of almost 100 million users and forced Sony to shut down the network.
These growing threats have led major players like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) to beef up their security divisions.
Companies without in-house cybersecurity teams have been on the hunt for a good takeover target to bring such expertise on board.
Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) about a year ago paid $7.68 billion to buy out McAfee Inc., a leading global supplier of computer security software. Digital-product supplier Imation (NYSE: IMN) last week bought the security hardware business of privately held IronKey Corp.
But a slew of companies are solely focused on computer security, and among them are these five hot profit opportunities.