Governments, criminal gangs, and gifted amateurs are seeding cyberspace with Trojans, viruses and other malware to monitor activity and benefit economically.
"Every day we are seeing attacks, and I am not sure if this is just the tip of the iceberg," Gil Schwed, the founder and CEO of Check Point, the security software and appliance firm, told Computer Weekly.
Schwed was referring to recent media reports that the Pentagon, the German government, and Western corporate sites had been attacked from China.
"We are seeing a lot of bad things. There are many attacks and some are not repeated. At least we think they are not repeated," he said.
Schwed's comments were backed up by a report commissioned by online security supplier Garlik to estimate the prevalence of online crimes. It found nearly two million incidents of sexual harrassment, 850,000 sex crimes, 207,000 financial frauds, 92,000 ID thefts and nearly 150,000 PC hacks.
Schwed argued that governments should resist calls to make software developers and users liable for damages and compensation from security errors and breaches. It would stifle innovation and reduce risk-taking by entrepreneurs and investors.
He said if it happened, software development would become like drug development - expensive, risk-averse, restricted to a few companies, and produce products mainly for the rich. "I do not think that is their intention," he said.
Schwed was speaking at the firm's annual event for its European customers at which he outlined the company's response to what he described as increasingly professional, secret and criminal attacks on government, corporate and personal computer systems.
He said that that as companies looked increasingly to use networks to communicate with customers and business partners they were having to look more deeply into the content of messages as well as their source and integrity.
As a result, they were placing a premium on performance both in terms of speed and effectiveness of the security products they used. This lay behind Check Point's collaboration with Intel and Nokia to develop appliances that can detect and stop malware at speeds greater than a gigabit per second.
The need to protect against the increasing mobility of staff and careless and culpable leakage of information prompted Check Point to acquire the Danish end point security firm Pointsec in January. Schwed said he expected Pointsec to increase sales from £35m last year to £50m this year.
This would be driven partly by the US federal government's insistence that all its disk drives be encrypted, and a growing awareness of the need to protect data at all stages.
Outlining the company's product strategy, Schwed said his aim was to have Check Point as the only pure play security software firm. This was a reference to its main competitors, Cisco and Juniper Networks, which entered the security market on the back of their network servers.
Schwed said customer demand had failed to draw Check Point into the market for identity management and authentication systems, and was unlikely to do so in the near future. "There is plenty of space in the network and data protection markets for the company to expand into," he said.