Don’t be fooled by appearances. Today, hackers pose perhaps the greatest threat to business, stealing customer data on behalf of their highly organised criminal paymasters. So what can businesses do to protect themselves? Rob Brown reports

They used to wear masks and tote shotguns. Today they sit in darkened rooms studying computer screens. But this new breed of thief is just as dangerous.

Theirs is a world of slaves and zombies, brute force attacks and insidious injections. Their quarry, the personal details of online shoppers, is worth billions. And retailers beware: the hackers have you in their sights.

No-one is safe. Marks & Spencer – along with as many as 50 other clients of email marketing company Epsilon, including US retailer Best Buy – had thousands of its customers’ details stolen at the beginning of April, making the High Street giant the latest in a growing list of British businesses to have fallen foul of the cyber-thieves.

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