Fifty years ago, Isaac Asimov wrote about a wondrous science fiction world that would await in 2014: A world of constant convenience with instant coffee, video phones and robot vacuums, much of which is already a reality.
But not all science fiction is so utopian. Even as technology makes our lives easier, cybersecurity concerns are also pushing us closer to the darker cyberpunk genre -- which often features a neo-noir world with shadowy hacker groups wreaking havoc on the physical world through digital attacks.
During the 2013 holiday season, cybercriminals began to hit major retailers -- stealing hundreds of millions of credit card numbers and other personal information about consumers in a campaign that lasted throughout 2014. The courts are still muddling through who will be responsible for the financial damage caused by the spree.
Even if consumers were largely insulated from bearing the financial costs of the fraud resulting from the attacks, many still suffered inconveniences associated with replacing cards and the potential reputation damage of having to disassociate themselves with fraudulent activity.
But consumers affected by the retail hacks had it easy compared to the exposure suffered by some employees at Sony Pictures Entertainment. The company suffered a devastating cyberattack the week of Thanksgiving, and attackers leaked out massive amounts of data over the ensuing weeks -- reportedly including salary data, performance evaluations, films that hadn't even made it into theaters yet, and the e-mail inboxes of studio executives. Some former employees are suing the company, saying that it had inadequate security measures in place.
The U.S. government has attributed the attack to North Korea -- apparently the result of the Hermit Kingdom's angst over "The Interview," an action-comedy film about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Sony Pictures initially canceled the theatrical release of film, but reversed course after being chided about the decision by President Obama -- arranging for a limited theatrical and broad digital release on Christmas Day.
While some observers remain skeptical that North Korean was behind the attack, its devastating nature was heralded as a watershed moment by many members of the cybersecurity community. Regardless of whether it was the result of an attack by disgruntled former-employees, a state-sponsored hacking squad, or teenagers out to cause damage for fun, it shows how the data that is now so easy to hoard can be turned into a massive liability for companies and individuals.
Even if the Sony Pictures hack wasn't state sponsored, 2014 revealed more information about the ways countries are moving warfare and espionage online. In November, new details emerged about Regin, a malware platform that the Intercept reported was likely linked to a U.S. and British intelligence operations.
Governments themselves were often the target of attacks, many of which were suspected to be the work of hackers tied to other governments. Even White House networks were not immune to a wave of attacks this fall.
And revelations have continued to emerge about the U.S. government's digital spying efforts, including a trove of declassified reports dropped by the National Security Agency on Christmas Eve that detailed how improperly deployed surveillance compromised the privacy of some Americans in recent years.
For some, state surveillance may be a price they are willing to pay for added security -- although many observers said the evidence that U.S. domestic surveillance has averted significant harm is slim and comes at a significant civil liberties cost -- not unlike some of the darker science fiction tales of heavily monitored futures.
But governments aren't the only ones leveraging our heavily interconnected for their own purposes -- trollish hacker groups like Lizard Squad, which has claimed responsibility for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks that knocked gaming networks offline on Christmas Day and earlier in the year by overwhelming them with huge amounts of traffic, are demonstrating the kind of disruptions that can be done by groups that seem to exist merely on social media and in online chatrooms.
These ephemeral cabals can cause significant harm to industries with a handful of keystrokes to direct cyberattacks or a Tweeted bomb threat, perhaps serving a harbinger of the asymmetrical digital future of vigilantism.
While technology has undoubtedly, as Asimov predicted, changed our lives for the better, it has also created new risks and challenges -- many of which society is struggling to face. No doubt cybersecurity defenders will try to up the ante in 2015, but this year was marked by significant incidents that underscored the added dangers our interconnectivity brings. In fact, it may be remembered as the year where our cyberpunk future started to become our cyberpunk present.