Last month, Gov. Nikki Haley announced that a massive hack into the S.C. Department of Revenue had compromised millions of taxpayers' sensitive data.

As that story continues to unfold, this month brought the revelation that former CIA Director David Petraeus had an affair with his biographer, including through a personal Gmail account, raising concerns about whether someone in his position should be using Google's standard-issue free email service.

In September, Kiawah Island Golf Resort announced it had been hacked. And, according to a Bloomberg news report this month, several major corporations, including Coca Cola, also have been hacked recently but not admitted it publicly because it's hard to quantify the damage and shareholders are likely to fear the worst.

As Haley has explained, such breaches are increasingly common, afflicting everyone from Google to the CIA.

For those in the know, cyber security has been a concern for years, if not decades.

But for everyone who had been only casually thinking about how safe all their personal information is online, the past month of headlines should serve as a wake-up call.

For the governments and businesses, it means reviewing and upgrading cyber security tools and employee policies, as the state and several Lowcountry businesses have done.

It means evaluating computer systems' vulnerabilities periodically to understand the threat.

For individuals, it means reconsidering the strength of your passwords and how those passwords are stored.

It means thinking about how you conduct your email and financial business.

As a New York Times column this month suggested, your various passwords should not be found in any dictionary and should be stored somewhere off your computer.

As several cyber security experts have said, it's near impossible to forever thwart a sophisticated hacker with time and resources while also leading a normal electronic life in 2012.

The best you can do is take smart steps to protect your data; keep an eye on your accounts, bills and credit; and hope that hackers go after lower hanging fruit.

October was National Cyber Security Awareness Month, but cyber vigilance must be practiced all year round.

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.