International cyber spying rated as number one threat for 2008

About 120 countries now engaged in Web espionage

Vaile said western countries are certainly developing capabilities and skills in this area.

The study also identified genetically modified 'super' threats claiming there is a new level of complexity in malware not seen before.

These 'super-strength' threats are more resilient, are modified over and over again like recombinant DNA, and contain highly sophisticated functionality such as encryption draw. Nuwar ('Storm Worm') was the first example, and experts say there will be more examples in 2008.

A new target for cybercriminals is Voice over IP (Internet Protocol) software. In Japan, 50 percent of all data breaches have been via peer-to-peer software.

The study also warned a sustained cyber attack on banks could severely damage public trust in online banking and put the brakes on e-commerce.

Cybercriminals are also providing a new level of customer service. This underground economy already includes specialised auction sites, product advertising and even support services, but now competition is so fierce that 'customer service' has become a specific selling point.

For example, the cost of renting a platform for spamming has dropped, and criminals can now buy custom-written Trojans built to steal credit card data.

The 'white market' that exists to buy and sell software flaws (back-door vulnerabilities with no available patch to fix them) is fuelling a virtual arms trade in potentially significant security threats.

Software flaws can fetch big money -- up to US$75,000, and experts believe that while this white market exists there is an increasing danger of flaws falling into the hands of cybercriminals.

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Sandra Rossi

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