Computer security firm Symantec issued a report Tuesday that claims the company identified more than two and a half times as many malicious code examples than in 2007 -- a jump from 624,000 to 1.6 million.
"Of all the malicious code signatures created by Symantec," the report says, "more than 60 percent of that total was created in 2008."
Malicious code development is now a professional career, the report observes. Instead of nosy teenage hackers, the code is crafted by programmers using advanced software toolkits to develop their malware. Symantec says 90 percent of detected threats last year were attempts to steal personal data such as credit card numbers and bank account information.
Far and away most threats involve Trojan horse software that can be propagated by Web surfers who unwittingly download and install the software onto their PCs. The three most common types of threats are, in order:
Remote access software
Programs that export user data
For all three, the goal is to obtain bank or credit card information from users and then make charges to their accounts.
Symantec says the boom in malicious code will likely continue for a simple economic reason: The market for stolen financial data seems to be recession-proof.