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At the beginning of the 21st Century, malware authors were mostly in it for the attention, and their wares tended to produce occasionally spectacular, widespread outbreaks.
Today, malware authors are motivated mostly by money, and their primary goal is to remain undetected for as long as possible.
That motivation results in sophisticated infections like the ever-evolving Alureon rootkit, also known as TDL4 or TDSS. Early versions of this particular bit of nastiness infected the Master Boot Record, making them hard to detect. Newer versions are actually capable of creating their own infected hard disk partitions. That leads to situations like the one described in this support post at the Windows 7 IT Pro forums.
And that’s the face of the next generation of online threats—determined, adaptable, and highly motivated.