There is a 50 percent chance your unprotected Windows PC will be compromised within 12 minutes of going online, says security vendor Sophos.
Highlighting the increasing speed of online attacks in research covering the last six months of virus activity, the vendor said the news was mostly grim.
Authors of malware such as spam, viruses, phishing scams and spyware increased both the volume and sophistication of their assaults, releasing almost 8,000 new viruses in the first half of 2005 and increasingly teaming up in joint ventures to make money. The new-virus figure is up 59 percent on the same period last year.
"With financial gain rather than notoriety becoming more of a motivation, spammers and virus writers have been drawn together with more traditional criminal elements," said Sophos Australia and New Zealand senior technical consultant Sean Richmond.
While the usual virus culprits like Zafi-D, Netsky-P and Sober-N came under the spotlight, Sophos said growth in Trojan attacks -- where malicious software allows a remote attacker to gain backdoor access to a PC -- was perhaps the most significant development in the malware-creation field.
"Sophos has seen a three-fold increase in the number of key-logging Trojans so far this year," the company said. "Trojans are delivered to target organisations via e-mail attachments or links to Web sites. They are often used by remote hackers to steal priviledged information, and very often to launch further attacks."
But Sophos made it clear the news wasn't all bad.
"Businesses in Australia and New Zealand mostly have it right when it comes to protecting their desktops, servers and gateways," said Richmond. "On the other hand, we've seen significant numbers of unprotected home computers become zombies for spammers,"
Richmond praised the Australian telecomms regulator for its recent move to press charges against Perth-based alleged spammer Wayne Mansfield. Mansfield is one of Australia's most notorious Internet marketeers and stands accused of sending at least 56 million -- mostly unsolicited -- e-mails in the period after the Spam Act was enacted in April 2004.
Events further afield also caught Sophos' attention, as it highlighted several recent prosecutions of virus and privacy-related Internet crime.
One dealt with the impending trial of German teenager Sven Jaschan, who has admitted writing the Netsky and Sasser worms, while another involved the arrest of a Cypriot man who was spying on a 17-year-old girl via her own Webcam.
"Four United Kingdom phishers were also jailed this week," said the company.