Internet security firm F-Secure has issued its Data Security Wrap-up 2008 for July to December — and the news is grim. Among the darker notes in the year-end report: A surge in botnet activity and a continuing increase in the number of bots, or infected computers which can be controlled remotely by cyber criminals and used to broadcast spam or to infect other computers.

F-Secure admits that there is no way to count the actual number of bots in existance. But conservative estimates, based on a one per cent infection rate as reported by some lartge ISPs, suggests that there at least 12 million of the worlds total 1.2 billion are potentially under the control of criminals.

On the up side, though, the report notes: “It is important to note that not all active bots actually have botmasters (a controlling remote server telling the bot what to do). Many of the world’s bots are orphans without a master, their command and control servers having been discovered, abused, and taken out of service.”

Even so, there’s a down side to the up side: “However, even without a master, the bots continue to exist and they do still attempt to call home. They may also attempt to continuously carry out their last assignment and to defend themselves. These orphaned bots are a plague of wasted computing resources and bandwidth.”

Another nasty trend this past year: A sharp increase in ‘scareware’.

Similar to other scams using unsolicited e-mails and pop-ups at rigged Web sites, scareware goes a step further, frightening users with fate security warnings to coerse them into downloading fake scanners and cleaners which are actually infection packages that will enlist their computers in the ranks of the aforementioned bots.

The report’s predictions inj a nutshell:

  • Crimeware will continue to grow
  • Smartphones will increasingly be targeted by cyber crooks
  • Apple’s Mac OS will see a small but significant increase in virus and Trojan Horse attacks next year.
  • Botnets will continue to grow and become more sophisticated
  • Cyber crime as a whole will increase in severity to the point where law enforcement agencies will be compelled to establish or increase support for initiatives to fight it.

The report notes that a call from Mikko Hypponen, Chief Research Officer at F-Secure, to establish a global ‘Internetpol’ cyber crime fighting agency, has been received with great interest internationally.

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