London, June 3 : A new report has determined that national economies and security interests face a growing threat from malicious software.
According to New Scientist, the report has been carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The report determines that communities involved in fighting malware (malicious software) "offer essentially a fragmented local response to a global threat."
It cites evidence that around one in four personal computers in the US - or 59 million - is already infected with malware. A booming market in cyber attack software and services has also made attacks more sophisticated and cheaper to perform.
Malware is commonly used to turn ordinary PCs into "zombie" computers, which can then be controlled by criminals over the internet without their legitimate owners' knowledge.
These machines are used to send out roughly 80% of all spam and to attack commercial websites and other internet-linked systems with meaningless traffic as part of extortion schemes.
An army of remotely controlled PCs - known as a botnet - can now be rented for as little as as 33 cents per machine, far less that the actual cost of the hardware.
The largest botnets on record have comprised more than 1 million computers. While the number of machines corralled into botnets is increasing, the OECD found that botnets themselves are shrinking to avoid detection.
Rather than launching high-profile attacks to bring down a target, small botnets can subtly reduce the target's internet service over a prolonged period.
Most malware infections (93%) occur on home users' computers.
However, OECD research suggests that this can have a knock-on effect on national industries reliant on online transactions such as banking. For example, malware may deter people from using the internet to access more efficient savings products.
Though thirty-eight countries around the world now have national bodies focused on computer security, the OECD has said that international organisations and agreements are needed to properly measure the impact of malware attacks and counteract them.