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Booby-trapped web pages are growing at an alarming rate with unsuspecting firms acting for nurseries for botnet farmers, according to a new study.

Security watchers at Sophos are discovering 6,000 new infected webpages every day, the equivalent of one every 14 seconds. Four in five (83 per cent) of these webpages actually belong to innocent companies and individuals, unaware that their sites have been hacked. Websites of all types, from those of antique dealers to ice cream manufacturers and wedding photographers, have hosted malware on behalf of virus writers, Sophos reports.

The study sheds fresh light on the well-understood problem of drive-by-downloads from compromised sites, a tactic that's come to eclipse virus-infected email as a means of spreading malware. Cybercrooks target users by spamvertising emails containing links to poisoned webpages, exposing unsuspecting victims to malware. At least one in ten web pages are booby-trapped with malware, according to a separate study by Google published last May.

Often these malware packages are designed to put compromised zombie PCs under the control of hackers.

Around half a million computers are infected by bots every day according to data compiled by PandaLabs, the research arm of anti-virus firm Panda Software. Approximately 11 percent of computers worldwide have become a part of criminal botnets, which are responsible for 85 percent of all spam sent, it said.

You've been iFramed

Compromised sites often contain browser exploits that allow hackers to push Trojans and the like onto vulnerable PCs. Sophos reports that the well-known iFrame vulnerability in Internet Explorer remained the preferred vector for malware attacks throughout last year. China (51.4 per cent) led the US (23.4 per cent) in the net security firm's list of malware-hosting countries. The figures represent a reversal from 2006, when China held second place after the US on the list of shame.

"We would like to see China making less of an impact on the charts in the coming year. Chinese computers, whether knowingly or not, are making a disturbingly large contribution to the problems of viruses and spam affecting all of us today," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.®

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