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Some 55 per cent of Chinese computers are infected with malware, the highest of any country worldwide, according to the latest Annual Security Report from Panda Security.

The Spanish security vendor’s Panda Labs research team reported 27 million new strains of malware in 2012, bringing the total in its database to 125m.

It said around one third of the PCs it scanned globally were infected, with Trojans accounting for three-quarters of new threats.

After China (54.89 per cent), the next-worst countries were South Korea (54.15 per cent) and Taiwan (42.14 per cent).

The stats may lend some credence to the Chinese government’s oft-heard refrain that it is a victim, not a perpetrator, of cyber crime.

In fact, some believe that Chinese hackers are disproportionately blamed for many of the world’s cyber attacks, because the real perpetrators disguise their true origin by using compromised PCs in the People’s Republic.

At the last count, in January 2013, the government-affiliated China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said there were 564 million internet users in the country. No figures were given for the number of desktop PC users, but six month previously they stood at a whopping 380 million.

China certainly has a problem with malware. Last September, Microsoft’s Operation b70 team even discovered corrupt resellers were flogging computers pre-loaded with the stuff.

A study by a Calfornia-based research institute last August reported the online underground economy in the country affected nearly a quarter of the country’s internet users last year and cost the economy over 5 billion yuan (£500m).

It doesn’t automatically follow that just because the country’s machines are flooded with malware, it isn’t also the source of cyber attacks, of which plenty are thought to have originated behind the Great Firewall.

Several major APT-style threats over the years, from Operation Aurora to Night Dragon and Shady RAT, have been pinned pretty conclusively on Chinese perpetrators.

The latest has been revelations by the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal that they too have been targeted.

China certainly recognises the problem of cyber criminality, having unveiled information security guidelines last summer designed to protect government and critical infrastructure firms better.

It also periodically rounds up cyber hoodlums and crime gangs in well-publicised swoops.

Its critics will argue, though, that those directing their hacking efforts outside the country will at the very least be left alone, as long as they're serving the interest of the Party. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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