Computer hackers will open a new front in the multi-billion pound "cyberwar" in 2007, targeting mobile phones, instant messaging and community websites such as MySpace, security experts predict.
As people grow wise to email scams, criminal gangs will find new ways to commit online fraud, sell fake goods or steal corporate secrets.
"The attacks are becoming more sophisticated," said Dave Rand of internet security firm Trend Micro. "It's all about making money. And they're making a lot of it," he told Reuters.
In 2007, hackers will be scouring social networking sites such as MySpace to gather information for more focused attacks on people's computers.
"It is definitely an area that is ripe for more exploitation by malware (malicious software)," said Ed English, Trend Micro's Chief Technology Officer for anti-spyware.
People could find their computers infected with viruses that secretly record all their keystrokes or send out millions of spam email messages.
Identity theft fraudsters will trawl through sites which allow people to leave their pictures and personal details, finding targets for "phishing" attacks - fraudulent emails aimed at tricking people into revealing credit card numbers.
"It is way too easy for the spyware guys to assemble a puzzle of who you are," English said.
Hackers will also target people using instant messaging services or making telephone calls over the Internet in 2007, Trend Micro said.
Mobile phones are targets
Powerful new mobile phones and portable computers will also be targets as thieves try to bypass tight security to steal emails, documents or contacts, security firm McAfee said.
"Modern mobile phones are in essence miniature portable computers," the company said in its annual crime report. "Mobile devices present a serious challenge."
A new version of the popular Web browser Internet Explorer released in November and Microsoft's new Vista operating system will also attract hackers, Trend Micro said.
McAfee warns that spying on businesses will become more sophisticated. Criminals are hiring students to plant as sleepers in companies and huge amounts of data can be removed on small, portable memory sticks.
"Corporate espionage is big business," its report says. "Data is often priceless property. Stealing trade secrets, information or contacts is a lucrative money-spinner for cybercriminals."
Security firms say Internet crime can be hard to combat because it embraces different continents and time zones.
Criminals are attracted by the relative ease of making money, the speed and anonymity the Internet offers. "It beats taking a gun and walking into a 7-Eleven store," English said.