If you think internet scams are all transparent dodges involving Nigerian bank accounts, you might be surprised to learn e-crime is now a $US100 billion industry and growing fast.
That's the figure arrived at by renowned internet crime tracker Eugene Kaspersky, and international IT analysts have come to similar conclusions.
Con artists and crime bosses sit at the hearts of massive zombie PC networks, filching credit card numbers, health insurance information and laundering cash through virtual worlds such as Second Life.
It's a high-tech world populated by what Kaspersky describes as "underground Bill Gates" who are intent on cooking up ever more sophisticated schemes to capture personal information and profit from it.
Chinese or other Asian hackers, according to Kaspersky, are mostly focused on developing the trojans that lift personal information from online video games.
"Latin America is developing most of the bank trojans designed to steal online banking information," says Kaspersky, while Eastern Europe and Russia are mostly developing and selling botnets and criminal services to develop the trojans and trade them across the internet.
"But the main source of malicious code development or hacking attacks we see is coming from China - it's a clear leader in terms of global malicious code development."
The second source is Spanish or Portuguese-speaking countries, whose criminals may have spread to California and Miami, he says.
"The third source is Russian speakers, and these could be in the Baltic nations, the Ukraine or even cities like New York.
"You cannot actually separate malicious code development by country, but you can clearly see which language was spoken by the person who developed the code and in most cases it is Chinese, Spanish or Portuguese and Russian."
The underground networks that develop and sell the computer code are organised and self-policed by an international network of computer coding specialists.
Kaspersky's job is to stop that code from hitting your inbox, but he does not lie awake at night worrying about the next global computer virus.
He does, however, worry about cyber terrorism.
Kaspersky notes that in the latest Die Hard movie (Die Hard 4.0) cyber terrorists use the internet to shut down critical infrastructure across the United States, starting with traffic lights and escalating to power grids.
The most disturbing element of this, according to Kaspersky, is that the filmmakers got some of the technical elements right.
"Thanks, Hollywood," he says.
"I'm afraid what is going on around the world now is getting closer to cyber terrorism and Die Hard 4.0 had a good explanation of how to do that. But don't trust Hollywood, it's not so easy to do, but it did explain the main ideas and not everything in that movie was silly."
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