Cyber attacks are growing worldwide (Source: Symantec)

Germany comes in at the top of a European cybercrime list published by internet safety and security group Symantec.

In its 16th annual Internet Security Threat Report, the US based software company paints a worrisome picture of growing cybercrime. In 2010 alone, Symantec discovered 286 million new global threats to companies and private individuals operating online.

Symantec also said cyber attacks on companies are becoming more sophisticated. And social networks and mobile and smartphones are rapidly becoming new targets for cybercriminals.

Germany leads all other European countries in cybercrime. Symantec found 473,480 computers that had been infected by so-called Bots, programs that run automatically, most often without the computer's owner knowing about them. Symantec said one out of every five Bot-infected computers in Europe is in Germany. On average 1,946 Bots were active in Germany every day and Symantec said the country is is a preferred "logistics base" for people or companies distributing viruses, phishing emails or spam.

Germany takes second place in Europe - after Britain - when it comes to malware or malicious code activity. And the country was also second in Phishing activities and spread of Trojans. It rose from sixth and fifth place, respectively, in 2009.

Attacks on smartphones, a relatively new cybercrime business area, almost doubled in 2010. Most of these attacks were in the form of Trojans that masqueraded as legitimate applications. Official App stores most often served as platforms for these activities.

Kevin Haley, director, Symantec Security Technology and Response, said in a blog entry that many companies have not yet implemented security policies for smartphones and tablet PCs. "The most serious current risk is that users will download applications that include malicious code, giving hackers access to user information or even control over the device," he said.

And he added: "As mobile devices continue to become more critical to business in the coming years, we anticipate a sharp increase in destructive software developed specifically for these devices."

Social networks also came under increased attack, according to Symantec. An oft-used ploy involved the transmission of shortened URLs via email or web pages. These then contain Phishing attacks or malware.

Worldwide, Symantec recorded more than 286 million malware threats, with targeted attacks growing especially fast.

Many of these attacks use tookits that target weakness in Java software. Web-based assaults were up 93 pc from 2009 and two-thirds of them involved toolkits.

The Hydraq and Stuxnet programs were used to attack much-used applications such as Internet Explore, Adobe Reader or Adobe Flash. These attacks target corporate IT systems in particular.

According to the Symantec Threat Report, hackers gathered 260,000 identities with every attack. Hacking destroyed four times as many data as other problems.

Globally, the US and China top the charts of malicious activity by country, unchanged from a year earlier. Germany rises to third place from fifth and Brazil ranks fourth, unchanged from last year. Britain dropped from third to fifth place.

A copy of Symantec's report can be downloaded here.