DUBLIN: Hackers have compromised more than 552 million web users' identities over the past year, according to researchers from security firm Symantec.
Symantec detected the spike using its Global Intelligence Network, which uses 69 million attack sensors across 157 countries to detect harmful activities on the web. The network detected a 62 percent in the number of data breaches over the past year.
Senior manager for Symantec Security Response Orla Cox said the breaches are particularly devastating as they impact end customers as much as the companies themselves.
"These targeted attacks affect everybody. For example if you look at card breaches, the card holders are victims as much as the businesses," she said.
Symantec highlighted a rise in targeted attack levels as a key factor aiding the criminals' high success rate.
Symantec detected a 91 percent increase in targeted attack levels in 2013. Targeted attacks are cyber campaigns designed to target specific companies or government agencies. They use a variety of tactics, including highly socially engineered phishing campaigns to break into their victims' systems.
Symantec reported 779 targeted attack campaigns in 2013, 16 percent of which were designed to infiltrate government departments. Professional services were the second most targeted group, attracting 15 percent of attacks.
Symantec also reported that cyber criminals' use of blackmail-focused ransomware rose by 500 percent during the period. The company detected 660,000 ransomware campaigns in December 2013.
Ransomware locks users out of their computers, encrypting all data so they are unable to recover key files until they pay a sum of money. Symantec said most ransomware attacks demanded between $100 and $500 from victims.
The security researchers said they expect the number of data breaches to increase over the next few years as key trends, such as the Internet of Things, open up new attack vectors for criminals. The company highlighted wearable technologies, such as smartwatches, as a particularly dangerous area, warning that their ability to track and store users' locations, and biometric data such as pulse and weight, will undoubtedly draw hackers' attention.
Wearable technology is a hot topic within the cyber security space. Symantec's warnings come weeks after Google unveiled its Android Wear operating system, for use on smartwatches.
Google said CIOs will have to prepare their systems to securely handle wearable technologies as the ongoing bring-your-own-device trend means employees will use them for work purposes whether firms authorise them or not, during a press briefing attended by V3 earlier in April.