Half of all malware originating in China during October was designed to steal usernames and passwords, an IT security firm warned today.
By analysing the malware, which was written in a simplified version of Chinese, Sophos reported that 45.2 per cent aimed to steal online game log-in information.
A further 7.5 per cent was designed to provide the hackers with username and password details for the popular Chinese QQ instant messaging client.
"Given the ever growing popularity of online gaming in China, this is a worrying trend," said Carole Theriault, senior security consultant at Sophos.
"Once hackers have stolen log-in details, they can effectively impersonate the victim in the online world.
"Millions of people play these games every day, and these cyber criminals can wreak havoc, for example buying and selling items in online stores and running up huge debts without the victim even realising."
Furthermore, a significant proportion of the remaining malware is designed to give hackers access to instant messaging clients.
Sophos warned computer users of the risks of using the same password across multiple sites, and of the importance of using secure passwords.
"While hacking into an instant messaging client may not seem like the end of the world, the danger is that the cyber-criminals will have gained access to bank accounts, or cracked the passwords to confidential and financial information," said Theriault.
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