A new report from security vendor Webroot has painted a grim picture of the rising incidence of malware in the last year.

All in all, the company detected 400,000 sites being used to spread a toxic cocktail of spyware, Trojans, worms, and other malevolent programs to the unsuspecting computer user.

The big change that came about in 2005 – which confirms what other sources have been reporting – is that malware is no longer written primarily to spread and advertise its existence. The motivation is now criminal and that means infecting people’s computers while remaining invisible for as long as possible.

The deeper patterns reported in The State of Spyware make intriguing reading. Overall, 2005 saw 130 significant information breaches at companies that put in jeopardy the personal data of 55 million US computer users, and an unknown number of people from outside the US.

In an increasing number of cases – the ChoicePoint scandal for instance – this has resulted in significant fines for the company experiencing the information breach. Most of these occurrences are not entirely new but US legislation enforces reporting of incidents that would have remained hidden before.

The US still hosts the most exploit sites, with just under a third of the total detected by Webroot. China is now number two, only a fraction behind, with The Netherlands in third place. The UK accounts for a relatively low 2.2 percent of the global total, although that still puts it in the top 10.

It is also difficult to know whom to trust in the new security-conscious world - the list of top spyware threats includes two program Webroot describes as "rogue" products masquerading as genuine anti-spyware software.

Webroot takes a sideswipe at traditional anti-virus programs – a type of software not sold by the company. "As malicious spyware grows in complexity it presents a problem for traditional virus-detection methods. Most spyware behaves drastically different than viruses."