Phishers, cyber-squatters, and other online fraudsters continued their assault on well-known corporate brands over the last 12 months, increasing the burden on the companies being targeted and further frustrating consumers.

According to MarkMonitor's annual "brand-jacking" report - which attempts to gauge the level of damage being extracted on corporate reputations by online scammers via schemes like phishing - problems only intensified last year for businesses in defending their public images online.

Among the biggest shifts from the findings of the company's previous report was a dramatic spike in 2007 in the prevalence of cyber-squatting, or the practice of occupying a URL that either contains or is constructed to appear similar to the name of an established corporate brand, for the sake of deceiving users or carrying out some form of fraud.

MarkMonitor, which bases its results on investigations of public records, including URL registration applications filed with Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), estimates that cyber-squatting rose by 33 percent in 2007 compared to the previous year.

The research firm said that it observed some 382,248 instances of cyber-squatting during the fourth quarter of 2007 alone with a particularly noticeable increase in the use of brand names and trademarks utilised to drive traffic to illegitimate, unauthorised, or offensive websites through popular search engines.