Malware targeting PCs with Trojans, password stealers and keyloggers, among other things, registered a five-fold increase in the first half of 2007, according to research released by Microsoft at the RSA Security conference in London.

And in the same period, 31.6 million phishing scams were detected - an increase of 150 percent over the previous six months.

The survey, sponsored by Microsoft and conducted by the Ponemon Institute, interviewed more than 3,600 security, privacy and marketing executives across a variety of industries, such as financial services, healthcare, technology and government, in the US, UK and Germany.

It found that attackers are increasingly targeting personal information to make a profit, threatening people's privacy as crime rings grow more sophisticated. Further, there are more opportunities for cybercriminals to steal personal information, as enterprises need to share information and conduct business across borders and devices.

Roger Halbheer, chief security advisor of Microsoft EMEA, "If there are rumours of a takeover or a merger, information can become desirable for organised crime circles. Auction bids for a laptop of a CEO amongst criminal organisations can reach seven-digit figures."

"As the security of the operating system improves, we are seeing cybercriminals becoming more sophisticated, diverse and targeted in their methods of stealing personal information," said Microsoft's Ben Fathi in a keynote address at the RSA Europe Conference.

"Personal information is the currency of crime and malicious attackers are targeting it to make their attacks and other scams more authentic, credible and successful - and to make a profit," he added.

The study found that companies that admitted poor collaboration between marketing, security and privacy departments were more than twice as likely to have suffered a data breach over the past two years, compared with companies with a strong collaboration culture. 74 percent of companies that admitted to poor collaboration said they had experienced one or more significant data breaches in the last two years. However, only 29 percent of companies that claimed to have good collaboration reported one or more breaches in the same period.