Central government agencies, banks and companies should reinforce their computer security systems to fend off increasingly harmful international hacking activity, warned BT Counterpane network security specialist and chief technology officer Bruce Schneier. 'There are professional hacker gangs all around the world now; criminals go where the money is.' said Mr Schneier. 'Russia has the biggest group of professional hackers who usually steal money from banks and companies by setting up fraudulent accounts. Because of this, the Singapore government forced local banks to upgrade their network security.' According to International Data Centre (IDC), more than 57 per cent of the US$800 million network security budget in the Asia-Pacific region is spent on isolating outbreaks of viruses, spyware, spam and other malicious conduct. 'Corporate spending on IT security is on the rise but the money is spent the wrong way,' he said. 'The big challenge in security today comes from crimes such as phishing and pharming, and zombies taking over systems from a remote system, all of which are different from traditional hacking and defacing of web pages.' Phishing is carried out by email or instant messages to fraudulently acquire user passwords and credit card details for eBay, PayPal and online bank accounts while pharming is a cracker attack aimed at redirecting a website's traffic to a bogus website. 'Too often, companies in the region treat IT infrastructure as afterthoughts of their global operations, leading to glaring inefficiencies and vulnerabilities in security strategies,' said Mr Schneier. Whereas the mainland has 'the Great Firewall' - a censorship and surveillance system officially known as 'The Golden Shield', network security also should be improved, Mr Schneier said. 'The Great Firewall does not work very well, while Chinese hackers do work very well.' A cryptographer credited with designing popular encryption algorithms such as Blowfish and Twofish, Mr Schneier was quoted in the famous novel The Da Vinci Code. 'I do not know the author of that book. Maybe he just saw my name on his bookshelves.' In 1999, he founded Counterpane Internet Security which was acquired last year by Britain's BT Group.