For many people not engaged in the information technology (IT) industry, the concept of a hacker seems abstract and comical, with the image of the spotty teenager cracking systems for bragging rights often coming to mind. However, security experts warn that the days of nuisance hacks, as espoused by the Kevin Mitnicks of the world, are over. Nowadays it is all about profit. According to a recent report titled The Cyber Arms Race, the rich easy-to-pluck fruits of the internet have attracted the attention of criminal groups that run vast networks of compromised computers for profit. 'Today, the cyber-crime ecosystem is close to maturity - well defined relationships and business models are already in place. A new class of cyber criminal freely and openly buys and sells malicious code,' said Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of Kaspersky Lab, and author of the report. These cyber criminals vary in their expertise and range from minor fraudsters to professional organisations based in Russia, Brazil and other former communist countries in Eastern Europe where they can get away with stealing large sums of money due to lax law enforcement. Gerald Hong, director of antivirus distributor Lapcom, said the net effect was the same. 'In the past 10 years the internet has become a lot more dangerous for users. There are more viruses, malware, worms, trojans, phishing schemes, spam, automated attacks and spyware every year - and it is going to get more risky,' he said. The statistics back him up. According to data released by managed security service operator Network Box, attacks by botnets (a network of infected computers under the control of a hacker) peaked last month to the point that the firm's network discovered an intrusion attempt every 7.1 seconds, an incoming virus threat every 9.8 minutes and incoming spam every 48.4 seconds. The security industry has more or less kept pace with this. The number of security updates has grown rapidly from eight per day in 2000 to 388 in 2007, according to Network Box. However, the reactive nature of the industry gives some credence to the belief that the security measures will always be one-step behind cyber attacks. Despite this, Network Box managing director Michael Gazeley said there really was no alternative. 'You have to secure yourself as much as possible even if there is no absolutely impenetrable security system,' he said.