According to the latest report from security software vendor McAfee, China is home base for some the world's most dangerous and proficient hackers responsible for cyber attacks that become more destructive by the day.

McAfee's Q4 Threats Report (PDF) found that while total botnet production in the U.S. fell from 13.1 percent in the third quarter to 9.5 percent, China rallied to assume the top spot by capturing more than 12 percent of the total number of malware-spreading zombie computers.

More disturbing, the report found that more than 54.4 percent of the fast-moving SQL injection attacks that give IT administrators their biggest headaches were hosted in China during the fourth quarter.

The data comes less than a month after Google and two dozen other U.S.-based companies confirmed that their computer networks were targeted by a series of orchestrated cyber attacks that appeared to have originated in China.

"In Q4, we saw spam activity drop, but identified some interesting trends developing in terms of the geographic distribution of cyber threats and the types of threats executed," McAfee CTO Mike Gallagher said in the report. "China emerged as the worldwide leader in both zombie production and the execution of SQL-injection attacks, while Internet-based attacks played a bigger role and will continue to do so as cybercriminals target the most popular social destinations in 2010."

McAfee (NYSE: MFE) said that there was an average of more than 135.5 billion spam messages sent each day in the fourth quarter, a staggering number that was actually down 24 percent from the third quarter. The U.S. still sits atop the worldwide rankings for spam production, followed by Brazil and India.

Security researchers said users should brace themselves for a fresh batch of celebrity- and event-driven malware plots in 2010.

McAfee has already noted a significant number of 2010 FIFA World Cup-themed phishing scams; Zeus Trojans masked as the Center for Disease Control, referencing the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine program; and other scams preying on people who are out of work or looking for a quick score.

Research has also found that politically motivated attacks are on the rise around the world, targeting popular social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Last month, a survey commissioned by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that 54 percent of IT executives surveyed said their companies had already suffered a large-scale attack or stealthy infiltration from organized crime gangs, terrorists, or nation-states. And such attacks can prove incredibly costly: The initial estimated cost of downtime associated with a major cyber attack incident is more than $6.3 million a day.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.