Malware authors continue to write new data-swiping applications at a breakneck pace, but thanks to improved antivirus and antimalware security apps, most of these threats are eliminated within 24 hours of their existence.

However, according to a report by security software firm Panda Security, this short lifespan doesn't mean that Internet users are any safer than they were in years past.

In fact, while many security apps do a great job of snuffing out these threats before they can do serious damage, the short lifespan of most malware is a reflection of how quickly hackers are modifying the offending code to avoid detection.

According to the study, the average number of new malware threats created each day has increased from 55,000 in 2009 to more than 63,000 this year, a 14 percent jump.

More telling is the fact that one-third of all these threats -- which includes everything from viruses, worms and Trojans -- were developed in the first 10 months of 2010.

Panda Security researchers found that 54 percent of all the malware detected this year was active for less than 24 hours compared to a typical lifespan of several months in years past.

This trend is a testament, researchers said, to the hackers' ability and vested interest in modifying or creating new strains to elude AV apps and keep their clandestine operations off the radar. This smash-and-grab approach has resulted in a dramatic spike in malicious spam and the proliferation of socially engineered scams targeted at specific individuals and communities via Facebook and Twitter, among others.

"Since 2003, new threats have increased at a rate of 100 percent or more," Luis Corrons, technical director at PandaLabs, said in the report. "Yet so far in 2010, purely new malware has increased by only 50 percent, significantly less than the historical norm."

But before anyone gets too comfortable or complacent, Corrons advises Internet users to expect a combination of new tactics and old favorites to dominate the malware scene in 2011.

"It seems hackers are applying economies of scale, reusing old malicious code or prioritizing the distribution of existing threats over the creation of new ones," he added.

Panda Security researchers said they've managed to identify and corral roughly 99.4 percent of all threats circulating throughout cyberspace this year. Of the 134 million files Panda discovered, about 60 million were malicious.

It also found that more than 20 million new strains of malware were created in the first 10 months of 2010, roughly the same number of threats identified for all of 2009 and that number will certainly rise significantly through the online holiday shopping season.

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

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