Nearly one million new cyber threats were released online every day in 2014, with five out of six large companies globally targeted, according to a new report from cyber security experts.
Compiled by anti-virus and web security experts Symantec, the firm's Internet Security Threat Report also found that 17% of all apps on Google's Android platform were malicious software, or malware, in disguise.
The report also announced an increase in ransomware - where hackers take over a user's device or files and demand money in order to release them. Symantec says this activity increased by 113% in 2014, with the UK the third targeted country globally.
The report comes after a year of high profile cyber attacks and viruses, including the Heartbleed vulnerability, first detected a year ago, that left millions of websites open to attack and lead to the hacking of sites including Yahoo and Mumsnet.
Other high-profile cases included the attack on Sony Pictures that reportedly originated in North Korea in retaliation to film The Interview, which depicted the assassination of Kim Jong-un. E-commerce giant eBay was also the victim of a cyber breach in 2014.
Kevin Haley, director of Symantec Security Response, said: "Attackers don't need to break down the door to a company's network when the keys are readily available.
"We're seeing attackers trick companies into infecting themselves by Trojanising software updates to common programs and patiently waiting for their targets to download them - giving attackers unfettered access to the corporate network."
The report also found a large number of viruses and potentially harmful pieces of software are being circulated inadvertently on social media, by users who are unaware of the full content of what they are sharing.
"Cyber criminals are inherently lazy; they prefer automated tools and the help of unwitting consumers to do their dirty work," added Mr Haley.
"Last year, 70% of social media scams were shared manually, as attackers took advantage of people's willingness to trust content shared by their friends."
Social media threat
As a result, Symantec has urged consumers to take greater care on social media, saying: "Don't click links in unsolicited email or social media messages, particularly from unknown sources. Scammers know people are more likely to click on links from their friends, so they compromise accounts to send malicious links to the account owner's contacts."
It comes alongside advice highlighting the need to check app permissions before completing any download, as well as making sure that all passwords are secure.
"This can not be emphasised enough," Symantec said. In the wake of the report's findings, users are being encouraged to update their passwords on a regular basis, and to never use the same log-in for multiple accounts.
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