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2014 a record year for malware, says security firm

There's more evidence that 2014 was a really bad year in the fight against malicious software. Panda Security says the number of new malware strains it detected doubled compared with 2013.

A new report from Spanish firm Panda Security offers further evidence that last year was a nasty one in the fight against malicious software -- the worst ever, actually.

In an annual report released Monday (PDF), Panda said that in 2014 it detected and eliminated 75 million samples of malicious software -- harmful code also known as malware, which includes things like computer viruses and worms. That's more than double the 30 million new malware strains recorded in 2013 by the company, which provides both home and business computer-security services. On average, 200,000 new malware strains were detected daily in 2014, the firm said.

Some of the world's biggest corporations fell victim to large-scale data breaches in 2014, including Sony, Home Depot and Target. In some of those instances, malware was placed on point of sale terminals to scoop up credit card numbers and other information. But the prominence of the victims may have been trumped by the pervasiveness of malware: In 25 years tracking malware, Panda has detected 220 million specimens -- and 34 percent of those were coded in 2014, according to the report.

"Security threats will increase in 2015, and both companies and home users must prepare themselves to respond to them," said Panda Security Technical Director Luis Corrons in a statement. "It is not a question of whether their security will be compromised but rather when and how, so in this case prevention is key."

Panda is just the latest malware-watcher to document the spike this year in malware. AV-Test, a company that tests the effectiveness of antivirus software, reported last month that malware spiked in 2014 to more than 143 million detections, up 72 percent from last year. And Kaspersky Lab, another provider of home and business security products, saw four times more mobile malware attacks in 2014 than the year before.

Most security experts attribute the rise to hackers who are more sophisticated and eagerly adopt the latest in hacking methods. They can buy or freely download malware code, then change just a few pieces of it. Suddenly, the code is invisible to the antivirus programs. In an escalating game of cat and mouse, hackers are jumbling the code of their malware to avoid getting caught, using the same techniques companies use to protect sensitive files.