Microsoft has released research showing an acceleration in the number of security attacks designed to steal personal information or trick people into providing it through social engineering.

Microsoft’s most recent Security Intelligence Report, a comprehensive analysis of the threat landscape, shows that attackers are increasingly targeting personal information to make a profit and are threatening to impact people’s privacy.

The report found that during the first half of 2007, 31.6 million phishing scams were detected, an increase of more than 150% over the previous 6 months.

The study also shows a 500% increase in trojan downloaders and droppers, malicious code used to install files such as trojans, password stealers, keyboard loggers and other malware on users’ systems.

As more people communicate, access and share information online and the delivery of services and information becomes more personalised, organisations are collecting larger amounts of personal information to provide services to customers.

Increasingly, organisations need to share information and conduct business across borders and devices, and with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders. For cybercriminals, these factors represent greater opportunities to steal personal information.

"As the security of the operating system improves, we are seeing cybercriminals becoming more sophisticated, diverse and targeted in their methods of stealing personal information", Ben Fathi, corporate vice president of development for the Windows Core Operating System Division at Microsoft said.

"Personal information is the currency of crime, and malicious attackers are targeting it to make their cyberattacks and other scams more authentic, credible and successful, and to make a profit."