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Firm says US is hotbed of illegal cyber activity

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The United States generates more malicious computer activity than any other country, and sophisticated hackers worldwide are banding together in highly efficient crime rings, according to a new report.

Researchers at Cupertino-based Symantec Corp. also found that fierce competition in the criminal underworld is driving down prices for stolen financial information.

Criminals can purchase verified credit card numbers for as little as $1, and they can buy a complete identity -- a date of birth and US bank account, credit card and government-issued identification numbers -- for $14, according to Symantec's twice-yearly Internet Security Threat Report, released Monday.

Researchers at the security software company found that about a third of all computer attacks worldwide in the second half of 2006 originated from machines in the United States. That makes the United States the most fertile breeding ground for threats such as spam, phishing, and malicious code, easily surpassing runners-up China, which generates 10 percent of attacks, and Germany, which generates 7 percent.

The United States also leads in bot network activity. Bots are compromised computers controlled remotely and operating in concert to pump out spam or perform other nefarious acts.

Spam made up 59 percent of all e-mail traffic Symantec monitored. That's up 5 percentage points from the previous period. Much of the spam was related to stock picks and other financial scams.