Internet users around the world send an estimated 60 billion e-mails every day and many of these are spam or scam attempts, business leaders said on Tuesday.
Deutsche Telekom Chief Executive Kai-Uwe Ricke said cyber criminals were growing more active and sophisticated, and the vast e-mail traffic meant industry, government and Internet users had to be vigilant and work together.
"This figure was new for me as well — worldwide there are around 60 billion e-mails sent every day," Telekom Chief Executive Kai-Uwe Ricke told an Internet security conference.
"A large percent of it is spam," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer added.
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned of the recent growth in "phishing" —fishing for passwords, often via fake e-mails that especially target online banking.
"In 2005, the attempts at phishing (globally) dramatically increased, by 300 percent compared with the previous year," he said. "According to international estimates, phishing is successful with up to 5 percent of all Internet users."
He said this success rate caused inestimable economic damage worldwide. Internet security firm Symantec Corp registered some 8 million phishing attempts last year.
Germany's BKA federal crime office said this month it had shut a "phishing" ring of Germans and Lithuanians, sparing online banking customers millions of euros of potential losses.
The BKA said the phishing ring obtained online banking customers' user names and passwords and other sensitive data from their victims' computers by means of a "Trojan horse", a self-circulating, virus-like program that spreads by e-mail and sends data from the infiltrated computer back to the "phisher".
Schaeuble said many Germans used no form of Internet protection, exposing themselves needlessly to phishing and other criminal attempts to infiltrate their computers.
"One out of every four Germans is without anti-virus protection and more than half had no firewalls," he said.
Ballmer said this situation was probably worse in the United States, but there were signs Internet users were becoming better educated about protecting themselves from cyber criminals. (MSNBC.com is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)
He said it was important for software developers like Microsoft to make their products as secure as possible. But he warned that improved security would require the combined efforts of authorities, the industry and users themselves.
"The hackers out there are really are smart and getting smarter. We all have to run in front of them," Ballmer said.
To improve U.S. cyber security, Ballmer said Microsoft would launch an initiative next month in the United States modeled on a German program, "Germany Safe on the Net", set up a year ago by Telekom, Microsoft, the government and Internet-related firms to improve Internet safety.