The fast growing popularity of RSS (really simple syndication) means that the technology will pose increasingly significant problems for IT security professionals this year, new research has warned.

ScanSafe's latest web security report notes an explosive growth in the use of RSS feeds to pull updated content via HTTP and XML rather than having it being pushed to them by SMTP.

"With this trend expected to increase in 2006, malicious code writers are expected to take advantage by hijacking existing feed clients, causing automatic downloads of new worms and other web threats," the report warned.

According to figures taken from the study, there was a 265-percent increase in the volume of spyware and adware during the second half of 2005, compared with the same period in 2004. The report also notes there was a 165-percent increase in new web viruses in 2005 compared to 2004.

In addition the research indicates that web browser vulnerabilities are proliferating as attackers focus on the web as an area of network vulnerability. Protection of the web by companies was found to be weaker relative to email, network and desktop security. Areas of concern highlighted by ScanSafe are: the emergence of vulnerabilities in Microsoft Internet Explorer, the administrative struggle to update patches in browser software and advent of "zero day" exploits.

The study found that firms are increasingly banning web chat as its popularity increases among employees because they have no tools to manage it and monitor it effectively. It reports a "significant trend" in web filtering, with blocks per user in the "chat" category increasing dramatically in recent months, from an average of 100 blocks per user in June to over 700 in November.

"With spyware figures roughly doubling every month, which is what we've seen over the last four months, we can expect to see things get worse before they get better," according to Eldar Tuvey, ScanSafe CEO. "It was a similar pattern for spam, where companies were being bombarded with spam emails before the problem was tackled successfully. But while companies have tackled threats like spam through managed services, they need to adopt similar internet-level scanning techniques for the web."

ScanSafe's report also highlights the way spyware is becoming increasingly stealthy – developed by "highly skilled, well funded creators with a powerful financial motive."

"We've seen an increase of 214 percent in Spyware 'calling home' as a percentage of total blocks – and we're likely to see this figure rise even further over the coming months," added Tuvey.

ScanSafe reports that its threat center and web security experts analyze over 3 billion web requests every month.