Attackers are targeting Canada with increasing ferocity due to the country's IT infrastructure that make it a ripe launching pad for attacks, a panel of experts said Tuesday at the annual SC Congress Canada in Toronto.

In the first quarter of 2013, researchers saw an 83 percent increase in the number of command-and-control servers in the country that were used to operate botnets of infected computers, according to data revealed at the panel.

The findings were released as part of security firm Websense's third annual “Canadian Cyber Crime ReportCard,” which chronicles results from the first quarter of each year.

In addition, Websense tracked a 25 percent increase in the number of Canadian websites hosting malware, often used for espionage purposes. Vulnerable content management platforms such as WordPress and compromised internet service providers are to blame, the company said.

One area where the country's cyber crime track record improved was related to phishing, where the firm saw a significant drop in hosted phishing sites – 67 percent – in comparison with the first quarter of last year.

Panelist Fiaaz Walji, manager for security firm Websense's Canadian operations, said the good news was tempered with some concerning trends among phishers.

“The bad news is [malicious emails are] becoming more targeted through spear phishing attacks,” Walji said.

Scammers have taken advantage of Canada's dependable name to dupe users.

“Typically, Canada has a good reputation when dealing with companies,” Walji said of spear phishing emails that appear to come from email accounts created in the country. “If you see a .ca email, you'll respond to it,” he said of victim's line of reasoning.

Robert Knoblauch, director of technical security services at Toronto-based Scotiabank, also spoke on the panel about attack trends in his industry and said that last year he saw in increase in “watering hole” attacks – where hackers infect legitimate websites to serve malware to unsuspecting visitors.

In addition, the incidence of distributed denial-of-service attacks are also becoming an issue in the financial sector, Knoblauch said.

“The hackers are finding easier ways to target anyone with a vulnerable system,” he said. “And Canada happens to have a lot of servers that are vulnerable.”

Canadian organizations also are feeling the wrath of the attacks themselves. Michelle Warren, present of MW Research & Consulting, said small to midsize businesses in Canada are being compromised at growing rates.

Usually, these are the victims that may not have an IT person designated to identify or respond to threats, she explained. In addition, hackers know that these businesses with weaker security checks in place could be used to infiltrate larger companies that do business with them.

“It's an easy way into large companies [because] it's easier to gather information on a small business,” Warren said.