Computer users should be prepared for a range of more complex and sophisticated malware in 2011, security experts predict.  While it took more than 40 years for malware to morph into a moneymaking industry, today it has reached the next evolutionary stage and become one the of the most feared weapons of cybercriminals.

Last year held unexpected surprises in terms of online security , according to BitDefender, a provider of Internet security solutions, including a massive wave of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that paralyzed Internet service providers, payment processors and government websites.

Looking at the online security landscape for 2011, BitDefender expects increased activity from both conventional botnets — a network of involuntarily infected computers that is used to distribute spam and viruses — as well as computers voluntarily enrolled in ad hoc botnets focused on launching DDoS  attacks.

“In 2011, not only do we expect malicious applications will increase in number — BitDefender believes these e-threats will be more complex and pose even greater danger to today’s online lifestyle,” said Catalin Cosoi, head of the company’s online threats lab.

The coming year may also see the debut of malware signed with genuine stolen digital certificates or counterfeit certificates, the company’s security experts said in their study of potential 2011 e-threats.

They also predicted a rise in rogue software, a growing and serious security threat to computer users in the form of malware that deceives or misleads users into paying for the fake or simulated removal of malware. These can range from rogue disk defragmenters to tune-up applications.

Smartphones and other mobile devices running full-fledged operating systems such as Android, Windows 7 and Apple’s iOS will not be immune to malware either, BitDefender said. The availability of software development kits for these devices will make it easier for malware creators to seize control of these devices.

“Android malware such as the Geinimi Trojan is already a reality, and it’s only a matter of time before cybercriminals start infecting users’ phones to gain control over sensitive data such as e-banking and social networking credentials,” said Cosoi.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.