Russia and China are protecting gangs of criminals engaged in cybercrimes such as Internet fraud, blackmail and money laundering, a study said Tuesday.

Security firm McAfee's 2008 Virtual Criminology Report, subtitled "Cybercrime: The Next Wave," draws on interviews with senior staff at organizations such as Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency, the United Nations and the FBI.

It found that a number of countries were providing "political cover" for criminals against attempts at prosecution by other nations.

"The cyber-kingpins remain at large while minor mules are caught and brought to rights," the report reads. "Some governments are guilty of protecting their in-country offenders."

The study found that Russia and China were among those harboring Internet criminal networks, and that they are "especially reluctant to co-operate with foreign law-enforcement bodies for reputation and intelligence reasons."

"A lot of it is corruption," said Dr. Ian Brown of the University of Oxford, one of the report's authors. "In Russia, it is in regional governments and police agencies — there are connections between the cyber-criminals in those areas."

The report also sounded a warning about the growing threat of cyberterrorism, saying Internet hackers will soon become "powerful enough to launch attacks that will damage and destroy critical national infrastructure," including electrical grids, gas and water supplies and bank-payment systems.

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