7 Hot Technology Trends for 2011

2. Facebook’s prominence will spark privacy concerns – One area that could spark some regulation, though, is privacy. As social networking continues to rise in importance, with Facebook now driving more traffic than Google, don’t be surprises if privacy concerns continue to ramp up.

A friend of mine just got engaged, mentioning this in her status, and, predictably, she began seeing all sorts of wedding-related ads on her Facebook page. Another friend complains that once he mentioned caring for his elderly parent, he ended up getting all sorts of eldercare spam.

Internet advertising and marketing firms have been optimizing their ability to send you targeted ads for years. While they are slapped on the wrist from time to time, their efforts mostly continue unimpeded.

However, the perception isn’t that Internet marketers are violating your privacy, but that the sites in league with them are. Now, sites like Facebook aren’t entirely to blame. If people don’t set their privacy settings properly, it’s pretty easy for spam spiders to scrape content. It’s also fairly easy for hackers to learn enough about you to steal your identity or launch targeted social engineering attacks (if you’re a big fish).

As Facebook cements its position as the social networking site in 2011, it won’t be long until Facebook (and other sites like LinkedIn) are pressured to do more to protect your privacy and thwart would-be spammers and hackers.

(And, yes, I’m hoping three times is the charm with social networking. We’ll see.)

3. State-sponsored attacks become more widespread – Security experts used to worry about sleep-deprived teenagers in their parent’s basements. Now, they must worry about state-sponsored attackers backed by the likes of China, Russia, Israel or even large organized crime syndicates.

One of the cables in the WikiLeaks diplomatic dump traced the Google attack of early 2009 to a source everyone expected already: China, specifically, a top Chinese propaganda minister. In the summer of 2010, the Stuxnet worm targeted the SCADA systems that control power plants, factories and the like. Although there isn’t a paper trail to prove this, most security insiders believe that the worm originated in Israel and was intended to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.

According to security firm Imperva, North Korean cyber-spies have begun mimicking the hacker community, using botnets to attack U.S. government agencies.

Expect more state-sponsored cyber-attacks in 2011. And don’t be surprised if some of these originate in the U.S., which considered but dismissed a Stuxnet-type attack during the Iraq war on Iraqi infrastructure and which continues to use cyber-attacks to jam the communications of Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban.

4. Android becomes the new Windows – According to research from Gartner, the Android overtook the iPhone in 2010 to become the most popular smartphone platform in the U.S. and the third-most popular handset (behind Symbian and BlackBerry) in the world.

As Google continues to build out the Android Marketplace, and as it pushes both Android and Chrome into a variety of non-PC devices, Android looks like a good bet to be the Windows of the mobile world.

However, I expect that operating systems in general will become much less important over time. One of the major changes ushered in by smartphones is the importance of the app. In the next couple of years, devices will emerge that will be, essentially, limited-purpose app delivery devices. That’s pretty much what a Kindle is, after all, a connected device with a very specific function.

Android is well positioned to be the Windows of the post-PC era, but the real winners will be the developers of apps, like Facebook or game makers like Angry Birds, that people can’t live without.

5. Mobile and cloud conspire to drive IT crazy – By itself, cloud computing should make life easier for IT … eventually. The key word being “eventually.” There will be plenty of fits and starts during the transition to cloud-based computing.

One thing that is worrying IT is high-octane smartphones made even more powerful with the cloud. Some security pros believe that smartphones will actually improve security, since users will be less likely to store sensitive data on them. However, if your organization doesn’t have easy remote access in place, don’t be surprised if users start migrating data to their own personal clouds, where they can then access it from whatever device they please.

Of course, this is a headache for IT — especially since the freebie cloud services don’t offer the fine-grained security befitting enterprise computing. Microsoft, for instance, has been hyping its cloud storage service, SkyDrive. SkyDrive and Windows Live are supposed to make it easy for people and groups to store documents and collaborate via the cloud. The trouble is that SkyDrive’s sharing controls are blunt instruments, and, of course, data in SkyDrive is protected only by user names and passwords, which doesn’t pass muster in regulated industries like health care and financial services.

There have also been instances where employees have connected to their employers’ networks with their own personal smartphones only to later find that their employers have remote wiped their phones, removing everything — company data and otherwise.

Companies will argue that it’s within their right to do this, especially when, say, an employee is terminated. However, consumer advocacy organizations and a few intrepid individuals may well push back. Legally, remotely wiping a device you do not own or subsidize is a gray area, but does IT really want to trade one headache, worries over data leakage, for another, the threat of a lawsuit? Either way, IT will grapple with issues such as these as the cloud and smartphones continue to invade the enterprise.