At the start of this year, it wasn't obvious just how important security was going to be. According to some reports, 80 per cent of Windows PCs have spyware or adware - almost certainly unwanted - on board. Although my predictions for the year just passed (which you can re-read at http://www.charlesarthur.com/predict2004.html) have been largely borne out, the security issue took on a key role in 2004. What's ahead for 2005?
The inexorable rise of spyware and adware, plus the explosion of Trojan diallers, which stole more than pounds 5m from more than 50,000 Britons earlier this year, should have made everyone aware that your computer is far less safe when online than you ever thought. Microsoft did acknowledge this with its introduction of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, which bolstered the defences of Internet Explorer - increasingly the Achilles heel of the whole operating system. But that isn't a help to half of the world's Windows users, who use earlier versions than XP. Worse, hackers are moving towards "zero-day" attacks, whereby if a flaw is announced, a virus or worm pops up within 24 hours to exploit it - faster than many people run their updates. This trend will, if anything, get worse. The coming year will see lots of promise on the home front - it could even be the year when we finally work out if we really do want our TV to talk to our PC. So, here are my forecasts:
w Spyware and adware will continue to flourish. Your PC will become the battleground between rival anti-virus and anti-spyware companies. There will be casualties, some of it being your data if you're Windows.
w Phishing will be used for industrial espionage, rather than obtaining bank details. w Financial losses from phishing of all kinds (including e-mails, fake search tools and spyware) will grow, perplexing the banks, which will blame their customers and be much less forgiving of people who have lost money in this way.
w Malware, which pretends to be Google's desk- top search, will search your hard disk and send the results to criminals while appearing to do what you want. (Moral: type in the URL of the site you want to download from - don't click on a link in an e-mail or third-party web page).
w Hackers will switch their attention from headline-grabbing e- mail viruses to more subtle ways of infecting PCs. Some will put "infected" pictures in public photo sites. Some will infect ads served up to web surfers (as happened to The Register - see www.theregister.co.uk/2004/11/21/ register_adserver_attack/). Some will put corrupt data into databases. Hackers now have a big financial motive - they get paid by spammers and underworld operatives.
w UK broadband use will rocket as prices plummet. More than 95 per cent of the population can already get broadband on their phone line if they want it, but only 15 per cent have.
w Broadband providers will offer deals including a voice-over- internet protocol (VoIP) package (BT already does this). Others will follow, probably bundling Skype (www.skype.com), which can call internet, land and mobile numbers too.
w The number of Britons with broadband whose PCs are compromised by hackers will rocket too, because people don't realise how difficult it is to secure a computer against outside attack.
w The rise of broadband will lead to internet devices that can do a limited range of things (such as internet radio, or a barcode reader that can "Googlefridge" a recipe from whatever objects you scan past it).
w Legal downloads will outstrip CD singles sales. But record labels will insist on keeping CDs in the charts because downloaders buy such a broad range of content they dilute the marketing push behind new artists - which labels need to survive.
w At least one site will start selling music videos for download to PCs. These video sales will drive sales of hand-held "video players", finally providing a market for Microsoft's Portable Media Centre. …