5 Privacy Alerts to Watch For in 2011

2010 will go down as quite a year in the world of online privacy, possibly the one security experts will point to as a major turning point in the world of cyberscares, hacks and threats. So how will that bode for 2011? And who will come out on top as more sophisticated and privacy aware: users, Web sites or hackers?Here are 5 privacy alerts to watch to make sure you're one step ahead...

2010 will go down as quite a year in the world of online privacy, possibly the one security experts will point to as a major turning point in the world of cyberscares, hacks and threats. So how will that bode for 2011? And who will come out on top as more sophisticated and privacy aware: users, Web sites or hackers?

Here are 5 privacy alerts to watch to make sure you’re one step ahead…

1. Mobile Mayhem – How many iPhones, Androids and iPads were under the Christmas tree this year? Certainly enough to ensure the security of mobile devices will be big news in 2011. In September, market research firm IDC predicted that shipments of smartphones would reach 270 million units in 2010 – a 55% increase over the year before. Phones without Internet connectivity are a thing of the past, and the rise of apps featuring location based services and mobile payments only increases the risk of attack. And it appears that attacks focused on mobile Web applications will surpass device-specific attacks in 2011. Already, phishing, data releases, and other threats have spread to popular mobile platforms like iOS and Android. Look for those trends to continue, putting consumers in danger.

2. Social Network Insecurity – It was an eventful 2010 for social networks, none more so than the leader of them all, Facebook, which faced app privacy breaches, lawsuits and more. The end of the year saw the site reworking its disclosure policy to protect researchers from lawsuits, and experts expect to see more of that in the New Year from Facebook as well as rivals like Twitter, Groupon and LinkedIn. 2010 also saw large-scale attacks and malware spreading at both Facebook and Twitter. In 2011, expect to see the importance of Web app security and social networking rise, as Web developers try to balance growth and new tools with data privacy and app security. Up ahead, also look for employers to translate these concerns into stricter provisions in the workplace to prevent security breaches and potential data loss.

3. URL Ugliness When you have just 140 characters to share your location or express your thoughts, you don’t want to be bogged down with a lengthy link. But, the same features, quick links and quick news, that make Twitter a go-to site are the most dangerous, as we learned in 2010.   Other URL shortening services like bit.ly are great, but also an incredibly easy way for hackers to send you to unexpected, and malicious, Web pages. Security experts are already out front, warning consumers to make sure the link they clicked really looked like it was headed to their intended destination. Security firm McAfee says that every minute more than 3,000 URLs are shortened online. That’s a wide, open door for hackers, so beware.

4. Cloud Computing – With the rise of cloud computing, where people store data and use applications on remote computers, rather than on their own desktops or laptops, comes a whole new privacy pandora’s box for consumers. As the cloud moves into mainstream usage, hackers will follow, predict security experts such as those at ISCA Labs who contend, “Cloud services will become prime targets for hackers wanting to gain access, not just to a specific company’s data but possibly to multiple victims simultaneously.” The technology could also bring legal issues for users with the potential for billing disputes and fights over the release of data. So the best defense, in the end, may be the oldest defense: backing up all your data on your own computers.

4. Location-Based Leaks – It’s fun to ‘check in’ and tell friends where you are, where you are going and what you are doing. But, then again, in the world of hackers and online data, who are your “friends?” Geo-location social networking sites like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places undoubtedly create cool possibilities for finding friends and finding deals, but criminals will catch up to this too in 2011. Computer criminals can observe a person’s traveling behavior to create convincing phishing e-mails or other cyberattacks. Therefore, location-based service users should be aware of their Web activities, and proceed with caution.

5. Friendly Fire – You know not to accept the email from the man in Nigeria asking for money, or your long-lost “Aunt Sue” looking to make a connection. But what about the email from the friend promising a free meal at a restaurant or a great deal on a new iPhone? Those are the types of “friendly fire” attacks likely to spread in 2011 with the rise of next generation viruses like Koobface that make it easy for hackers to personalize their attacks. And their success will lead to widespread imitation, security firm McAfee warns, predicting, “personalized attacks are about to get a whole lot more personal.” Cybercriminals can use tools to gather information about you leading to specially crafted e-mails and other attacks, so be warned, and be wary.