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Tech in 2013: Key predictions for professionals

Botnets over Baghdad

Whether you're an iPhone-toting consumer or the czar of a server room packed with sensitive data, chances are you're aware that digital security is more important than ever after 2012's feast of viral nastiness.

This year, malware will continue to develop in sophistication and strength, so ready yourself for an annum packed with more acts of cyber-espionage like the Shamoon virus that devastated Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company, ARAMCO. Politically motivated attacks targeting national infrastructures and the corporations that support them are just the tip of the iceberg, however, and 2013 may also see something even more nefarious: the world's first large-scale example of cyber terrorism. It's a frightening thought and one we won't dwell on in too much detail - let's just hope the raft of new bodies established recently, like the UK's Research Institute in the Science of Cyber Security, are up to the task of protecting our electronic command centres.

Joining national-level cyber security issues centre stage in 2013 is a brand new acronym - MDM. Otherwise known as mobile device management, it's the next big frontier for enterprises looking to secure employees' devices. Smartphones and tablets are the ultimate BYO kit, and while they may not store rafts of confidential information directly, they are still used to gain access to company email accounts, contact databases, and Wi-Fi connections. More advanced hackers could use these as a bridge to penetrate an entire system, with ForeScout CTO Oded Comay dubbing mobile devices this year's "Trojan Horse" for businesses.

Our final augury for 2013 stems from McAfee's 2013 Threats Prediction. The security software giant offered up the bold declaration that this year will see the decline of omnipresent hacking collective Anonymous, and however unlikely an occurrence it may seem given the group's headline grabbing antics in 2012, it's based on sound logic. Anonymous' structure is intentionally loose, meaning that membership of the renegade ensemble is comprised of everything from spotty teenagers instigating online chaos strictly for the 'lulz' to more politically focused 'hacktivists.' Its corresponding vaguity of purpose threatens to alienate the latter contingent sooner rather than later, as cause-driven actions generally demand unity to execute and direct recognition to make worthwhile. The "disinformation, false claims, and pure hacking actions" of the Guy Fawkes-themed crew, on the other hand, creates a blur that those hackers wanting to be politically visible will gravitate away from - threatening the strength of Anonymous in 2013 and beyond.

Financing the future

Last year produced a bumper crop of business-related drama and we expect 2013 to follow suit. It's no secret that a handful of big tech firms sit atop vast piles of cash, and while Facebook's blockbuster $1 billion (£612.6m) Instagram buy is unlikely to be topped, this year will see technology's top dogs splurging with intent on niche firms with expertise in emerging technologies. Data management, cloud storage, and mobile chipset specialists will continue to be snapped up with enthusiasm, but for a true taste of the future, our eye is on the 3D printing sector and Stratasys, which had a manufacturing and distribution deal with Hewlett-Packard until August 2012, could be a particularly hot property.

While some companies will look to build on their success and expand their ambitions, other firms face a make-or-break year in 2013, particularly in the hugely competitive mobile sector, where all eyes are on struggling industry stalwarts Nokia and Research In Motion. As alluded to in our "Tech in 2013: the future of mobile" feature, Nokia ended 2012 with a sign of positive intent, breaking out of its manufacturing rut with the hugely impressive Lumia 920. Using the Windows Phone 8 device as a springboard, we think it's a case of onwards and upwards for the Finnish firm. RIM's future is less certain. Despite the impending launch of BlackBerry 10, its resurgence rests largely on its ability to deal out licenses for its new OS, especially if the upcoming crop of BlackBerry handsets fail to make an impression.

In the cut-throat world of the stock market, Facebook's disappointing 2012 IPO will no doubt serve as a warning to those mulling floatation this year. That said, we have little doubt that there are plenty of firms teetering on the edge of public trading, and think at least one high-profile success story will roll the dice in 2013. Given that Kickstarter CEO Perry Chen has categorically ruled out an IPO at any point, the most likely candidates are Dropbox and Twitter.

The smart money is probably only the former: with a market capitalisation estimate of around $4 billion (£2.45bn) and a membership of around 100 million, the Silicon Valley darling is in an enviable position and its IPO intent was signalled way back in 2011, when it rebuffed Apple's approach in favour of a private equity funding drive. Twitter's CEO has said the microblogging giant is in no hurry to float, so it's only a watch list prospect for potential investors at this stage, while enterprise software specialist Cloudera is our wild card for 2013 and also worth keeping a close eye on.

It's getting personal

As much as anything, 2013 is going to be a personality-driven year in technology. RIM's aforementioned recovery effort is led by its outspoken CEO, Thorsten Heins, so there should be plenty of juicy sound bites emanating from Canada this year. The industry's centre of attention, however, will likely be Cupertino, California, where the pressure is on Apple CEO Tim Cook following an underwhelming 2012 for the iconic US firm. Some of its offerings, like the iPad mini, are rightly being hailed as instant classics, but there were a number of fumbles along the way, too. The cataclysmic failure of Apple's in-house iOS 6 mapping endeavour is the most obvious, but plenty of people were left disappointed by the iPhone 5 package as a whole and the company fell short of meeting a number of its targets.

Apple just can't afford this kind of second guessing in 2013. Mobile increasingly resembles a bloodsport, and with the scapegoat card already played in the form of the departure of iOS chief Scott Forstall and the world impatiently waiting for a knock out iPhone 5S, the stakes are higher than ever. We're not being so foolhardy as to suggest that Cook's job is on the line this year, but as the canonisation of Steve Jobs continues apace - the jOBS biopic will debut at the Sundance Film Festival later this month - expect the whispers to begin surfacing if Apple fails to live up to the hype again.

Elsewhere, 2013 is the year when Yahoo's attempted revival under new steward Marissa Mayer will be first appraised in full. Mayer's short tenure in charge of the exclamation-fond firm has witnessed some promising financial signs, but the real work is still to be done and we're expecting some fairly radical restructuring. If reports of tougher employee regulations are any indication of what the future holds for Yahoo, we wouldn't be surprised if this "restructuring" equates to a hefty wad of pink slips being doled out this year. As the company acquires a leaner and meaner look, mobile content aggregation will become its flagship venture, so expect a fairly radical aesthetic overhaul of its present on-the-go offering.

Finally, Google's ongoing drive towards digital world domination will continue to take on exciting forms after it linked up with renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil towards the end of 2012, while chip giant Intel is seeking to enter a new era following the retirement of seminal CEO Paul Ottelini this May. The former partnership probably won't bear fruit for a while, but we'd be surprised if Kurzweil didn't have some bearing on the development of the search giant's Project Glass augmented reality goggles, which is expected to be released by the end of the year.

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