MONTREAL - Cyber criminals will still be out in force in 2014, but privacy is expected to come to the forefront of digital concerns.
Along with scams, cyber security firms see a continued risk to citizens' privacy with basic activities such as posting on social media sites, downloading apps on their smartphones and, of course, through indiscretions.
"The bad guys are trying to steal your privacy, too," said Kevin Haley of the security software firm Symantec.
But Haley said recent news events revealing how personal information can be scooped up online will get people thinking about their digital privacy.
"I think it finally gives people the perspective, the concept, of how much information can be gathered about them online," said Haley, a director with Symantec's security response team in Culver City, Calif.
For example, documents obtained from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed that the organization gathered as many as five billion records every day from hundreds of millions of cellphones worldwide by tapping into cables that carry international data traffic.
Also reported by media outlets were American and British intelligence operations spying on gamers across the world. Reports suggested that the world's most powerful espionage agencies sent undercover agents into virtual universes to monitor activity in online fantasy games such as "World of Warcraft.''
In Canada, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has filed a lawsuit against the Communications Security Establishment Canada, or CSEC. The group claims Canadian data is being swept up as CSEC monitors emails, phone calls and text messages of foreign targets, when those targets are communicating with Canadians.
Haley said he expects privacy concerns will push app makers to offer users increased data protection.
"We will see a lot of failed attempts and partial solutions. We're not going to solve this problem in 2014, but we'll begin to make steps and people will begin to do things to try to create a sense of privacy," he said.
Online users, especially younger ones, will move to more obscure or niche social media sites, believing they will have better privacy.
"Security by obscurity, in this particular case, by using not as popular or non-popular social media sites is just not going to do it," Haley said.
People will also try to create false identities that only their circle of friends will know, he added.
Raj Samani of McAfee Inc. said online users need to understand their "digital tattoo."
"When they put something or post something online, it's there for life," said Samani, vice president and chief technology officer for McAfee in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Samani notes that in some cases parents are signing up their children for social media sites when they're actually underage. Facebook users must be at least 13 years old.
"Parents in many cases are enabling children to be on the Internet without any safeguards at all," he said from London.
Both Symantec and McAfee said they expect to see more threats from mobile apps for smartphones next year and consumers should be aware of what they could be consenting to — such as having data and locations collected and sold — when they download an app. Some apps have a list of permissions that must be agreed to before they can be installed — and they can sometimes open the door to malware attacks.
Samani said in some cases a user's camera or microphone can be taken control of by a third party.
Added Haley: "People download apps or do things on a phone that they would probably never do on a PC."