Among one technology research firm's predictions for 2003 is this sobering thought: A major cyberterrorism event will disrupt the economy and bring the Internet to its knees for a day or two.
The event could take the form of a denial-of-service attack, a network intrusion or even a physical attack on key network assets, IDC said Thursday, during a presentation in which it laid out its annual forecast of technology developments for the coming year.
IDC sees the cyberthreat arising from a potential war with Iraq, which has been the object of intense international scrutiny. The United States government has charged the Middle Eastern country with harboring weapons of mass destruction and has made clear its displeasure with the country's ruler, Saddam Hussein.
"The war with Iraq will galvanize hackers," said John Gantz, chief research officer of IDC.
Worries about cyberterrorism have flourished in recent years, especially since the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. But security experts and other have said that--so far--the threat has been overblown and misunderstood, and that physical attacks remain far easier to carry out.
IDC's list of 10 predictions also included sunnier projections, far from the military realm. Chief among them was the company's view that spending on information technology and telecommunications will grow by more than 6 percent next year, reaching $1.9 trillion. Current data on U.S. IT spending and revenue from technology vendors worldwide are encouraging, Gantz said.
Framingham, Mass.-based IDC generates its projections by polling its more than 700 analysts. Gantz said the company is usually right with seven out of its 10 predictions. Successful predictions from last year, he said, included these: streaming media will catch on, corporations will reset security plans and Web services hype reaches hysteria levels.
IDC guessed wrong about widespread use of digital identification services such as Microsoft's Passport product. The company was also off-target in predicting an IT industry recovery beginning in mid-2002.
"We know in hindsight that's definitely not the case," Gantz said. "We missed that one."
Other visions in IDC's crystal ball for 2003 are that sales of midrange server computers will rebound to positive growth after a 20 percent contraction in 2002; that adoption of 64-bit computing will be slow; and that the Linux operating system will snag market share from the Unix operating system.
"We're saying that Linux will eat Unix," Gantz said.
According to IDC, a recent trend shows companies deploying vital commercial applications--such as stock exchange software--on clusters of computers running Linux.
Other predictions from IDC include the following.
• The project-based IT services market will be flat or down again, as companies scale down project size and turn to IT outsourcing.
• Wireless local area networks will take off, which will delay the introduction of so-called third-generation wireless communications networks. IDC expects telecommunications carriers to use visitor-based networks--so-called "hot spots"--for high-speed Internet access.
• Telecommunications capital expenditures will drop again, by at least 5 percent. But spending in emerging markets such as China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Russia will grow significantly, and spending to support cellular services will grow.
• Online messaging will grow by 27 percent, with no guarantee that productivity will grow. The total number of e-mail messages sent will rise 30 percent to 40 billion a day, and the number of corporate instant messaging users will double to more than 30 million. Spam and automatic alerts and notifications will grow to almost 40 percent of all e-mail traffic.
"There will be more spam in your life," Gantz said.
• Imaging will go digital, but the industry will still center on film. Digital images--from scanners, digital cameras and mobile devices--will surpass the number of film images captured per day by the end of the year. But because of factors including omnipresence and ease of use, film will remain relevant.
Apart from those 10 prophecies, Gantz said software growth will be a relatively modest 7.5 percent worldwide. The hottest software sectors will include security products and software that simplifies or manages programs already in place, he said. What's more, IT outsourcing--in which companies manage a client's IT operations or take over tasks such as tech support--is the fastest-growing part of IT services, boasting double-digit growth, Gantz said.
The shift of IT work offshore will continue, he said. If you're going to provide IT outsourcing, he said, "you're going to have to farm some of that work overseas."
IDC also expects some major statistical thresholds to be surpassed in the coming year:
• Cell phones installed: more than 1.5 billion
• eMail boxes: more than 1 billion
• PCs installed: more than 600 million
• Internet users: more than 700 million
• Mobile Internet users: more than 250 million
• Broadband households: more than 80 million
• IT spending: more than $900 billion
• Telecom spending: more than $975 billion
• Internet commerce: more than $1.5 trillion.