Technical Definitions

This article summarises some terms used to classify all the different threats out there on the internet.

Terms that end with ware:

  • Malware – a general term that sums up all of the terms below. 
  • Spyware – programs that secretly spy on your computer recording such things as your passwords and sometimes even what’s on your screen.
  • Crimeware – a general term for programs that install themselves on your computer for the purpose of committing a crime (such as stealing your money from your bank account). These are usually controlled by hackers.
  • Adware – programs that cause your computer to display a large number of ads. They have the side effect of slowing down your computer.
  • Trackware – these programs monitor what websites you visit and send statistical data back to a 3rd party (often a marketing company). This is often considered an invasion of privacy.
  • Grayware – a general term for malware that is used for marketing (as opposed to committing crimes).

Other terms:

  • Spam – unsolicited email.
  • Browser Hijacker – a program that changes the settings of your web browser, such as your home page or the error page.
  • Freeloaders – any program that installs itself by fraudulent means.
  • Browser Helper – often seen as a toolbar for web browsers, such as the Google Toolbar or Yahoo Toolbar. Some of the less well known browser helpers monitor and manipulate your browser.
  • Keylogger – a type of spyware that records keystrokes on your keyboard. This will capture your username and password when you log into services.
  • Dialer – a program that makes phone calls using your dialup modem without your permission. Often to expensive premium phone services.
  • Zombie – a computer that has a hidden program allowing a hacker to take it over at any time.
  • Botnet – a large collection of zombie computers. Hackers sometimes need to control lots of computers at once to cause some of the trouble they cause.
  • Vulnerability – Almost all programs have vulnerabilities. Sometimes it takes days and other times it can take years for someone to find a vulnerability. They can then be exploited, e.g. to take control of computers.
  • Zero Day Exploit – when a vulnerability is discovered in any program, if hackers can exploit it on the same day it’s been discovered it’s called a zero day exploit. This means software and antivirus companies have less than 1 day to discover the exploit and update their software to combat it – often a difficult thing to achieve.
  • Phishing – the practice of tricking users into going to a login page that looks legitimate but sends login details to the hackers.
  • Cookies – these aren’t bad, they’re used so web pages can remember you. Some people consider this an invasion of their privacy.

This is only a small set of technical terms used to describe online security threats, most of the others are advanced and relevant to professional IT workers. The descriptions have also been simplified because this is an introduction to security.

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