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30 security terms you need to know to protect yourself online

Cyberattacks have been on the rise for the past several years and 2017 shows no signs of letting up. But, these days, online threats go far beyond your computer getting a virus. If you don't know what threats are out there, protecting yourself will be a challenge. That's why I've rounded up 30 terms you need to know if you want to safeguard your online privacy and security.

Two terms before we begin

Each of the terms we're about to go over all fall under the umbrella of two terms you need to understand. The first is "Cyberattack" and the second is "Cybersecurity."


Simply put, a cyberattack is any attempt by an outside source to target, steal from, spy on, damage or destroy a computer network. Cyberattacks come in all shapes and sizes (as you're about to see), and the criminals behind them don't set their sights on a single target. No home network is too small, or company too large, to fall victim.


Cybersecurity, on the other hand, is the act of protecting networks from cyberattacks. Whether it's locking down your personal network at home, or hiring a staff of IT professionals to secure the network for your business, cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a challenging task. To beat cybercriminals, you have to always be one step ahead of the game.

Glossary of cybersecurity terms

1. Adware

What it means: Adware is an annoying form of malware that bombards you with ads when you go online, or use certain programs on your device.

Why it matters: Mostly, adware is just a nuisance. However, certain forms of adware go beyond annoying pop-ups. Some forms are able to collect marketing data based on your online behavior, and can even redirect you to websites you weren't looking for. The good news is, in most cases, you'll know if your device has been infected because it begins to display these ads, or exhibit odd behavior. Click here to learn which signs you should look for.

2. Botnet

What it means: A botnet is a group of private computers or web-connected devices that have been infected with malware that allows them to be controlled remotely as a group by a hacker. Everything from your laptop to your smart TV, baby monitor, security camera, etc. can be infected and used as part of a botnet if you're not careful.

Why it matters: Botnets are used by cybercriminals in several types of cyberattacks including DDoS attacks, clickfraud and more. Although these types of cyberattacks don't typically impact you directly, if your devices are infected, it means there are gaps in the security of the router, or your entire network. Click here for one thing your router needs to keep hackers out.

3. Card skimmer

What it means: A card skimmer is a device that can be installed on ATM machines or other types of card readers, which collects the data from the magnetic strips of payment cards (both credit and debit).

Why it matters: These devices are bad news. They're relatively easy to install and allow thieves to make copies of your payment cards and use them to make unauthorized purchases. In some cases, thieves also install tiny cameras with the skimmers so they can record you as you enter your pin number. Certain types of card skimmers are easy to spot, but new "insert" card skimmers are practically invisible. In any case, thieves will often use skimmers to collect your financial information and purchase goods before you realize there's a problem.

Protect yourself by using cards with EMV chips whenever possible, and always covering your pin when you enter it.

4. Clickfraud

What it means: Clickfraud is when artificial clicks are created to manipulate pay-per-click advertising campaigns to either increase revenue or charges for an advertiser.

Why it matters: Although clickfraud may not impact you personally in a negative way, the cybercrooks behind these types of scams often need a "botnet" (See glossary term 2) to make them work. To create these botnets, hackers target the web-connected gadgets of hundreds or even thousands of individuals.

5. Cyber-espionage

What it means: Espionage, as we all know, is the practice of spying on someone else to collect confidential information. Cyber-espionage means the same thing, except it involves the use of computers.

Why it matters: The targets of this cybercrime are typically large corporations or government organizations, but that doesn't mean individuals are deemed too small for the effort. If you have information that can be used by the crook, your devices can be compromised in order to get it. It's also important to point out that this form of spying also leads to bigger problems, since it provides the criminals with data they need to conduct other cyberattacks, such as data breaches.

6. Dark Web

What it means: The Dark Web is an encrypted network of "Darknets" that makes up a portion of the Deep Web. Accessing this hidden section of the web requires a special encryption software called Tor.

Why it matters: The Dark Web itself isn't illegal. Many people do use it for what it was originally intended. That is, to browse the web without being tracked by their internet service provider, web services or even the government. However, we can't pretend that the Dark Web isn't home to some pretty horrific things. Evidence of kidnappings, hitmen for hire, prostitution, child pornography, drugs, guns... you name it. Click here for a detailed breakdown of the Dark Web, Deep Web and the myths that come with them

7. Data breach

What it means: This year, the largest data breach in history was recorded as Yahoo confessed that 1 billion user accounts had been compromised. A data breach is when hackers steal confidential information that's sitting in a database.

Why it matters: While large companies are the prime targets for this type of attack, individuals are always the victims. Target, Wendy's, LinkedIn, Home Depot, Rambler, DailyMotion, Weebly and other big-name companies have all fallen victim. And, once the hackers have their hands on their customers' information, they sell it on the Dark Web. Everything including your email address, phone number, date of birth, and even your Social Security number can then be used by other criminals for future scams.

Click here to see the 10 worst data breaches, and learn how to protect your private information.

8. DDoS attack

What it means: DDoS stands for "distributed denial of service," which is a techy way of saying "crashing a system or the whole internet." It works when a targeted website or server is flooded by an overwhelming amount of requests from millions of connected machines in order to bring it down.

Why it matters: DDoS attacks sound like something straight from a Sci-Fi movie, but they're actually happening. Back in October, a massive DDoS attack resulted in a loss of internet access for people living on the East Coast, and even some sites nationwide.

Unsecured routers, printers, IP web cameras, DVRs, cable boxes, connected "smart" appliances such as Wi-Fi light bulbs and smart locks can all be hijacked and involved in cyberattacks without the owner knowing about it. The first step to preventing your devices from being hacked is securing your router. Click here to learn how, and find solutions to four other infuriating tech problems.

9. Drive-by download

What it means: Drive-by downloads are the way most malware is installed - that is, accidentally. It happens when cybercrooks hide malicious software in ads or links that takes advantage of weaknesses in your device, or web browser.

Why it matters: Most drive-by downloads result in a virus that the user may not even realize is there. Plus, this malicious software can be hidden anywhere - websites, emails, pop-up windows, you name it. This is what has made the internet such a risky place if you aren't constantly running your software updates, and protecting yourself with anti-virus software.

10. Exploit

What it means: An exploit is an identified gap or weakness that has been found in a particular software or operating system.

Why it matters: Hackers find these gaps and design malware and Trojan horses that can exploit them. Because of this, software developers also hire their own "hackers," or create incentive programs for anyone who can identify a bug before real hackers find it. They do this so they can patch their software and eliminate the vulnerability. However, sometimes the real hackers discover these gaps first. These are called "zero-day exploits." Keep reading to the end of this article to see what makes zero-day exploits so dangerous.

11. Exploit kits

What it means: An "exploit kit" or "exploit pack" is a toolkit that can be purchased to target the exploits we talked about earlier. Typically, these packs are designed for vulnerabilities in Java, Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash.

Why it matters: If you're thinking that all cyberattacks are orchestrated by a cynical group of hackers, that's just not the case. These kits make it possible for individuals with basic skills to cause a lot of damage.

12. Identity theft

What it means: For this crime, a thief uses your personal information, such as your Social Security number or driver's license, to impersonate you for their own benefit.

Why it matters: If your identity is stolen, you could be in store for years of problems. Your credit score could be ruined, and you could lose temporary or permanent access to funds in your bank account. You might not notice there's a problem until it's too late, and getting everything straightened out can be a complete nightmare. This is why it's so important that you regularly monitor your credit report. Click here to learn how to request yours for free.

13. Keylogger

What it means: A keylogger is a type of malware that's designed to log all of the keystrokes the user makes on their device.

Why it matters: If your device is infected with keylogging software, everything you type can be accessed by the scammer. This includes private messages, as well as your usernames and passwords. That information can then be used for other scams, such as data breaches or identity theft. To find out if your device has been infected with a keylogger, click here.

14. Malvertising

What it means: Malvertising is a form of internet advertising where malicious code is hidden within online ads that otherwise appear to be safe.

Why it matters: Clicking on these ads may lead the user into deeper trouble. Not only can the click unleash the malicious code that infects your computer, it can also direct you to fake sites that launch pre-installed programs that are malicious in themselves. In July 2016, a malvertising scheme was discovered that infected millions of computers. Read the full story when you click here.

15. Malware

What it means: Malware is easiest described as software that is designed for the purpose of damaging or gaining access to devices or systems without the users' knowledge.

Why it matters: As you can see by this list, there are many types of malware. Spyware, adware, ransomware, etc., are all unique types that are designed for specific purposes. But, no matter which type of malware you come in contact with, it's never good for you or your system. And, cybercrooks are creative in the ways they fool you into downloading this malicious code onto your computer. One of the most troublesome ways we've witnessed so far was a form called "Hicurdismos," which tricked people by posing as a Windows 10 security update. Click here to read the full story.

Next page: Phishing, pharming and more cybersecurity terms you need to know
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