Cybersecurity is constantly in the news, but many terms get bandied about without a clear explanation of what they mean. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a guide to the terms you’re always hearing about; a way to brush up your cybersecurity ABCs to properly arm yourself against real cyber threats and inform your friends and family whenever these topics come up in conversation? 

Well, we’ve anticipated your need. Here’s a guide to some fundamental cybersecurity risks and some basic tips on how to protect yourself.

What’s it all mean? 12 cybersecurity terms

  • Open Wi-Fi

    Joining an unencrypted open connection, like the public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, means that your internet traffic is an open book if hackers were so inclined to view it. Joining such connections  basically leaves the digital door open to all kinds of risks. Aside from avoiding public Wi-Fi altogether, one quick, easy tool you can use to keep yourself safe on unencrypted connections is a VPN. Being on unencrypted Wi-Fi isn’t the only way to get bad stuff on your device, but it’s a start. Now, let’s delve further into that famed fertile field of cyber risks.
  • Malware

    It doesn’t take a linguist to realize that what we’re dealing with here is some mal (as in “malicious”) software. Malware is a general category for harmful software that can affect a user’s connected devices, usually without their knowledge. A telltale sign of malware infection is slowness, but it can get worse. While some malware merely causes you a big pain in the boot drive, other, more sophisticated malware can be used to steal your personal info, or even lock you out of your device. To explain more, we need to take a look at more specific categories.
     
    • Virus 

      Yep, this is a good one to start with, because believe it or not, many people don’t understand that a virus is just a specific kind of malware. It’s a malignant piece of code or a program that works much like a biological virus: it enters a system unwillingly and replicates and spreads from computer to computer on its own. A few of the common channels where viruses proliferate include software downloads, peer-to-peer file sharing, email attachments, and instant messenger links. Once you open one of these bad boys, the virus can spread throughout your computer. Viruses will make your devices suddenly run slower, cause strange pop-ups, and crash your system. The good news is you can remove them with a good antivirus software, or you can attempt removal manually.
    • Spyware

      Like any good spy, spyware is designed to go undetected and infiltrate your system. And what does it do once it’s gotten in there? Well, in bad cases, it can have its way with your personal info, including banking details. Though it’s hard to detect, some calling cards of spyware infections are strange add-ons, pop-ups, weird new homepages in your browser, and even suspicious charges on your credit card statement. Now let’s look at a scarier, though rarer form of malware.
    • Ransomware

      So spyware wasn’t extreme enough for ya? Okay, well if you get hit with ransomware, then you’ve got a serious problem on your hands. Unlike spyware, ransomware is far more noticeable because you won’t be able to get into certain files, or you may even be locked out of your entire computer until you pay a fee to a nefarious hacker. Recent famed ransomware attacks include Petya, WannaCry, and Cryptolocker.
    • Trojans

      The cleverly named Trojans (or Trojan horses) often come hidden inside software downloads such as free movies, music, and games, or attachments in spam emails. They are a form of malware that secretly downloads other malware. As mentioned above, a sign of infection is that your computer may noticeably slow down. One of the most dangerous types is a mobile banking Trojan. This malware affects legitimate banking apps and overlays the real user interface with a false version that shoots your account details into the wrong hands.
    • Worm

      Worms are designed to duplicate themselves and spread to other machines and slow them down. For example, you open a worm-infested email, and suddenly everyone on your contact list is automatically sent the same worm-infested email. Worms are components in malware that help it spread, for example, the ransomware Petya and WannaCry used worms to spread around local networks.

So remember, dear user, when it comes to malware, beware what you download and click on, and try to stay on encrypted Wi-Fi. In addition, you can gain the missing pieces of protection from a good antivirus software, which protects you against all the above forms of malware, and more.

  • Phishing

    Have you ever gotten an email that smells a little phishy? It might be leading you into a scam. Phishing comes in many different forms and varying degrees of persuasiveness. One method is the scam email, which lures you into giving your banking details to a scammer. These emails may lead to fake websites, sometimes ones which bear a close resemblance to their legitimate counterparts. Most phishing attempts are randomly sent out, but some are carefully targeted to specific individuals or companies; this is known as spear fishing. Some tells of phishing emails involve too-good-to-be-true, snakeoily promises in their subject lines and a subsequent pleading for you to take action.
  • Botnet

    When it’s not enough for hackers to have their way with your device, they create a botnet: an army of slave zombie devices linked up to do their bidding (stealing account info, denying access, spreading more viruses). If this sounds far-fetched, it’s not, it’s dangerous, and your devices (including smart devices) could be one of these zombies without you knowing it. All that needs to happen is your computer getting a certain type of malware on it, and the same symptoms appear: slower performance, error messages, and other popups. While the whole thing sounds very scary and Star Trek-ian, the solution is simple: use a good antivirus program and remove the malware, and you’re back in the clear — unless you’ve got an infected IoT device, in which case you should reboot the system and change the credentials as soon as possible.
  • DDoS attack

    A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack usually targets big websites and corporations. While it isn’t aimed at average users, it can still hurt their browsing of websites. In such an attack, a given website or network is overwhelmed with requests until it crashes. These attacks are done with the aforementioned botnets, and thus the computers of individual users can also slow down and crash. While you can’t stop a DDos attack, you can take security measures, such as having a good antivirus program, to prevent your computer from getting sucked into one of these schemes.
  • Identity theft

    This can be the result of many of the threats mentioned above. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, but it basically has to do with a criminal getting access to some of your information, then impersonating you — in order to rob you. Luckily, most credit card companies have effective fraud detection and will reimburse you, but they won’t catch things that look like fairly plausible online purchases. One way to prevent identity theft is to be careful when you offer your payment information online, making sure you’re on real and reputable websites when entering your card information. You should also keep track of which websites have your payment info saved and always check over your monthly bank statements to make sure there aren’t any suspicious charges.
  • Data breach

    You ain’t no kind of tech giant unless you’ve had a data breach. These days it’s almost getting hard to keep up with each titanic trove of personal user info leaked out of the fortress walls of companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Equifax. The exposed information could be log-ins, passwords, credit card numbers, and even social security numbers. This means a data breach can result in identity theft, though its ultimate uses vary. Thankfully, some apps, for example, Twitter and Instagram, will notify you if you’ve been logged in from unusual devices and prompt you to change your password. While in general it’s good to create strong passwords, frequently changing your passwords is also a way to secure yourself against a data breach. Having different passwords for different sites is also advised, because whoever gets your login from one site’s breach may try your password on other sites as well.

Well, we hope you now feel a bit more armed and ready when navigating the seas of cyber risks. 

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