A glossary of common computer security terms

Anti-virus (AV)
Computer software used to identify and remove computer viruses, as well as many other types of harmful computer software.

Botnet/ Bot
A term for a collection of software robots, or bots, that run autonomously and automatically. The term is often associated with malicious software.

A programming error in a software program that can have unwanted side effects. Bugs can have a wide variety of effects, with varying levels of inconvenience to the user of the program. Bugs may only a minimal impact on the program’s functionality and so lie undetected for a long time. More serious bugs may cause the program to crash or freeze leading to a denial of service.

Bits of information that web servers store on your computer for their later use. Web servers can use cookies to keep track of how many times you’ve visited and when, and what sort of information you’ve been surfing for on their site. They can even use cookies to pass that information on to other web servers, such as advertisement servers.
Cookies can be very useful; they can be used to store your own website configuration, remember items placed in your shopping cart at an online shopping site, or to store account and password information for subscription sites. You may not want to block all cookies, which is why browsers allow you to permit or block cookies on a per site basis.

Security software that controls all network traffic by screening information entering and leaving a network to help ensure that no unauthorised access occurs.

A person who breaks into computers and networks. The subculture that has evolved around hackers is often referred to as the computer underground.

Usually an email that gets mailed in chain letter fashion describing some devastating, highly unlikely type of virus. A hoax is generally easy to spot because it does not include a file attachment or a reference to a third party who can validate the claim.

Identity theft
The use of someone else’s data to steal money or get other benefits in that person’s name. One of the major issues in computer security today.

Keystroke logging/keylogging
A method of capturing and recording user keystrokes, which is often used by criminals as a means to obtain passwords or encryption keys, thus bypassing other security measures.

Malicious Code
Hardware, software, or firmware that is intentionally included in a system for an unauthorised purpose.

Software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner’s informed consent.

A hacker’s attack aiming to redirect a website’s traffic to another, bogus website.

Is the fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as user names, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity. Usually used as part of stealing someone’s identity (see identity theft).

Unwanted/unsolicited email, often advertisements, which can also include viruses or other malware.

Computer software that is installed surreptitiously on a personal computer to intercept or take partial control over the user’s interaction with the computer, without the user’s informed consent.

Trojan horse
A program that neither replicates or copies itself but does damage or compromises the security of the computer. Typically, it relies on someone emailing it to a user – it does not email itself. It may arrive in the form of a joke program or software of some kind.

A program or code that replicates – that is, infects another program or document – by inserting itself or attaching itself. Most viruses just replicate; many also inflict damage.

A program that makes copies of itself – from one PC to another, for example or by copying itself using email or some other mechanism. It may do damage and compromise the security of the computer. It may arrive in the form of a joke program or software of some kind.

A zombie is a computer system/terminal that has been attacked and taken over by a hacker. The hacker then uses this system to support further attacks or as a storage location for a hacker’s information and files.

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