Helping you balance your online life

A Cheat Sheet for Tech Terms

Dictionary Series - Technology

The web security landscape has racked up some interesting terms to describe potential online threats—from worms and horses to phishing and pharming. Do you ever find yourself wondering what some of them really mean? What is malware and what’s so bad about it? How does someone phish online? We’ve pulled together definitions for some terms that we thought you might like to really understand. Take your time perusing these and soon you’ll know exactly what to watch out for online (plus, you’ll be prepped for your next chat with the IT person at work).

Malware, short for “malicious software”, is basically software designed to infiltrate a computer system without the owner’s informed consent. Computer professionals use this as a general term referencing a variety of hostile, intrusive and annoying software or program code.

Spyware refers to programs that use your internet connection to send information from your personal computer to other computers, normally without your knowledge or permission. Most often this information is a record of your ongoing browsing habits, downloads, or it could be more personal data like your name and address.

Adware is software that automatically runs while the user is online, displaying or downloading advertisements (often unwanted). Adware is a close cousin of spyware—many adware programs collect information about the user to send back to advertisers for purposes of profiling for targeted ad-serving.

A keylogger is a program that logs every keystroke you type and then sends that information, including things like passwords, bank account numbers and credit card numbers to a third party. Keyloggers can be used for illegitimate purposes to surreptitiously spy on people for personal gain but they may also be used for legitimate purposes such as troubleshooting networks, analyzing employee productivity or assisting law enforcement.

Trojan Horse
Just as the giant wooden horse supposedly brought to Troy as a gift truly contained Greek soldiers, the Trojan horse of computers might be disguised as a program intended to rid your computer of viruses but instead infects your system. It can damage, delete, or destroy important files or install a backdoor through which your personal information could be sent to another computer. These forms of malware are commonly used for perpetrating identity theft.

Worms are programs that replicate themselves to spread harm to other computers. They may hijack your system and could be used to send out spam or to accomplish a variety of other unsavory activities without your knowledge. Worms may cause severe damage by eating up essential system resources, which could lead to your computer freezing or crashing. Viruses and worms commonly use shared files and items like email address books to spread to other computers.

Protecting Yourself
With new threats attacking computers on a daily basis, comprehensive protection is incredibly important. Many of these issues can be avoided by using the right anti-virus software, like McAfee Internet Security, and by making all software updates in a timely manner. If you already have spyware or malware on your computer, you may want to try AOL Tech Fortress, which removes malicious software that anti-virus programs may not detect.