Common IT Security Terms

Common IT Security Terms

Drive-by Download

These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in your browser or its plugins and helper applications when you simply surf to an attacker-controlled website. Some computer attackers set up their own evil websites that are designed to automatically attack and exploit anyone that visits the website. Other attackers compromise trusted websites such as e-commerce sites and deploy their exploit software there. Often these attacks occur without the victims realizing that they are under attack.

Malware – Virus, Worm, Trojan, Spyware

Malware stands for ‘malicious software’. It is any type of code or program cyber attackers use to perform malicious actions. Traditionally there have been different types of malware based on their capabilities and means of propagation, as we have listed below. However these technical distinctions are no longer relevant as modern malware combines the characteristics from each of these in a single program.

  • Virus: A type of malware that spreads by infecting other files, rather than existing in a standalone manner. Viruses often, though not always, usually spread through human interaction, such as opening an infected file or application.)
  • Worm: A type of malware that can propagate automatically, typically without requiring any human interaction for it to spread. Worms often spread across networks, though can also infect systems through other means, such as USB keys. An example of a worm is Conficker, which infected millions of computer systems starting in 2008 and is still active today.
  • Trojan: A shortened form of “Trojan Horse”, this type of malware appears to have a legitimate or at least benign use, but masks a hidden sinister function. For example, you may download and install a free screensaver which actually works well as a screensaver. But that software could also be malicious, it will infect your computer once you install it.
  • Spyware: A type of malware that is designed to spy on the victim’s activities, capturing sensitive data such as the person’s passwords, online shopping, and screen contents. One popular type of spyware, a keylogger, is optimized for logging the victim’s keyboard activity and transmitting the captured information to the remote attacker.


Phishing is a social engineering technique where cyber attackers attempt to fool you into taking an action in response to an email. Phishing was a term originally used to describe a specific attack scenario. Attackers would send out emails pretending to be a trusted bank or financial institution, their goal was to fool victims into clicking on a link in the email. Once clicked, victims were taken to a website that pretended to be the bank, but was really created and controlled by the attacker. If the victim attempted to login thinking they were at their bank, their login and password would then be stolen by the attacker. The term has evolved and often means not just attacks designed to steal your password, but emails designed to send you to websites that hack into your browser, or even emails with infected attachments.

Social Engineering

A psychological attack used by cyber attackers to deceive their victims into taking an action that will place the victim at risk. For example, cyber attackers may trick you into revealing your password or fool you into installing malicious software on your computer. They often do this by pretending to be someone you know or trust, such as a bank, company or even a friend.


This is any weakness that attackers or their malicious programs may be able to exploit. For example it can be a bug in a computer program or a misconfigured webserver. An attacker or malware may be able to take advantage of the vulnerability to gain unauthorized access to the affected system. However, vulnerabilities can also be a weakness in people or organizational processes.

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