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Cybersecurity Terms


Definitions of commonly used identity and cybersecurity terms:

Adware – Adware is software designed to force pre-chosen ads to display on your system. Some adware is designed to be malicious and will pop up ads with such speed and frequency that they seem to be taking over everything, slowing down your system and tying up all of your system resources. When adware is coupled with spyware, it can be a frustrating ride, to say the least.

Attribution – Attribution is the process of establishing who is behind a hack. Often, attribution is the most difficult part of responding to a major breach since experienced hackers may hide behind layers of online services that mask their true location and identity. Many incidents, such as the Sony hack, may never produce any satisfactory attribution.

Back Door – A back door is a point of entry that circumvents normal security and can be used by a cracker to access a network or computer system. Usually back doors are created by system developers as shortcuts to speed access through security during the development stage and then are overlooked and never properly removed during final implementation. Sometimes crackers will create their own back door to a system by using a virus or a Trojan to set it up, thereby allowing them future access at their leisure.

Black Hat – Just like in the old westerns, these are the bad guys. A black hat is a cracker. To add insult to injury, black hats may also share information about the “break in” with other black hat crackers so they can exploit the same vulnerabilities before the victim becomes aware and takes appropriate measures.

Bot – A bot is a software “robot” that performs an extensive set of automated tasks on its own. Search engines like Google use bots, also known as spiders, to crawl through websites in order to scan through all of your pages. In these cases bots are not meant to interfere with a user, but are employed in an effort to index sites for the purpose of ranking them accordingly for appropriate returns on search queries. But when black hats use a bot, they can perform an extensive set of destructive tasks, as well as introduce many forms of malware to your system or network. They can also be used by black hats to coordinate attacks by controlling botnets.

Botnet – A botnet is a network of zombie drones under the control of a black hat. When black hats are launching a Distributed Denial of Service attack for instance, they will use a botnet under their control to accomplish it. Most often, the users of the systems will not even know they are involved or that their system resources are being used to carry out DDOS attacks or for spamming. It not only helps cover the black hat’s tracks, but increases the ferocity of the attack by using the resources of many computer systems in a coordinated effort.

Brute force – A brute force attack is arguably the least sophisticated way of breaking into a password protected system, short of simply obtaining the password itself. A brute force attack will usually consist of an automated process of trial and error to guess the correct passphrase. Most modern encryption systems use different methods for slowing down brute force attacks, making it hard or impossible to try all combinations in a reasonable amount of time.

Bug – You’ve probably heard of this one. A bug is a flaw or error in a software program. Some are harmless or merely annoying, but some can be exploited by hackers. That’s why many companies have started using bug bounty programs to pay anyone who spots a bug before the bad guys do.

Crypto – Short for cryptography, the science of secret communication or the procedures and processes for hiding data and messages with encryption (see below).

Chipoff – A chipoff attack requires the hacker to physically remove memory storage chips in a device so that information can be scraped from them using specialized software. This attack has been used by law enforcement to break into PGP protected Blackberry phones.

Cookies – A cookie is a small packet of information from a visited webserver stored on your system by your computer’s browser. It is designed to store personalized information in order to customize your next visit. For instance, if you visit a site with forms to fill out on each visit, that information can be stored on your system as a cookie so you don’t have to go through the process of filling out the forms each time you visit.

Cracker – When you hear the word hacker today, in reality it is normally referring to a cracker, but the two have become synonymous. With its origin derived from “safecracker” as a way to differentiate from the various uses of “hacker” in the cyber world, a cracker is someone who breaks into a computer system or network without authorization and with the intention of doing damage. A cracker may destroy files, steal personal information like credit card numbers or client data, infect the system with a virus, or undertake many others things that cause harm. This glossary will give you an idea of what they can do and some of the means they use to achieve their malicious objectives. These are the black hats.

Denial of Service Attack (DOS) – A Denial of Service attack is an attack designed to overwhelm a targeted website to the point of crashing it or making it inaccessible. Along with sheer numbers and frequency, sometimes the data packets that are sent are malformed to further stress the system trying to process the server requests. A successful Denial of Service attack can cripple any entity that relies on its online presence by rendering their website virtually useless.

Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDOS) – A Distributed Denial of Service attack is done with the help of zombie drones (also known as a botnet) under the control of black hats using a master program to command them to send information and data packets to the targeted webserver from the multiple systems under their control. This obviously makes the Distributed Denial of Service attack even more devastating than a Denial of Service attack launched from a single system, flooding the target server with a speed and volume that is exponentially magnified. As is normally the case with zombie drones and botnets, this is often done without the user of the controlled system even knowing they were involved.

Dumpster Diving – The act of rummaging through the trash of an individual or business to gather information that could be useful for a cybercriminal to gain access to a system or attain personal information to aid them in identity theft or system intrusion. One person’s garbage can indeed be a cyber criminal’s treasure.

Deep web – This term and “dark web” or “dark net” are sometimes used interchangeably, though they shouldn’t be. The deep web is the part of the internet that is not indexed by search engines. That includes password protected pages, paywalled sites, encrypted networks, and databases—lots of boring stuff.

DEF CON – One of the most famous hacking conferences in the US and the world, which started in 1992 and takes place every summer in Las Vegas.

Digital Certificate – A digital passport or stamp of approval that proves the identity of a person, website or service on the internet. In more technical terms, a digital certificate proves that someone is in possession of a certain cryptographic key that, traditionally, can’t be forged. Some of the most common digital certificates are those of websites, which ensure your connection to them is properly encrypted. These get displayed on your browser as a green padlock.

Easter Egg – A non-malicious surprise contained in a program or on a circuit board installed by the developer. It could be as simple as a text greeting, a signature, or an image embedded on a circuit board, or comprise a more complex routine, like a video or a small program. The criteria that must be met to be considered an Easter Egg are that it be undocumented, non-malicious, reproducible to anyone with the same device or software, not be obvious, and above all – it should be entertaining!

Encryption – The process of scrambling data or messages making it unreadable and secret. The opposite is decryption, the decoding of the message. Both encryption and decryption are functions of cryptography. Encryption is used by individuals as well as corporations and in digital security for consumer products.

End to end encryption – A particular type of encryption where a message or data gets scrambled or encrypted on one end, for example your computer or phone, and get decrypted on the other end, such as someone else’s computer. The data is scrambled in a way that, at least in theory, only the sender and receiver—and no one else—can read it.

Evil maid attack – As the name probably suggests, an evil maid attack is a hack that requires physical access to a computer—the kind of access an evil maid might have while tidying his or her employer’s office, for example. By having physical access, a hacker can install software to track your use and gain a doorway even to encrypted information.

Exploit – An exploit is a way or process to take advantage of a bug or vulnerability in a computer or application. Not all bugs lead to exploits. Think of it this way: If your door was faulty, it could be simply that it makes a weird sound when you open it, or that its lock can be picked. Both are flaws but only one can help a burglar get in. The way the criminal picks the lock would be the exploit.

Firewall – A firewall is a security barrier designed to keep unwanted intruders “outside” a computer system or network while allowing safe communication between systems and users on the “inside” of the firewall. Firewalls can be physical devices or software based, or a combination of the two. A well designed and implemented firewall is a must to ensure safe communications and network access and should be regularly checked and updated to ensure continued function. Black hats learn new tricks and exploit new techniques all the time, and what worked to keep them out yesterday may need to be adjusted or replaced over time.

Forensics – On CSI, forensic investigations involve a series of methodical steps in order to establish what happened during a crime. When it comes to a hack, however, investigators are looking for digital fingerprints instead of physical ones. This process usually involves trying to retrieve messages or other information from a device—perhaps a phone, a desktop computer or a server—used, or abused, by a suspected criminal.

Gray Hat – A gray hat, as you would imagine, is a bit of a white hat/black hat hybrid. Thankfully, like white hats, their mission is not to do damage to a system or network, but to expose flaws in system security. The black hat part of the mix is that they may very well use illegal means to gain access to the targeted system or network, but not for the purpose of damaging or destroying data: they want to expose the security weaknesses of a particular system and then notify the “victim” of their success. Often this is done with the intent of then selling their services to help correct the security failure so black hats cannot gain entry and/or access for more devious and harmful purposes.

Keylogger – A keylogger is a nondestructive program that is designed to log every keystroke made on a computer. It is a very big cyber security concern. The information that is collected can then be saved as a file and/or sent to another machine on the network or over the Internet, making it possible for someone else to see every keystroke that was made on a particular system. By breaking down this information, it can be easy for a black hat cracker to recreate your user names and passwords, putting all kinds of information at risk and susceptible to misuse.

Hacktivist – A “hacktivist” is someone who uses their hacking skills for political ends. A hacktivist’s actions may be small, such as defacing the public website of a security agency or other government department, or large, such as stealing sensitive government information and distributing it to citizens. One often cited example of a hacktivist group is Anonymous.

Hashing – Say you have a piece of text that should remain secret, like a password. You could store the text in a secret folder on your machine, but if anyone gained access to it you’d be in trouble. To keep the password a secret, you could also “hash” it with a program that executes a function resulting in garbled text representing the original information. This abstract representation is called a hash. Companies may store passwords or facial recognition data with hashes to improve their security.

HTTPS/SSL/TLS – Stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, with the “S” for “Secure.” The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the basic framework that controls how data is transferred across the web, while HTTPS adds a layer of encryption that protects your connection to the most important sites in your daily browsing—your bank, your email provider, and social network. HTTPS uses the protocols SSL and TLS to not only protect your connection, but also to prove the identity of the site, so that when you type you can be confident you’re really connecting to Google and not an impostor site.

Infosec – An abbreviation of “Information Security.” It’s the inside baseball term for what’s more commonly known as cyber security, a term that irks most people who prefer infosec.

Jailbreak – Circumventing the security of a device, like an iPhone or a PlayStation, to remove a manufacturer’s restrictions, generally with the goal to make it run software from nonofficial sources.

Keys – Modern cryptography uses digital “keys”. In the case of PGP encryption, a public key is used to encrypt, or “lock”, messages and a secret key is used to decrypt, or “unlock”, them. In other systems, there may only be one secret key that is shared by all parties.

Lulz – An internet speak variation on “lol” (short for “laughing out loud”) employed regularly among the black hat hacker set, typically to justify a hack or leak done at the expense of another person or entity.

Logic Bomb – A logic bomb is a malicious program designed to execute when a certain criterion is met. A time bomb could be considered a logic bomb because when the target time or date is reached, it executes. But logic bombs can be much more complex. They can be designed to execute when a certain file is accessed, or when a certain key combination is pressed, or through the passing of any other event or task that is possible to be tracked on a computer. Until the trigger event the logic bomb was designed for passes, it will simply remain dormant.

Malware – Simply put, malware is a malicious program that causes damage. It includes viruses, Trojans, worms, time bombs, logic bombs, or anything else intended to cause damage upon the execution of the payload.

Master Program – A master program is the program a black hat cracker uses to remotely transmit commands to infected zombie drones, normally to carry out Denial of Service attacks or spam attacks.

Man in the middle – A Man in the Middle or MitM is a common attack where someone surreptitiously puts themselves between two parties, impersonating them. This allows the malicious attacker to intercept and potentially alter their communication. With this type of attack, one can just passively listen in, relaying messages and data between the two parties, or even alter and manipulate the data flow.

Metadata – Metadata is simply data about data. If you were to send an email, for example, the text you type to your friend will be the content of the message, but the address you used to send it, the address you sent it to, and the time you sent it would all be metadata. This may sound innocuous, but with enough sources of metadata—for example, geolocation information from a photo posted to social media—it can be trivial to piece together someone’s identity or location.

Payload – The payload is the part of the malware program that actually executes its designed task.

Phishing – Phishing is a form of social engineering carried out by black hats in electronic form, usually by email, with the purpose of gathering sensitive information. Often these communications will look legitimate and sometimes they will even look like they come from a legitimate source like a social networking site, a wellknown entity like Paypal or Ebay, or even your bank. They will have a link directing you to a site that looks very convincing and ask you to verify your account information. When you log in to verify your information on the bogus site, you have just given the black hat exactly what they need to make you the next victim of cybercrime.

Phreaker – Considered the original computer hackers, phreakers, or phone phreakers, hit the scene in the 60s and made their mark by circumventing telecommunications security systems to place calls, including long distance, for free. By using electronic recording devices, or even simply creating tones with a whistle, phreakers tricked the systems into thinking it was a valid call.

Polymorphic Virus – A polymorphic virus is a virus that will change its digital footprint every time it replicates. Antivirus software relies on a constantly updated and evolving database of virus signatures to detect any virus that may have infected a system. By changing its signature upon replication, a polymorphic virus may elude antivirus software, making it very hard to eradicate.

Nonce – A portmanteau of number and once, nonce literally means “a number only used once.” It’s a string of numbers generated by a system to identify a user for a one time use session or specific task. After that session, or a set period of time, the number isn’t used again.

OpSec – OpSec is short for operational security, and it’s all about keeping information secret, online and off. Originally a military term, OpSec is a practice and in some ways a philosophy that begins with identifying what information needs to be kept secret, and whom you’re trying to keep it a secret from. “Good” OpSec will flow from there, and may include everything from passing messages on PostIts instead of emails to using digital encryption. In other words: Loose tweets destroy fleets.

OTR – What do you do if you want to have an encrypted conversation, but it needs to happen fast? OTR, or Off the Record, is a protocol for encrypting instant messages end to end. Unlike PGP, which is generally used for email and so each conversant has one public and one private key in their possession, OTR uses a single temporary key for every conversation, which makes it more secure if an attacker hacks into your computer and gets a hold of the keys. OTR is also generally easier to use than PGP.

Password managers – Using the same, crummy password for all of your logins—from your bank account, to Seamless, to your Tinder profile—is a bad idea. All a hacker needs to do is get access to one account to break into them all. But memorizing a unique string of characters for every platform is daunting. Enter the password manager: software that keeps track of your various passwords for you, and can even auto generate super complicated and long passwords for you. All you need to remember is your master password to log into the manager and access all your many different logins.

Penetration testing or pen testing – If you set up a security system for your home, or your office, or your factory, you’d want to be sure it was safe from attackers, right? One way to test a system’s security is to employ people—pen testers—to purposely hack it in order to identify weak points in cybersecurity. Pen testing is related to red teaming, although it may be done in a more structured, less aggressive way.

PGP – “Pretty Good Privacy” is a method of encrypting data, generally emails, so that anyone intercepting them will only see garbled text. PGP uses asymmetric cryptography, which means that the person sending a message uses a “public” encryption key to scramble it, and the recipient uses a secret “private” key to decode it. Despite being more than two decades old, PGP is still a formidable method of encryption, although it can be notoriously difficult to use in practice, even for experienced users.

Phishing – Phishing is really more of a form of social engineering than hacking or cracking. In a phishing scheme, an attacker typically reaches out to a victim in order to extract specific information that can be used in a later attack. That may mean posing as customer support from Google, Facebook, or the victim’s cell phone carrier, for example, and asking the victim to click on a malicious link—or simply asking the victim to send back information, such as a password, in an email. Attackers usually blast out phishing attempts by the thousands, but sometimes employ more targeted attacks, known as spearphishing (see below).

Plaintext – Exactly what it sounds like—text that has not been garbled with encryption. This definition would be considered plaintext. You may also hear plaintext being referred to as “cleartext,” since it refers to text that is being kept out in the open, or “in the clear.” Companies with very poor security may store user passwords in plaintext, even if the folder they’re in is encrypted, just waiting for a hacker to steal.

Pwned – Pwned is computer nerd jargon (or “leetspeak”) for the verb “own.” In the video game world, a player that beat another player can say that he pwned him. Among hackers, the term has a similar meaning, only instead of beating someone in a game, a hacker that has gained access to another user’s computer can say that he pwned him. For example, the website “Have I Been Pwned?” will tell you if your online accounts have been compromised in the past.

Rootkit – Without a doubt, the biggest fear in IT security is an undetected intrusion. A rootkit is a tool that can give a black hat the means for just such a perfect heist. A rootkit is a malware program that is installed on a system through various means, including the same methods that allow viruses to be injected into a system, like email, websites designed to introduce malware, or downloading and/or copying to the system with an unsafe program. Once a rootkit is introduced, this will create a back door for a black hat that will allow remote, unauthorized entry whenever he or she chooses.

RAT – RAT stands for Remote Access Tool or Remote Access Trojan. RATs are really scary when used as malware. An attacker who successfully installs a RAT on your computer can gain full control of your machine. There is also a legitimate business in RATs for people who want to access their office computer from home, and so on. The worst part about RATs? Many malicious ones are available in the internet’s underground for sale or even for free, so attackers can be pretty unskilled and still use this sophisticated tool.

Ransomware – Ransomware is a type of malware that locks your computer and won’t let you access your files. You’ll see a message that tells you how much the ransom is and where to send payment, usually requested in bitcoin, in order to get your files back. This is a good racket for hackers, which is why many consider it now an “epidemic,” as people typically are willing to pay a few hundred bucks in order to recover their machine. It’s not just individuals, either. In early 2016, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles paid around $17,000 after being hit by a ransomware attack.

Rainbow table – A rainbow table is a complex technique that allows hackers to simplify the process of guessing what passwords hide behind a “hash” (see above).

Red team – To ensure the security of their computer systems and to suss out any unknown vulnerabilities, companies may hire hackers who organize into a “red team” in order to run oppositional attacks against the system and attempt to completely take it over. In these cases, being hacked is a good thing because organizations may fix vulnerabilities before someone who’s not on their payroll does. Red teaming is a general concept that is employed across many sectors, including military strategy.

Root – In most computers, “root” is the common name given to the most fundamental (and thus most powerful) level of access in the system, or is the name for the account that has those privileges. That means the “root” can install applications, delete and create files. If a hacker “gains root,” they can do whatever they want on the computer or system they compromised. This is the holy grail of hacking.

Script Kiddie – An individual who does not possess, or just doesn’t use, their own skills and knowhow to hack or crack a computer system or network, but uses a prewritten program or piece of code, a script, to do the dirty work. While they may not possess the computing talent, they can be just as dangerous!

Social Engineering – In the realm of the black hats, social engineering means to deceive someone for the purpose of acquiring sensitive and personal information, like credit card details or user names and passwords.

Spam – Spam is simply unsolicited email, also known as junk email. Spammers gather lists of email addresses, which they use to bombard users with this unsolicited mail. Often, the emails sent are simply advertising for a product or a service, but sometimes they can be used for phishing and/or directing you to websites or products that will introduce malware to your system.

Spoofing – Spoofing is the art of misdirection. Black hat crackers will often cover their tracks by spoofing (faking) an IP address or masking/changing the sender information on an email so as to deceive the recipient as to its origin. For example, they could send you an email containing a link to a page that will infect your system with malware and make it look like it came from a safe source, such as a trusted friend or well-known organization. Most of the true sources have security measures in place to avoid tampering with sender information on their own mail servers, but as many black hat spammers will launch attacks from their own SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), they will be able to tamper with that information. When in doubt, check with the source yourself.

Spyware – Spyware is software designed to gather information about a user’s computer use without their knowledge. Sometimes spyware is simply used to track a user’s Internet surfing habits for advertising purposes in an effort to match your interests with relevant ads. On the other side of the coin, spyware can also scan computer files and keystrokes, create popup ads, change your homepage and/or direct you to pre chosen websites. One common use is to generate a popup ad informing you that your system has been infected with a virus or some other form of malware and then force you to a preselected page that has the solution to fix the problem. Most often, spyware is bundled with free software like screen savers, emoticons and social networking programs.

Salting – When protecting passwords or text, “hashing” (see above) is a fundamental process that turns the plaintext into garbled text. To make hashing even more effective, companies or individuals can add an extra series of random bytes, known as a “salt,” to the password before the hashing process. This adds an extra layer of protection.

Script kiddies – This is a derisive term for someone who has a little bit of computer savvy and who’s only able to use offtheshelf software to do things like knock websites offline or sniff passwords over an unprotected WiFi access point. This is basically a term to discredit someone who claims to be a skilled hacker.

Shodan – It’s been called “hacker’s Google,” and a “terrifying” search engine. Think of it as a Google, but for connected devices rather than websites. Using Shodan you can find unprotected webcams, baby monitors, printers, medical devices, gas pumps, and even wind turbines. While that’s sounds terrifying, Shodan’s value is precisely that it helps researchers find these devices and alert their owners so they can secure them.

Signature – Another function of PGP, besides encrypting messages, is the ability to “sign” messages with your secret encryption key. Since this key is only known to one person and is stored on their own computer and nowhere else, cryptographic signatures are supposed to verify that the person who you think you’re talking to actually is that person. This is a good way to prove that you really are who you claim to be on the internet.

Side channel attack – Your computer’s hardware is always emitting a steady stream of barely perceptible electrical signals. A side-channel attack seeks to identify patterns in these signals in order to find out what kind of computations the machine is doing. For example, a hacker “listening in” to your hard drive whirring away while generating a secret encryption key may be able to reconstruct that key, effectively stealing it, without your knowledge.

Spearphishing – Phishing and spearphishing are often used interchangeably, but the latter is a more tailored, targeted form of phishing (see above), where hackers try to trick victims into clicking on malicious links or attachments pretending to be a close acquaintance, rather than a more generic sender, such as a social network or corporation. When done well, spearphishing can be extremely effective and powerful. As a noted security expert says, “give a man a 0day and he’ll have access for a day, teach a man to phish and he’ll have access for life.”

Spyware – A specific type of malware of malicious software designed to spy, monitor, and potentially steal data from the target.

State actor – State actors are hackers or groups of hackers who are backed by a government, which may be the US, Russia, or China. These hackers are often the most formidable, since they have the virtually unlimited legal and financial resources of a nation-state to back them up. Think, for example, of the NSA. Sometimes, however, state actors can also be a group of hackers who receive tacit (or at least hidden from the public) support from their governments, such as the Syrian Electronic Army.

Time Bomb – A time bomb is a malicious program designed to execute at a predetermined time and/or date. Time bombs are often set to trigger on special days like holidays, or sometimes they mark things like Hitler’s birthday or 9/11 to make some sort of political statement. What a time bomb does on execution could be something benign like showing a certain picture, or it could be much more damaging, like stealing, deleting, or corrupting system information. Until the trigger time is achieved, a time bomb will simply remain dormant.

Trojan – A Trojan, or Trojan horse, is a malicious program disguised to look like a valid program, making it difficult to distinguish from programs that are supposed to be there. Once introduced, a Trojan can destroy files, alter information, steal passwords or other information, or fulfill any other sinister purpose it was designed to accomplish. Or it may stay dormant, waiting for a cracker to access it remotely and take control of the system. A Trojan is a lot like a virus, but without the ability to replicate.

Threat model – Imagine a game of chess. It’s your turn and you’re thinking about all the possible moves your opponent could make, as many turns ahead as you can. Have you left your queen unprotected? Is your king being worked into a corner checkmate? That kind of thinking is what security researchers do when designing a threat model. It’s a catchall term used to describe the capabilities of the enemy you want to guard against, and your own vulnerabilities. Are you an activist attempting to guard against a state sponsored hacking team? Your threat model better be pretty robust. Just shoring up the network at your log cabin in the middle of nowhere? Maybe not as much cause to worry.

Token – A small physical device that allows its owner to log in or authenticate into a service. Tokens serve as an extra layer of security on top of a password, for example. The idea is that even if the password or key gets stolen, the hacker would need the actual physical token to abuse it.

Tor – Tor is short for The Onion Router. Originally developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory, it’s now used by bad guys (hackers, pedophiles) and good guys (activists, journalists) to anonymize their activities online. The basic idea is that there is a network of computers around the world—some operated by universities, some by individuals, some by the government—that will route your traffic in byzantine ways in order to disguise your true location.

Tails – Tails stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System. If you’re really, really serious about digital security, this is the operating system endorsed by Edward Snowden. Tails is an amnesic system, which means your computer remembers nothing; it’s like a fresh machine every time you boot up. The software is free and open source. While it’s well regarded, security flaws have been found.

Verification (dump) – The process by which reporters and security researchers go through hacked data and make sure it’s legitimate. This process is important to make sure the data is authentic, and the claims of anonymous hackers are true, and not just an attempt to get some notoriety or make some money scamming people on the dark web.

VPN – VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPNs use encryption to create a private and secure channel to connect to the internet when you’re on a network you don’t trust (say a Starbucks, or an Airbnb WiFi). Think of a VPN as a tunnel from you to your destination, dug under the regular internet. VPNs allow employees to connect to their employer’s network remotely, and also help regular people protect their connection. VPNs also allow users to bounce off servers in other parts of the world, allowing them to look like they’re connecting from there. This gives them the chance to circumvent censorship, such as China’s Great Firewall, or view Netflix’s US offerings while in Canada. There are endless VPNs, making it almost impossible to decide which ones are the best.

Virus – A computer virus is a type of malware that typically is embedded and hidden in a program or file. Unlike a worm (see below), it needs human action to spread (such as a human forwarding a virus infected attachment, or downloading a malicious program.) Viruses can infect computers and steal data, delete data, encrypt it or mess with it in just about any other way.

Vuln – Abbreviation for “vulnerability”. Another way to refer to bugs or software flaws that can be exploited by hackers.

Virus – A virus is a malicious program or code that attaches itself to another program file and can replicate itself and thereby infect other systems. Just like the flu virus, it can spread from one system to another when the infected program is used by another system. The more interconnected the host is, the better its chances to spread. The spread of a virus can easily occur on networked systems, or it could even be passed along on other media like a CD or memory stick when a user unwittingly copies an infected file and introduces it to a new system. A virus could even be emailed with an attachment. “Virus” is often incorrectly used as a catchall phrase for other malicious programs that don’t have the ability to self-replicate, like spyware and adware.

Wardriving – Wardriving is the act of driving around in a vehicle with the purpose of finding an open, unsecured WiFi wireless network. Many times, the range of a wireless network will exceed the perimeter of a building and create zones in public places that can be exploited to gain entry to the network. Black hats, and even gray hats, will often use a GPS system to make maps of exploitable zones so they can be used at a later time or passed on to others. Wardriving is not the only way this task is performed – there are Warbikers and Warwalkers too. As you can see, it is imperative that your WiFi network is secure because there are entities out there looking for any opening to ply their trade.

White Hat – While black hats use their skill for malicious purposes, white hats are ethical hackers. They use their knowledge and skill to thwart the black hats and secure the integrity of computer systems or networks. If a black hat decides to target you, it’s a great thing to have a white hat around.

Worm – A worm is very similar to a virus in that it is a destructive self-contained program that can replicate itself. But unlike a virus, a worm does not need to be a part of another program or document. A worm can copy and transfer itself to other systems on a network, even without user intervention. A worm can become devastating if not isolated and removed. Even if it does not cause outright damage, a worm replicating out of control can exponentially consume system resources like memory and bandwidth until a system becomes unstable and unusable.

Warez – Pronounced like the contraction for “where is” (where’s), warez refers to pirated software that’s typically distributed via technologies like BitTorrent and Usenet. Warez is sometimes laden with malware, taking advantage of people’s desire for free software.

White hat – A white hat hacker is someone who hacks with the goal of fixing and protecting systems. As opposed to black hat hackers (see above), instead of taking advantage of their hacks or the bugs they find to make money illegally, they alert the companies and even help them fix the problem.

Worm – A specific type of malware that propagates and replicates itself automatically, spreading from computer to computer. The internet’s history is littered with worms, from the Morris worm, the first of its kind, and the famous Samy worm, which infected more than a million people on MySpace.

Zombie / Zombie Drone – A zombie is a malware program that can be used by a black hat cracker to remotely take control of a system so it can be used as a zombie drone for further attacks, like spam emails or Denial of Service attacks, without a user’s knowledge.