A laymans guide to information security terminology

The security industry is an industry full of complicated terminology and buzzwords, and this list should help you on your way to understanding the basic terminology used.

Struggling to get your head around key information security terminology? You're not alone. The security industry is an industry full of complicated terminology and buzzwords, and this list should help you on your way to understanding the basic terminology used time and time again.

Anti-virus - A program that runs on your device (mobile, tablet, desktop, etc) and protects it by identifying and removing malicious software on your system. Anti-virus software will not detect all malicious software, but when kept regularly updated, will pick-up most.

Attack - An attempt to gain unauthorised access, or stop someone who should have access from gaining access to any system or network.

Authentication - The process of confirming your identity with a system. For example, by entering a username/password combination, or swiping a key card to gain access to a building.

Breach - An exposure of protected data to someone not authorised to see it. So, for example, an attacker gaining access to a company's private financial records.

Encrypted - If something has been encrypted, it has been converted into a code so that it cannot be read by someone who doesn't have a key to decrypt it. There are many different levels and types of encryption, each used for different purposes, depending on security requirements.

Exploit - An exploit is a sequence of steps or lines of code that can be used to take advantage of a vulnerability in a system. An exploit gives an attacker access to parts of a system that they shouldn't be able to access.

Firewall - A security program or piece of equipment that filters all data going to or from a device. A good way to imagine a firewall is like a bouncer at a nightclub. They decide who can go in, and who can't. A firewall's primary job is to stop attackers from being able to send malicious requests to your system.

Network - A network is a number of devices which are connected together, and can exchange data amongst themselves.

Malware - Malware stands for malicious software. Simply put, it's any software which has negative intentions unbeknown to the person installing it.

Patch - A patch is an update to software released which resolves one or more vulnerabilities, stopping specific exploits from working.

Phishing - Phishing is a social engineering tactic where an attacker attempts to fool you into taking a specific action in response to an email. For example, you may receive an email from someone posing as Paypal, telling you that you need to login to your account and confirm your phone number to stop your account being shut down. The attacker redirects you to their website, which looks just like Paypal's, and asks you for your login information -- which the attacker then collects to hijack your account.

Social Engineering - Social engineering is any form of attack which is primarily psychological. An attacker deceives a victim into somehow giving them access to a system, or sensitive information. For example, it could be someone posing as a work colleague, sending you a message asking you for login information to a system because they've lost their password.

Spam - Spam is any unwanted or unsolicited email. It stands for stupid, pointless, annoying messages.

Spear Phishing - A spear phishing attack is a phishing attack that targets one very specific person. An attacker comes up with a specific attack to get access to one person's information.

Spyware - Software designed to spy on a victim. Most spyware transmits data to an attacker over the internet, unbeknown to the victim.

Trojan - A trojan, or trojan horse, is a piece of malware which contains malicious code designed to take specific actions to steal data, or harm a system. Trojans are referred to as such as they usually employ a form of social engineering -- presenting themselves as a piece of software that will help the user installing it. A trojan can often act as a backdoor, allowing an attacker to gain full control of a system after it is installed.

Virus - A virus spreads by infecting other files, rather than existing on its own. Viruses tend to be spread by opening and sharing infected files or applications.

Vulnerability - A vulnerability is any weakness in an application or system that can be exploited by attackers. A vulnerability could be caused by misconfigured equipment, or out-of-date software, for example.

Worm - A worm is a type of malware that automatically replicates itself, without requiring any human interaction. Worms typically spread across entire networks, and sometimes across portable storage devices like USB sticks.

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