Simply put, a cyberattack is any attempt by an outside source to target, steal from, spy on, damage or destroy a computer network. Cyberattacks come in all shapes and sizes (as you’re about to see), and the criminals behind them don’t set their sights on a single target. No home network is too small, or company too large, to fall victim.
Cybersecurity, on the other hand, is the act of protecting networks from cyberattacks. Whether it’s locking down your personal network at home, or hiring a staff of IT professionals to secure the network for your business, cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a challenging task. To beat cybercriminals, you have to always be one step ahead of the game.
Glossary of cybersecurity terms
What it means: Adware is an annoying form of malware that bombards you with ads when you go online, or use certain programs on your device.
Why it matters: Mostly, adware is just a nuisance. However, certain forms of adware go beyond annoying pop-ups. Some forms are able to collect marketing data based on your online behavior, and can even redirect you to websites you weren’t looking for. The good news is, in most cases, you’ll know if your device has been infected because it begins to display these ads, or exhibit odd behavior.
What it means: A botnet is a group of private computers or web-connected devices that have been infected with malware that allows them to be controlled remotely as a group by a hacker. Everything from your laptop to your smart TV, baby monitor, security camera, etc. can be infected and used as part of a botnet if you’re not careful.
Why it matters: Botnets are used by cybercriminals in several types of cyberattacks including DDoS attacks, clickfraud and more. Although these types of cyberattacks don’t typically impact you directly, if your devices are infected, it means there are gaps in the security of the router, or your entire network.
What it means: A card skimmer is a device that can be installed on ATM machines or other types of card readers, which collects the data from the magnetic strips of payment cards (both credit and debit).
Why it matters: These devices are bad news. They’re relatively easy to install and allow thieves to make copies of your payment cards and use them to make unauthorized purchases. In some cases, thieves also install tiny cameras with the skimmers so they can record you as you enter your pin number. Certain types of card skimmers are easy to spot, but new “insert” card skimmers are practically invisible. In any case, thieves will often use skimmers to collect your financial information and purchase goods before you realize there’s a problem.
Protect yourself by using cards with EMV chips whenever possible, and always covering your pin when you enter it.
What it means: Clickfraud is when artificial clicks are created to manipulate pay-per-click advertising campaigns to either increase revenue or charges for an advertiser.
Why it matters: Although clickfraud may not impact you personally in a negative way, the cybercrooks behind these types of scams often need a “botnet” (See glossary term 2) to make them work. To create these botnets, hackers target the web-connected gadgets of hundreds or even thousands of individuals.
What it means: Espionage, as we all know, is the practice of spying on someone else to collect confidential information. Cyber-espionage means the same thing, except it involves the use of computers.
Why it matters: The targets of this cybercrime are typically large corporations or government organizations, but that doesn’t mean individuals are deemed too small for the effort. If you have information that can be used by the crook, your devices can be compromised in order to get it. It’s also important to point out that this form of spying also leads to bigger problems, since it provides the criminals with data they need to conduct other cyberattacks, such as data breaches.
What it means: The Dark Web is an encrypted network of “Darknets” that makes up a portion of the Deep Web. Accessing this hidden section of the web requires a special encryption software called Tor.
Why it matters: The Dark Web itself isn’t illegal. Many people do use it for what it was originally intended. That is, to browse the web without being tracked by their internet service provider, web services or even the government. However, we can’t pretend that the Dark Web isn’t home to some pretty horrific things. Evidence of kidnappings, hitmen for hire, prostitution, child pornography, drugs, guns… you name it.
What it means: This year, the largest data breach in history was recorded as Yahoo confessed that 1 billion user accounts had been compromised. A data breach is when hackers steal confidential information that’s sitting in a database.
Why it matters: While large companies are the prime targets for this type of attack, individuals are always the victims. Target, Wendy’s, LinkedIn, Home Depot, Rambler, DailyMotion, Weebly and other big-name companies have all fallen victim. And, once the hackers have their hands on their customers’ information, they sell it on the Dark Web. Everything including your email address, phone number, date of birth, and even your Social Security number can then be used by other criminals for future scams.
What it means: DDoS stands for “distributed denial of service,” which is a techy way of saying “crashing a system or the whole internet.” It works when a targeted website or server is flooded by an overwhelming amount of requests from millions of connected machines in order to bring it down.
Why it matters: DDoS attacks sound like something straight from a Sci-Fi movie, but they’re actually happening. Back in October, a massive DDoS attack resulted in a loss of internet access for people living on the East Coast, and even some sites nationwide.
Unsecured routers, printers, IP web cameras, DVRs, cable boxes, connected “smart” appliances such as Wi-Fi light bulbs and smart locks can all be hijacked and involved in cyberattacks without the owner knowing about it. The first step to preventing your devices from being hacked is securing your router.
What it means: Drive-by downloads are the way most malware is installed – that is, accidentally. It happens when cybercrooks hide malicious software in ads or links that takes advantage of weaknesses in your device, or web browser.
Why it matters: Most drive-by downloads result in a virus that the user may not even realize is there. Plus, this malicious software can be hidden anywhere – websites, emails, pop-up windows, you name it. This is what has made the internet such a risky place if you aren’t constantly running your software updates, and protecting yourself with anti-virus software.
What it means: An exploit is an identified gap or weakness that has been found in a particular software or operating system.
Why it matters: Hackers find these gaps and design malware and Trojan horses that can exploit them. Because of this, software developers also hire their own “hackers,” or create incentive programs for anyone who can identify a bug before real hackers find it. They do this so they can patch their software and eliminate the vulnerability. However, sometimes the real hackers discover these gaps first. These are called “zero-day exploits.” Keep reading to the end of this article to see what makes zero-day exploits so dangerous.
What it means: An “exploit kit” or “exploit pack” is a toolkit that can be purchased to target the exploits we talked about earlier. Typically, these packs are designed for vulnerabilities in Java, Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash.
Why it matters: If you’re thinking that all cyberattacks are orchestrated by a cynical group of hackers, that’s just not the case. These kits make it possible for individuals with basic skills to cause a lot of damage.
What it means: For this crime, a thief uses your personal information, such as your Social Security number or driver’s license, to impersonate you for their own benefit.
Why it matters: If your identity is stolen, you could be in store for years of problems. Your credit score could be ruined, and you could lose temporary or permanent access to funds in your bank account. You might not notice there’s a problem until it’s too late, and getting everything straightened out can be a complete nightmare. This is why it’s so important that you regularly monitor your credit report.
What it means: A keylogger is a type of malware that’s designed to log all of the keystrokes the user makes on their device.
Why it matters: If your device is infected with keylogging software, everything you type can be accessed by the scammer. This includes private messages, as well as your usernames and passwords. That information can then be used for other scams, such as data breaches or identity theft..
What it means: Malvertising is a form of internet advertising where malicious code is hidden within online ads that otherwise appear to be safe.
Why it matters: Clicking on these ads may lead the user into deeper trouble. Not only can the click unleash the malicious code that infects your computer, it can also direct you to fake sites that launch pre-installed programs that are malicious in themselves. In July 2016, a malvertising scheme was discovered that infected millions of computers.
What it means: Malware is easiest described as software that is designed for the purpose of damaging or gaining access to devices or systems without the users’ knowledge.
Why it matters: As you can see by this list, there are many types of malware. Spyware, adware, ransomware, etc., are all unique types that are designed for specific purposes. But, no matter which type of malware you come in contact with, it’s never good for you or your system. And, cybercrooks are creative in the ways they fool you into downloading this malicious code onto your computer. One of the most troublesome ways we’ve witnessed so far was a form called “Hicurdismos,” which tricked people by posing as a Windows 10 security update.
What it means: A patch is a software update designed to fix bugs and repair vulnerabilities that have been discovered by the software developer.
Why it matters: Have you ever heard of “Patch Tuesday”? Many tech companies like Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and Android issue regular patches for their software. Many of these repairs are built into operating system updates; however, if an issue is deemed critical enough, a security patch will be issued. These security patches are typically in response to zero-day exploits that have already been utilized by hackers.
What it means: Pharming is when cybercrooks design fake websites or pages to look exactly like their legitimate counterparts, all with the intention of tricking people into entering private login information.
Why it matters: Imagine logging into your bank account only to realize that the site you’ve just logged into doesn’t belong to your bank at all. Think of all the information you’ve just handed over: your username, password, email address, and even your bank account number. Yikes! There’s also a different form of this scam called “Like Farming” on Facebook.
What it means: Phishing is an attempt, typically made through an email, to obtain your private information by imitating someone else.
Why it matters: The scam artists behind phishing schemes go through great lengths to create an email that appears to be from someone you trust. Sometimes they pose as people you know, such as the CEO of the company you work for, and sometimes they pose as legitimate companies like Amazon. Either way, there are usually signs that the email is fake. Can you spot them?
What it means: Point-of-sale intrusions happen when the payment system of a retailer or other company is compromised, leaving the financial information of its customers at risk.
Why it matters: When you swipe your card at a store, use it to book your flight, or make a hotel reservation, that information is stored somewhere. Typically, it’s stored in the point-of-sale system that particular company uses for its own financial records. But vulnerabilities in these systems make them prime targets for hackers, who crack them and make off with hundreds of thousands of customers’ credit card numbers.
What it means: This type of malware is designed to “scrape” your hard drive for sensitive data.
Why it matters: Just think of all the data you store on your device. From personal photos to contracts, to leasing agreements, to tax documents – there are many things that you’d never want to fall into the hands of a hacker.
What it means: Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts data found on your computer or gadget until a sum of money is paid.
Why it matters: The biggest digital threat of the year was ransomware. Researchers say the total amount paid by victims could hit $1 billion in 2016 alone. These attacks have become a favorite of scammers, partially because of the ease of anonymity. Not only is it a faceless attack but the ransom is usually paid with bitcoin, which makes this a nearly untraceable crime. There’s also a debate in the law enforcement community on whether victims should pay the ransom. These scammers promise to decrypt your files once the ransom has been paid, but there’s no guarantee that they will actually do this. Some ransomware attacks discovered this year actually deleted the victims’ data the moment their gadget was infected, never intending to decrypt it when payment was made.
What it means: Social engineering is when a scammer manipulates someone into giving up their confidential information.
Why it matters: A social engineer is basically a con artist who interacts with people trying to get their sensitive data so they can eventually rip them off. The criminal is typically looking to trick you into giving them your banking information or credentials into websites. If the scammer is targeting a business, they will sometimes pretend to be a co-worker with an urgent problem, asking for help accessing corporate resources. There are many types of social engineering attacks in the fraudsters arsenal. They will use such tricks as baiting, phishing, spear phishing and scareware, just to name a few.
What it means: Spam is unsolicited messages sent via email. More broadly, it refers to any unwanted messages sent electronically.
Why it matters: In the same way that circulars are placed in every mailbox in the neighborhood, most spam is a form of advertising that targets large groups of people. It is annoying but harmless. However, it can clutter your inbox and occupy your bandwidth. It’s best not to open emails from people you don’t know or you risk getting a virus. One trick to decrease the amount of spam in your inbox is to set your spam filters.
What it means: Spim, sometimes stylized as spIM, is spam sent through Instant Messaging (IM)
Why it matters: Spim tends to be another annoying form of unsolicited advertising. It’s best not to click links in messages sent by people you don’t know because it could lead you to a pharming site. If you’ve ever contacted a company via Facebook Messenger, you may have opened yourself up to receiving promotional messages from that company.
What it means: Spyware is a form of malware that allows unauthorized access to your device and permits someone to spy on you remotely.
Why it matters: Do you ever get that feeling like you’re being watched? Spyware is one of the main reasons people have started to cover their webcams with tape or stickers because it allows someone to watch through your webcam or listen in through your microphone.
Trojan (or Trojan horse)
What it means: A trojan horse is a malicious program that pretends to be something else, usually as legitimate software, to trick people into installing it.
Why it matters: Trojans are designed to be stealthy and deceptive so they are hard to detect in plain sight. They can masquerade as anything – office software, documents, games, videos, music files – usually spread through peer-to-peer file sharing sites, unauthorized software app stores, malicious websites/links and attachments spread through email and social media. Once installed, trojans can execute a myriad of nasty stuff like spying, data theft and total control of a computer.
What it means: A computer virus is malware that is designed to spread itself via replication and by infecting other computers.
Why it matters: Although the term “computer virus” is mistakenly used as a catch-all term for all malicious software, it actually refers to a specific type of malware that attempts to copy and spread itself to other computers when executed. Due to this automated replication, computer viruses can slow your machine down to a crawl, send emails on your behalf without your consent and even bring down entire networks. Viruses can spread via email and text attachments, social media links and trojan software. Although mostly only disruptive in intent, some viruses are financially motivated as well.
What it means: Vulnerabilities are the weaknesses in software programs or operating systems we mentioned when we talked about “exploits.”
Why it matters: If vulnerabilities aren’t found and patched in time, they can be used by hackers as backdoors that provide access to web-connected devices or entire networks. Every web-connected device you own is subject to these vulnerabilities – including your router.
What it means: Website spoofing is the act of deliberately creating a website designed to mislead users, making them believe they’re on a site, but they’re actually not.
Why it matters: These sites are often used for pharming scams and can be identified by differences in the site’s URL. If you’re headed to Amazon.com, for example, but accidentally type an extra O in the URL, you could find yourself on Amazoon.com instead. Spoofed sites will look incredibly similar to the sites you’re really trying to reach, so you should always confirm the URL is correct before entering in any credit card details or login credentials.
What it means: Zero-day exploits signify vulnerabilities that have already been found by hackers and are being used to initiate various cyberattacks or schemes.
Why it matters: If you hear this term, in one of our security alerts, you should pay close attention. Patching these bugs is absolutely critical. Each time a zero-day exploit is found, it means the software developers have been outsmarted by hackers. And, as you can imagine, those hackers are trying to cause as much damage or gather as many pieces of data as possible before they’re shut down.