Although there are still many people who take cybersecurity lightly, the vast majority of internet users are finally realizing its importance and are opting for various internet security solutions. However, even if these tools are designed to be convenient and straightforward, companies often confuse average users with words and terms that may not be clear even after being read multiple times. Understanding these terms is mandatory for choosing the best internet security software solution, which is why we put together a comprehensive list of the most common expressions you may come across. Once you’ve gotten through this list, you will definitely be more confident in picking the tool that best fits your personal needs.
An anti-theft is a special program or feature within an internet security solution with which users can track their devices should they be lost or stolen. These tools usually provide features that make the thief’s life more miserable like locking the device after several attempts to crack it, activating the device’s GPS to locate it – if it’s available – and turning on the camera to take pictures of the wrongdoer that can then be used by the police.
Often referred to as antimalware, antivirus is a downloadable application for Windows, macOS, and Android devices that provides protection against the most common threats like viruses, malware, ransomware etc. By default, antivirus software runs in the background monitoring programs, files, and even browsing sessions for suspicious activities and blocking any malicious elements from entering the device. Additionally, these solutions come with on-demand virus scans with which users can manually examine their computers in a more thorough manner, but more bespoke apps are also equipped with additional, not strictly antivirus-related security features, too.
Bot or zombie is a computer that has already been infected and is used by wrongdoers for their own deeds without the user knowing or noticing it. Since one bot is far from enough for hackers to commit crimes, they usually use a network of zombified devices called botnet.
Also known as PC/Mac optimizer, cleanup software provides a straightforward solution for users to rid their devices of junk and other types of clutter like temporary files, browser cookies, and much more. More advanced cleanup software is also capable of shutting down apps that run in the background, as well as fixing broken registries, shredding unnecessary files, and in special instances, removing malware.
Encryption is the method with which plain data can be turned into a secret code, maintaining said data’s integrity and confidentiality. It’s usually used by services and solutions that transfer information through the internet where there is a high risk of data interception by hackers. Thankfully, determining whether something is encrypted or not is pretty easy; websites displaying HTTPS before the website address are guaranteed to be encrypted, whereas internet security solutions use encryption by default.
The term false positive indicates any instance where a particular attribute or condition is falsely identified as being present. In the world of internet security, false positive is used for files, folders, websites etc. that are wrongfully deemed malicious by the antivirus due to bearing resemblance to an actual malware or because the software’s sensitivity is too high. This can be corrected by lowering the antivirus’s sensitivity levels, but it’s still better to have false positives despite their annoying nature than to be infected due to the program not detecting real threats in time.
In the world of computing, deleted files are never truly gone. Instead, they are stored in the depths of the computer until they are gradually overwritten by other, newer files. File shredding basically accelerates this natural process by allowing users to irrevocably destroy a file without it leaving any traces behind. This becomes particularly useful when you need to get rid of personal files as well as any leftovers by programs that were already uninstalled.
The firewall is the first line of defense for any device that constantly monitors the internet for suspicious activities. Although most devices are equipped with some sort of firewall – think the built-in firewalls in routers – there are special hardware firewalls that act as gatekeepers between devices and the internet. Unfortunately, firewalls are rather primitive and may be easily deceived by more sophisticated malware, which is why they have to be complemented by other security software at all times.
The term freemium refers to any software or solutions where core functionalities can be enjoyed for free but other features can only be accessed by either paying for them one by one or by upgrading to a paid solution by the same service provider. The best examples of the freemium pricing strategy are antivirus solutions and password managers.
A scanning method used by antivirus solutions to detect and eliminate threats. Unlike the normal method that’s based on existing virus definitions, the heuristic method relies more on past experiences. This means that the software doesn’t have to wait until a new entry is added to its virus database; instead it compares the potential threat’s behavior to that of averted attacks and if there is a match, it eliminates the malware.
Internet Service Provider (ISP)
The Internet Service Provider – more commonly known as ISP – is a company internet users can subscribe to in order to get access to the internet. Most ISPs are thankfully benevolent and do their jobs as they should, but some of them rely on nasty tactics like tracking users to get ahead or simply to get more money out of subscribers.
Internet Security Suite
An internet security suite is basically a software bundle consisting of various internet security software provided by the same company. Usually they contain an antivirus, a VPN, a cleanup tool, and a password manager. Although security suites can indeed make computers, smartphones, networks, and IoT devices virtually bulletproof, the main reason they exist is to strengthen brand loyalty. This isn’t such a big deal, but these software bundles usually cost around $100 or more, not to mention that with the exception of the antivirus, all apps within the suite can be substituted with equally good third-party programs.
The term Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a network of devices that can communicate with each other via the internet. As such, any device that is capable of connecting to the internet in the same way – and, as a direct consequence, needs protection against cyberattacks – can be considered an IoT device.
Keylogger – abbreviated from keystroke logger – is a special kind of spyware that upon being installed with a virus or malware, records the victim’s keystrokes and forwards them to hackers. At first this may not seem that threatening, but keyloggers can perfectly capture sensitive information like passwords, IDs, and credit card data, which if lost, could result in a nightmare for the victim and valuable data served on a silver platter to wrongdoers.
The license is a permission from a chosen service provider to use its solutions without limitations for a certain period of time. Basically, it’s a set of codes that upon being entered, activate the software and/or unblock pay-only features. When a license is purchased it can usually be activated on a single device and can be used by a single individual – although there are instances when one license is valid for multiple platforms or can be used by others. With a few exceptions, licenses are only valid for a predetermined period of time – a month, a year, or more – after which they have to be renewed in order to continue using the software without (major) limitations.
A log file is a collection of information about an action performed by the software. It usually contains the start and end date of the process, what was done, and whether the app encountered any kind of problem.
Malicious software – or malware for short – is a program intended to enter the user’s device without permission and to cause harm either by infecting the device to serve devious needs or by stealing highly sensitive information from the victims. Although it’s often used interchangeably with the word ‘virus’, malware is basically an umbrella term for all malicious programs, whether they be adware, ransomware, spyware, Trojans, viruses, worms, and so on.
Malware usually infects devices via links and attachments, some of which are hard to distinguish from genuine ones due to their convincing nature. In addition to that, malware is often hard to spot once installed, meaning that the only bulletproof way of not getting infected is to stay alert and use an antivirus program with real-time monitoring.
Parental control is an app or a software feature through which parents can block certain websites – containing, for instance, porno or foul language – from their children using any device connecting to the internet. More bespoke parental control solutions can be set to monitor social media activities as well as warn children of the amount of time they are allowed to spend online.
A multi-platform app with an encrypted vault where users can store highly sensitive information such as passwords, personal data, credit cards, software licenses, etc. Aside from being convenient due to being able to recall even the most complicated passwords via a browser add-on – allowing you to forget all logins except the master password that locks the app itself – they also offer end-to-end encryption, meaning that data entered into the vault remains hidden from prying eyes at all times.
A programming code released by software developers to repair bugs and vulnerabilities reported by users or security experts. The errors that patches are intended to fix can be exploited extremely quickly by wrongdoers, therefore keeping the software up-to-date and downloading patches as soon as they are released is mandatory to prevent the program – and the device it’s installed on – from becoming infected.
Phishing is a rather widespread attack used by hackers to obtain highly sensitive personal data. To lure victims into giving up the necessary information on their own, hackers create fake emails or instant messages pretending to be from otherwise trusted entities (banks, ISPs, etc.) that contain a link directing to a doppelganger login page or a malware attachment.
Phishing attempts are easy to spot, as messages often use poor English, not to mention that hovering over the link reveals it to be bogus. Still, the only way to protect your data from phishing is to stay alert all the time and get an antivirus that can spot phishing messages the moment they try to lure you in.
A platform is the operating system (OS) an internet security app runs on. Depending on the program’s nature it can be installed on various platforms – often running on different OSs – or just a single one. For instance, antiviruses usually protect one device at a time – at least in their default state – whereas internet suites and parental control apps can be installed on any device connecting to the same network.
Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP)
Any application that is installed without the express consent of the user is a potentially unwanted program (PUP). These apps are usually downloaded alongside fully legitimate software but instead of doing what they are supposed to do, they slow down the PC, spam you with ads, and hijack browsers by changing default settings. In addition to that, they often collect data from your browsing habits and then forward it to shady third parties.
PUPs are annoying, but they aren’t that hard to avoid. First, be suspicious when a program claims that the installation of another app is mandatory. Also, make sure that only the boxes in the installation wizard that are truly necessary are checked. And finally, turn on the PUP-blocker in the antivirus. Granted, it may be overkill resulting in false positives, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Similar to its real-life counterpart, a quarantine is a place where viruses can be contained without the fear of contaminating their environment. In the world of internet security, quarantines are basically virtual chests where the antivirus moves busted malicious programs to. Once malware is inside this quarantine, it cannot do any more harm than occupying some space on the hard drive – an issue that can be easily eliminated by deleting the malware once and for all.
By far the nastiest and most dreaded form of cyberattack, ransomware is a malicious program that upon being installed on the device locks important files or the entire system and demands the victim to pay a ransom in Bitcoin to keep the locked content from being destroyed. Due to the usually threatening nature of the message accompanying ransomware, many people panic and pay, but there is still no guarantee that the ransomware will leave the system without causing major damage first.
Since the only way to get rid of ransomware without paying is wiping the device clean – therefore losing all data – the only way to protect is to defend. As such, try to back up the most important files as often as possible, and also use an antivirus with ransomware blocker.
The process of gaining control over another user’s computer via the internet. Remote access is often used by internet security services to remotely help users solve issues – such as setting up a new device or getting rid of malware – but it can also be a tool wrongdoers use to force the computer to do their bidding, like being part of a botnet or mining cryptocurrencies.
A rootkit is a type of software that enables remote access to the computer as well as masks the activities of another, malicious software. Since they are programmed to be as generic as possible, rootkits are rather hard to detect, which may result in their discovery when the app they are hiding in has already done enough damage without the victim even noticing it.
However, despite their generic nature, they still behave a bit differently than legit software, a trait that bespoke antivirus solutions can easily spot. And when a rootkit is caught, you can be sure that the malware it tries to hide will be soon captured and eliminated as well.
The sandbox is the name of a special, virtual space where suspicious files and programs can be opened without damaging the computer. This particularly comes in handy in situations where the software is downloaded from untrusted sources and you want to test whether it installs and operates properly instead of infecting the computer with malware or bringing in a bunch of unwanted apps. Thanks to this virtual space, files and apps that fail this test can be immediately eliminated from the device’s hard drive before they get deeper into the PC and start carrying out their destructive missions.
A rather devious form of malware, scareware is the app equivalent of a scam that exploits the common fear of internet security threats by offering bogus salvation for a problem that is either exaggerated or nonexistent. For example, a typical scareware is a program that is advertised via pop-up ads as a free method of scanning devices for any known issues. Once downloaded, however, it discovers that the device is in a catastrophic state and the only way to prevent further damages is to download an additional pay-only tool. If you are ‘lucky’ enough, the only thing you’ll lose is money, but there are instances when you get the exact opposite of what was originally promised in the form of nasty malware.
Any software that collects private user information such as browsing habits and personal data, and then sends it to third parties without the user’s consent can be considered spyware. Keyloggers, for instance, are typical spyware tools, but we can also mention social media sites that extensively use tools to monitor user activities and bombard them with targeted ads. Thankfully, spyware can be easily evaded by going incognito either with the help of a secure browser or by hiding behind a VPN that masks users’ online activities.
Appropriately named after the famous event from the Iliad, Trojan horses – or simply Trojans – disguise themselves as legitimate programs, but once installed they take control over the device to carry out their malicious actions like spreading viruses, providing remote access to hackers, or stealing confidential information.
The most common type of malware, a virus is a program that is capable of spreading and replicating itself on its own. Once the virus infects the device and successfully attaches itself to an executable file, it immediately starts wreaking havoc, which is most noticeable by the growing number of corrupted or deleted files, irritating, nonsensical popups that appear out of nowhere, and infected emails. However, just like their real-life counterparts, viruses never spread without a direct action on the victim’s behalf, which is why being extra attentive – as in not visiting untrusted sites or opening suspicious links – is an effective way to avoid getting infected.
This is the virus database that antivirus solutions use to recognize any potential threats. By default, all virus definitions are automatically updated by the software’s provider to make sure the app is well prepared for dealing with the newest forms of attack. However, the most advanced antiviruses can provide proper defense against malware that isn’t even featured in the virus definition simply by checking its behavior and similarities to existing threats.
Virtual Private Network – or VPN as it’s more commonly known – is an internet security tool that has two purposes. Firstly, it can make users appear to be from another country in order to access geo-blocked content. The other purpose is to hide your activity from ISPs and wrongdoers, therefore providing an extra layer of protection for sensitive data that has to go through the internet.
The worm is a more primitive form of a virus, as it doesn’t do much more than replicating itself and then spreading further in emails and any removable devices it may come in contact with. However, unlike viruses, worms act on their own, meaning that once they enter a device, they can continue infecting other computers without human interaction.