Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Jargon Unchained: Don’t Be a Slave to Internet Security Confusion

Sponsored Guest post by Andrew Tipp

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Modern families are far more digitally active than even a few years ago, and it’s pretty normal for kids as young as three to be using the household laptop or tablet to find games and videos online.

Obviously, this means that guarding against net threats is more important than ever. But the world of online security can be a confusing place for parents. There’s so much tech jargon and computer terminology it’s hard to make sense of what everything means!

Not only is this frustrating, it’s also really unconstructive. Guides for families on safe internet use should be clear, simple and easy to understand. So with this is mind, here are some explanations of common cyber threats that affect parents and their families...


In the physical world spam might be an edible foodstuff, but online it’s far more difficult to digest. Spam mostly takes the form of unwanted, unsolicited and irrelevant messages on website forums and blog comment threads - it’s like the sludgy matter found in plugholes, clogging up the web.

Most people receive spam by email and through social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well. Usually, the messages will contain links that lead to downloading computer viruses.

You should avoid clicking on links in suspicious emails, and beware of messages from people you know that just contain a single link. This guide on how to stop getting spam goes into more detail on avoiding spammy communication.


Phishing is a trick that cyber criminals use to gain your personal data. It’s a play on the word fishing, as the criminals are trying to hook you with a technique called ‘social engineering’.

What’s social engineering? A very clever way of getting you to trust people and give them sensitive information. The scammers create a fake version of a website you trust - like Barclays, PayPal or eBay - and con you into entering your details so they can gain access to your accounts.

But why would you enter your info on a fake site? Simple: the scammers contact you through email and pretend to be from the real website they’re copying. Unlike spam, phishing scams are harder to spot as more effort has gone into making them look genuine.

Be sure never to enter your details onto any site by clicking through an email link. Always open a new browser tab or window and go to the site that way. Here’s some more info on recognising phishing scams.


Malvertising is a word made from combining malware and advertising. Malware is short for malicious software - programs that infect your computer and allow people to either gain access to your data or control of your computer.

Malvertisements look just like any genuine adverts, but install the nasty malware on your computer without you knowing. This is an effective way for hackers and thieves to get put malware on your device and make your family’s life difficult - they can get at photo albums, documents, everything.

These types of adverts are more likely to be ads for drugs, gambling or adult sites. Or be on those sites. These are dark and dangerous areas of the internet, so make sure you steer well clear of them. And block your children from finding them using your safety settings and supervision.


Trojans are another way of malware getting onto your computer. It’s when a piece of malicious software is hidden inside an apparently useful piece of software - a photo-editing app or link-shortening plug-in.

The thing you’ve downloaded seems to do the useful thing it’s supposed to be doing, but in reality it’s installing malware on your device to infect your computer or gain access to your personal information.

As you can guess, trojans are named after the Greek story of soldiers hiding in a seemingly benign gift of a wooden horse to gain access to the ancient city of Troy. They made a Brad Pitt film about it. Here’s some more advice on preventing or removing Trojan horses. (The viruses, not mythical warcraft.)

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Scareware, Rogueware and Ransomware

Okay, these are really sneaky ways of getting malware on your family computer.

Scareware is malicious software that scares you - hence the name - into downloading software by making alerts pop up on your desktop telling you your system is getting infected with a virus. The twist is, of course, that there’s actually nothing wrong with your computer. But there probably will be once you click on the pop-up...

Like Scareware’s equally evil sibling, Rogueware is antivirus software that’s fake and used to install malware on your system when you download it. Rogueware is usually called Ramsomware if you pay for it.

Don’t fall for these types of antivirus scams - make sure you always download your virus protection software from an official and recognisable provider such as AVG.

Drive-by downloads

If you close your eyes and picture the term ‘drive-by’, you’ll probably imagine urban shootings - young gangs firing at people on the streets from their cars.

Online things are a bit different, but the sentiment is that same. The gangs are the scammers targeting helpless web surfers (the metaphorical pedestrian victims). Essentially, drive-by downloads are viruses, spyware or malware that a web user downloads onto their hardware from a website when they visit it.

You might have read about it before - it’s a pretty big threat right now. Some research suggests that for thousand websites online, at least one contains malware threat. That might not sound like a lot, but how many different websites do you visit in a month? In a year? It’s definitely an issue. Here’s some guidance on ways to defend against drive-by downloads.

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