A Few 'Computer Terms' Everyone Should Know

Have you ever wondered what all that 'tech jargon' your kids use means? If so, you're not alone. In the interest of 'decoding' some of it, here are a few terms that any regular internet user should know. You probably already know the definitions of some or all of these terms. However, some of us hear them thrown around so much that we get confused about what they mean and what they don't mean.

Malware-This term describes a wide variety of software programs that can damage your computer. This 'umbrella term' applies to things called spyware, adware, porn servers, worms and trojans. Malware often gets onto your computer by attaching itself to otherwise-innocuous websites, email attachments or software programs. If you subscribe to 'free' online services or download 'free' demos and browser plugins, you may be opening yourself up to these sorts of programs and not realize it; particularly, some of the vendors that offer software such as 'free' video-game demos, subscriptions or MP3 files will add third-party software to advertise their business partners on the 'back' of the product you're actually downloading. If you look closely at the End-User License Agreement (EULA) that comes along with many programs, it will tell you that the vendor is going to install these sorts of software on your computer. They are counting on the fact that most people either briefly scan the EULAs or don't look at them at all, giving permission for things to be installed on your computer that you wouldn't otherwise.

It also happens through media file-sharing programs such as Napster, some of which aren't legal to begin with. Once the malware starts working, special software is often required to remove it.

Frankly, some people with nothing better to do will create programs like this to screw with the computers of random people (or people they don't like) just for 'harmless fun'. I'm all for 'harmless fun' but, in my book, this is anything but harmless.

Spyware-An extremely destructive form of malware that steals information based on your internet activities. I'm not just talking about stealing email passwords and sending porn to everyone in your address book, although that is one function of spyware. I'm talking about stealing PIN numbers, Social Security numbers and other information that can be used to steal your identity and make your life completely miserable. One way they do this is by 'keystroke logging', basically recording a person's keystrokes to string together what a person types. Another common method is 'phishing', which I describe below.

Phishing-An attempt to steal a user's password and other personal information by directing them to an imitation of a reputable website or through fraudulent emails. One common example is an email from your bank saying there's a problem with your account and that they need your password or need you to click on a link to a 'fake' website. Requests for passwords in an email should NEVER be honored. This problem is so pervasive that many companies have had to post instructions on their websites about what to do if you receive certain emails. This is really sad, but there you have it.

They've also had to step up their website security to include 'security questions' or 'site key' images or other 'doors' to go through before getting to the information you're looking for. Those multiple-stage sign-ins required by your bank or credit card websites might seem annoying, but they are there to make sure it is you trying to access them and not someone who stole your password through an email or attachment.

While it's not a pleasant subject, anyone who uses the internet regularly needs to know about some of the 'dangers' that lurk in the shadows. Happy 'surfing'!

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