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12 Common Cybersecurity Terms

12 Common Cybersecurity Terms

Cybersecurity affects all areas of all companies, large, medium, and small. When we talk about cybersecurity with people outside their organization’s IT department, we often use terms that can be difficult to understand. Because of this, we’re going to explain the meaning of a few commonly used cybersecurity terms. Understanding cybersecurity terms makes it easier to see how to implement the appropriate level of protection to avoid putting the company at risk

12 Common Cybersecurity Terms

1. Phishing

A common and effective (if not efficient) form of cyberattack, phishing involves sending emails to targeted users that use various methods to entice them to click on links or attachments containing malicious code. They often take the form of urgent messages that claim to be from different companies or government agencies. Once the user clicks on the link or attachment, malware is uploaded into their computer to either steal log-in credentials or spread throughout a company network. Although organizations advise employees not to open suspicious emails, additional forms of document security are often necessary to ensure that only authorized material is being delivered.

2. Biometric Authentication 

One of the most advanced forms of identity verification, biometric technology scans a user’s unique biological signifiers (such as fingerprints, facial structure, iris patterns) to confirm that they are who they claim to be. Often incorporated into multi-factor authentication systems that require users to present more than one form of credentials, biometrics have become increasingly sophisticated and are incredibly difficult for hackers to forge. This makes them an ideal credentialing solution that is far more effective than conventional passwords.

3. Social Engineering

A particularly dangerous form of security threat, social engineering exploits human psychology instead of technical hacking or programming tricks to gain access to passwords, access credentials, and personal information. Criminals use techniques like posing as contractors or building relationships with employees over social media to trick them into divulging sensitive information. Social engineering techniques are especially good at bypassing cybersecurity defenses since they don’t rely on direct hacking efforts. Security awareness training can help employees to spot social engineering tactics, and physical security measures like continuous biometric authentication can help to protect sensitive documents from exposure.

4. Visual Hacking

Also called “shoulder surfing” or “screen snooping,” visual hacking occurs when someone steals sensitive information or credentials by physically looking at someone’s screen. This could involve glancing at a computer monitor or picking up an unattended smartphone or tablet. While there are many security measures designed to combat conventional cyberattacks, visual hacking requires innovative strategies like screen protectors or continuous biometric authentication.

5. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Often used interchangeably with “machine learning,” artificial intelligence uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze data and perform complex tasks. While most people think of AI as mimicking human intelligence, the technology is typically used to automate and manage tasks that could not be done effectively by humans. Many cybersecurity platforms use AI to constantly scan for unusual network activity and take steps to mitigate potential threats. Predictive AI models can analyze massive amounts of data to identify dangers and vulnerabilities that might escape the notice of humans. Unfortunately, that same technology can be deployed by cybercriminals, which has forced cybersecurity experts to work even harder to stay ahead of the latest attack strategies.

6. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

One of the most common forms of cyberattack, a DDoS attack bombards a server with access requests from multiple sources until the system is overwhelmed and shuts down. When the network goes down, data availability is compromised and an organization can be vulnerable to a data breach if key cybersecurity functions are shut down. Relatively easy to launch, DDoS attacks can inflict a high cost on organizations due to prolonged downtime. Many organizations invest in DDoS mitigation software or services to protect themselves from these attacks.

7. Hacker

A broad term used to identify any cybercriminal who uses their knowledge of computer networking systems to launch attacks that disrupt services and compromise data. They typically utilize various forms of malware and brute force hacking tactics to shut down systems, steal access credentials, and manipulate data. Due to the widespread availability of powerful software tools, hackers often don’t need to have extensive knowledge of programming or coding to cause significant damage. While they are often driven by financial incentives, some hacker-driven cyberattacks are conducted for political or ideological purposes.

8. Malware

Malware refers to a broad range of malicious software that is introduced into a computer or network to provide unauthorized users with control over key systems and processes. Many data breaches can be traced back to some form of malware, so organizations need to make sure their systems are patched and updated to account for the latest generation of malware. 

9. Ransomware

A particularly damaging form of malware that completely locks a user out of their computer or network systems. Ransomware does this by encrypting key files that can only be unlocked by the attacker, who promptly demands a financial payment in exchange (the “ransom” portion of ransomware). Most cybersecurity specialists advise companies NOT to pay the ransom as there is no guarantee that the hackers will make good on their promise. Still, organizations that have no other means of recovering their data sometimes have no choice but to take their chances.

10. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

One of the more difficult forms of cyberattack to detect, a man-in-the-middle attack allows cybercriminals to intercept data while it is in transit from one location to another. They can use this information to steal log-in credentials and personal information, sabotage and corrupt data, or simply spy on authorized users. Hackers often use a broad range of techniques to reroute traffic from legitimate networks to harvest data without anyone noticing. Today, these attacks are frequently automated with a variety of tools that look for passwords and other important data. Encryption protocol tools that protect data in transit (such as virtual private networks) are the best defense against these attacks.

11. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policy

Today’s employees possess a wide range of devices that are often used for work purposes. This not only includes obvious devices like portable laptops, tablets, or mobile phones, but also wearable devices (like smart watches) and home assistants (like a Google Home or Amazon Alexa speaker). While these Internet of Things (IoT) devices are incredibly useful and effective means of collecting data, they also create a substantial risk to access security because unauthorized third parties may use them as a vector to gain access to a broader network. A BYOD policy lays out the terms and conditions under which employees can bring their own device to work with the resources of the organization, effectively applying security measures to divide the personal environment from the work environment.

12. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Virtual private networks provide an encrypted connection that allows people to connect their devices to a secure network over the internet. They are often used in remote work situations when employees need to log into a secure company network. A VPN effectively creates a “tunnel” that allows the user to transmit data without any unauthorized people monitoring the data in transit. Although zero-trust access networks are becoming more commonplace, most organizations still rely upon VPN connections when working remotely.

As cyberthreats continue to evolve, organizations must make sure they’re keeping up to date on the latest cybersecurity terms and terminologies. They also need to familiarize themselves with the most effective cybersecurity tools available, especially when it comes to the challenges of the remote workplace. Staying one step ahead of these cyberthreats is essential for growing your business and avoiding the catastrophic damage of a data breach.