Half the struggle with understanding cybersecurity is getting to grips with the vocabulary surrounding digital technologies and cybersecurity measures. Much like other industries, the ICT sector comes with its own rich and unique vocabulary. The difference between tech and other industries, however, is that the vocabulary used by cyber professionals can feel less like a glossary and more like a whole dictionary in itself. It feels like we’ve only just collectively learnt about VPNs in Australia, after all, and understanding VPNs is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cybersecurity.
To help alleviate any confusion, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to define 13 cybersecurity buzzwords you’re likely to encounter when exploring the world of internet security.
The word ‘botnet’ describes a network of private computers that have all been exposed to malicious software. Originally referred to as ‘robot networks’, botnets can generally be identified by computers displaying suspicious behaviours with no perceptible commands initiated, such as sending out unauthorised emails or messages or launching Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Computers within a botnet are referred to as ‘zombies’, and an individual who controls a botnet is referred to as a ‘bot-herder’.
2. Command-and-control server
The command-and-control server (also commonly referred to as a ‘C2’ or ‘C&C’ server) is the computer controlled by a hacker or ‘bot-herder’ in order to send commands to botnets or access information or data retrieved from compromised networks. Malware attacks that rely on remote manipulation of networks through the use of a C&C server are referred to as ‘command and control attacks’.
A cybersecurity measure that uses algorithms in order to convert user, device, or file information from a readable (or ‘plaintext’) format into an encrypted/encoded (or ‘ciphertext’) format. Encryption is considered to be one of the most effective methods of protecting sensitive information online, with governments worldwide using the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) symmetric-key algorithm to encrypt all sensitive data.
VPNs also use encryption capabilities to keep network connections and user/device information (like IP addresses) totally hidden from third party observers. This is why VPN use in Australia has been firmly on the rise.
Firewalls are either software or hardware-based defensive technology that limits access to a private network to reduce the risks of that network falling victim to a cyberattack. Firewalls can also be used to limit access to select sites for devices using that private network. For instance, educational institutions and corporations use firewalls to inhibit students or employees from accessing age-restricted content or irrelevant sites. Although devices on a private network can take measures to bypass firewalls, these methods are generally not recommended, as they can open your device and wider network to security breaches.
A network-attached system that’s set up to look like the network being targeted by hackers. Honeypots are generally established to act as decoys or even lures so that network users can safely monitor or observe hacker behaviour within their honeypot and develop a stronger understanding of any hacking attempt without causing their network to fall victim to that attack itself.
6. IP Address
Your IP address (or Internet Protocol address) is a unique combination of numbers used to identify devices on a particular network that is in turn, using a particular network provider. All the numbers in your IP address point back to particular networks and network providers, meaning that anybody who can see your IP address can easily also unearth your geographical location. VPNs obscure user IP addresses as a means of keeping your network connection as private as possible when browsing the web.
The term ‘malware’ refers to any and all malicious software that is developed by hackers for their own malevolent purposes. There are various different kinds of malware, ranging from ransomware to worms and computer viruses like Trojan horses. Some modern malware even use machine learning capabilities to adapt their attack processes in real-time. Thankfully machine learning can also be used in cybersecurity measures to help identify and combat malware.
Phishing is a technique used by hackers to obtain sensitive user or device information. Phishing attacks tend to take the form of fraudulent emails or SMS text messages that are designed to prompt users to engage with the message and respond with sensitive personal information. There are different kinds of phishing attacks, ranging from spear phishing (targeting one user and tailoring phishing content specifically for that user) to vishing which involves speaking to targets over a mobile phone call.
9. Proxy Server
A proxy server is a computer system or server application that acts as a ‘middleman’ connection between a user and the network they’re looking to access. Proxy servers can be used by hackers to gain access to a private network whilst obscuring the origin point of their own network connection. It’s common for hackers to use multiple proxy servers to make their connection even harder to trace. The practice of using multiple proxy servers is also often referred to as ‘proxy chaining’.
A rootkit is a set of software tools that are installed onto a computer or other device in order to grant a hacker or other unauthorised users remote access to that device. Rootkits can be downloaded manually by unsuspecting network users, or can be installed by connecting unknown USBs, HDDs, CDs, or other external storage devices to that computer. This is why many cybersecurity specialists advise individuals not to connect unknown devices to their computers wherever possible.
VPNs (or ‘virtual private networks’) are a service that effectively allows users to maintain a private network connection when accessing the web. VPNs work by providing users with what’s essentially an encrypted tunnel through which they can connect to the web without having their IP address or any other device or user information being displayed alongside their connection.
VPN users cannot be easily traced by websites who seek to gather device or user data from their site visitors, making them an effective cybersecurity measure for avid online shoppers. VPNs are also valuable for accessing regionally restricted content. Many Australian VPN users can enjoy watching international TV shows ahead of Australian air dates, or accessing content on streaming services like Netflix that can’t be found on their Australian equivalents.
12. Whitehat/Blackhat hackers
The difference between whitehat and blackhat hackers all boils down to their motivations. Whitehat hackers generally operate for benevolent reasons and use their skills with the intention of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of existing cybersecurity measures.
Contrastingly, blackhat hackers are malevolent individuals who use their skills primarily for their own benefits. Blackhat hackers may act to damage businesses and their reputations, to commit cybercrimes like identity theft, or to data-mine for a profit. Data mining for profit involves gathering sensitive user and device data that is then sold on the dark web to other malevolent persons.
13. Zero day
A zero day vulnerability is essentially a vulnerability resulting from a previous cyberattack that went undetected. Zero day attacks are considered to be highly damaging and difficult to mitigate as the source of the attack cannot be easily traced back to any particular anomaly within the network.
How many of these terms have you stumbled upon before? And how many are fresh additions to your own tech vocabulary? Regardless of how much more fleshed out your cybersecurity knowledge is now, engaging with these terms in real-world contexts will naturally help deepen your understanding of the inner machinations and methodologies of cybersecurity.
This is a sponsored article produced in partnership with Digital Next.