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The Security Tango

Definitions

Backdoors

Many of the viruses that are circulating around the Internet are backdoor programs. A backdoor is a secret entrance into your computer. The virus opens that backdoor, and sends a message to the backdoor writer and/or to a whole list of people who share these backdoors. They allow anyone with the key to enter your computer over the Internet and do whatever they want with your machine, including download pornography or set up a server for illegally obtained music.

Definitions

When your antivirus or anti-spayware program searches your hard drive for malware, looking all the way through every single file would just take too much time. Luckily, there's a quicker way to check for a virus. Every virus has a "fingerprint," a unique identifier, some specific code that it must have to do its dirty work. Every antivirus or anti-spyware program as a set of these fingerprints, called "definitions," which it uses to match against malware. When new viruses or spyware come out (which they seem to be doing daily!), the good guys update their definitions in order to be able to detect the new malware.

Engines

The "engine" of an antivirus or anti-spyware program is the part of the program that actually does the job - searches the hard drive, deletes bad files, etc. Because the bad guys are always figuring out new ways to at you, the good guys need to update their engines to block those new ways.

Keystroke Loggers

Small programs that hide in the background, recording every key you type. Eventually, they send that information to someone out on the net, and that person hopes that they have recorded your credit card numbers, bank account information, passwords, social security number, and other important information.

Malware

Pretty much everything we're talking about here. It's a constructed word that basically means "bad software."

Script Kiddies

Most of the basic malware is written by a small handful of programmers. They create "kits," or "scripts," with which other people with no real talent or ability can create their own malware. These "scripts" are used by "script kiddies" to create most of the stuff we're seeing out on the net. "Script kiddie" is a seriously derogatory term. It implies that the person in question has no actual talent of his or her own, and is barely smart enough to follow someone else's script.

Spyware

Small programs that hide in the background, spying on what you do and where you go on the Internet. Eventually, they send that information to someone out on the net, and that person will have information about your surfing habits.

Trojans

Programs that pretend to be one thing, when they are really something else. For example, a program that purports to be a funny (or dirty) picture of Bill Clinton or Saddam Hussein, but, while you're looking at the picture, it's deleting files from your hard drive. The name, of course, comes from the tale of the Trojan Horse in Homer's Iliad.

Viruses

Computer code that is designed to do something unexpected, and usually malicious. Viruses are usually designed to spread from one computer to another, much like real-world viruses, hence the name. They can be transmitted via email, Web ads, downloads of programs or music, or via CDs and diskettes. Some viruses do their damage immediately, but most wait a while, which gives them time to infect your whole system, and all your email and diskettes. Effects can range from the silly (playing "Happy Birthday" or putting a cute picture on your screen) to totally destructive (wiping out your hard disk). The worst are the ones in between - they do something sneaky like change numbers in spreadsheets, but never "announce" their presence.

Worms

Viruses, Trojans, etc. that spread themselves from computer to computer with very little human intervention. They will, for example, set up their own email server and send out email from your system without you ever knowing it is happening.

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