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Glossary of Technology Terminology

Below is a brief list of technology terms and their definitions, listed in alphabetical order. This list was compiled simply for reference.

Anti-virus software

Software that all computers should have installed. It is used to scan computers for possible viral infections, and can aid users in quarantining and/or deleting viral infections. Anti-viral software should be regularly updated with new virus definitions provided by the vendor in order to ensure that new viruses, which are constantly changing, are found during scans.

Grayware

This type of software sits in a gray area between malware and legitimate software. Grayware is a less serious version of malware that often simply slows computers down, causes annoying popups, or causes some other annoying function that isn't necessarily damaging to the computer's files. Other types of grayware might include software that contains legitimate functions and uses, but also tacks on unwanted or irritating features.

IP address

The Internet Protocol address is a unique series of numbers assigned to any device connected to a network that uses Internet Protocol. It serves as a sort of "home address" that other devices can locate and connect to. There are two versions: IPv4 and IPv6. The latter was introduced when the possible unique combinations of numbers for the former was nearing exhaustion.

ISP

The Internet Service Provider. In other words, the company that is providing you Internet access (e.g. Comcast, Verizon, Hotwire).

Keyloggers

While there are a variety of types of keyloggers, they are generally either hardware-based or software-based and are designed to record every keystroke of the computer they are plugged into or infect. Because they can transmit information to a remote location, keyloggers are often used to steal passwords or sensitive information. They run invisibly in the background to avoid detection by users or security scans.

MAC address

The MAC (Media Access Control) address is an identifying number and letter sequence assigned to network adapters or network interface cards. It is used with network cards (for Ethernet, wireless Internet, Bluetooth, and more) as a way to identify that particular card on the network, much like an IP address is used to identify a particular computer.

Malware

Short for malicious software, malware is software that can infiltrate a user's computer and damage files without the user's consent. Damage isn't always visible, and can range from minimal to severe depending on the type of malware and the site of infection. Malware is defined by the software creator's malicious intent and thus does not include legitimate software with damaging bugs. However, malware can be disguised as legitimate software.

Network drive

A shared folder system that any computer connected to the domain or network can access and write to, depending on the permissions set up by the administrator.

Phishing

A type of spam message that seeks to encourage users or frighten them into providing sensitive information such as login credentials or banking information. Phishers seek to gain access to accounts and steal money from the victim. Oftentimes, phishing scams will request back information, direct users to a site where they should login, or masquerade as an authority or support figure and panic users into following their instructions. This type of spam is very dangerous and very tricky.

Spam

The reason for the junk mail folder in most email accounts. Spam is unsolicited email that is often sent out automatically in mass quantities and details anything from pharmaceutical products, software sales, and social networking invites to simple "click here" messages and lewd invitations. Spam itself isn't necessarily harmful to a computer or user unless the user responds to it or opens any attachments the spam message includes. Spam messages can and should be safely deleted without response.

Spyware

A type of malware that can include keyloggers and tracking cookies. Spyware is installed on computers without the user's consent, usually through normal surfing or file downloading (depending on sites visited and links clicked). It can then collect a variety of information about the user, including surfing habits, sites visited, and personal information, but it can also interfere with connection settings, computer speed, personal settings, and program functionality.

Thumb drive (or flash/USB drive)

A small, portable hard drive that can fit on a keyring. It can be plugged into a computer's USB port, and files/folders can be transferred onto it. They can usually store anywhere from 1 GB to 16+ GB worth of data.

Trojan (or Trojan horse)

A type of malware that comes disguised as legitimate software and thus appears harmless. These malicious software packages or bridges can also accompany legitimate software downloaded from questionable sites or users. Most often, a trojan horse invisibly installed on a user's computer paves the way for a hacker to gain remote access to the infected computer, thus allowing the hacker to take control, install other malware, or steal personal information.

Virus

Just like a real virus, a computer virus is code that can copy itself into a "host" file or program and replicate itself. Computer viruses can also spread from one computer to another via portable media such as external hard drives, CD-Rs, or USB thumb drives. If a virus infects a file on a shared or network drive, other users who access that file over the network can have their computers infected. Damage from a virus varies--some can completely hose a computer, while others might only reproduce themselves and cause similar annoyances.

Worm

Unlike a virus, a worm (another type of malware) does not need to infect a file or program in order to replicate and cause damage. Worms can exploit security vulnerabilities in the operating system, and can spread itself through a network, making them highly problematic. However, updated anti-virus and a reliable firewall can help prevent infection.