Cybersecurity Awareness Month:
3 Terms You Should Know to Stay Protected

malware alert on computer

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month – a great time to ask yourself if you are doing what you can to keep you and your family safe and secure online. 

In a previous blog post, we laid out several critical steps you can take to practice smart cyber-safety, from creating strong passwords to updating the software on your devices. But practicing cybersecurity tactics and understanding what to look out for go hand and hand! Don’t stress though, we’ve broken down the three most common cybersecurity terms for you. 

1. Cookies

Have you noticed that every time you visit a website, you run into a pop-up message asking if you want to accept, reject, or customize your cookie settings? Even if you find yourself tempted to quickly click “accept” to get rid of that pop-up, it’s important to know what you are agreeing to.

For starters, what exactly is a cookie?

A cookie is a small text file that can be stored on a user’s browser when visiting a website. Websites use cookies for many reasons, but some of the main ones are to store user preferences, track how a site is being used by visitors, and provide tailored advertising. 

Since there is currently no consistent cookie usage policy that applies to all of the United States, visitors must grapple with the many different approaches websites use to notify users about cookies and data tracking. Your best bet? Investigate the cookie policy of the websites you use. That way you can make an informed decision about how much access you want to allow to your personal information. 

2. Malware 

Short for “malicious software,” malware is any type of computer program designed to harm your computer or device. Most commonly, malware is created and used by cybercriminals to gain access to your computer or device so they can obtain sensitive data. 

There are several different types of malware, including viruses, which are so prevalent that we’ll address them separately. Being able to detect and prevent malware begins with learning about each type, which include:

  • Ransomware: This type of malware demands that victims pay a ransom to regain access to their computer or data. Even when a victim pays the ransom, the stolen files can sometimes remain locked or be deleted by the cybercriminal. 
  • Worms: A type of malware that can replicate by itself and spread throughout a network.
  • Trojans: In line with its name, trojans are a type of malware that comes disguised as normal software, applications, or files to trick a person into downloading it and, unknowingly, gain access to their devices.
  • Adware: A type of malware that downloads or displays pesky, unwanted ads when a user is online or redirects search requests to certain advertising websites.

3. Virus

A malware virus, much like a flu virus, is designed to spread from device to device and can replicate itself. While some are harmless, others can damage or destroy data files. Hackers can also use viruses to access and steal your personal information. 

There are several ways a device can become infected by a virus. Most of them involve downloading – either intentionally or unintentionally – infected files, programs, or documents. Pirated music or movies and free games are common culprits, as are phishing emails that contain attachments.

If you’re experiencing any of the following issues, your computer might be infected with a virus: 

  • Emails sent from your account without your knowledge
  • Slowed operations (i.e., programs take a long time to load)
  • Frequent crashes and error messages
  • Strange or spam pop-up windows
  • New apps that you don’t remember installing

Stay suspicious, stay protected

There are two important ways to stay protected from a virus: 

  1. Be vigilant online, and 
  2. Subscribe to a reputable antivirus software, like McAfee or Norton…or at the very least sign up for Avast’s free antivirus software. These programs will periodically analyze your computer to see if anything is awry and will often warn you before you visit a suspicious website or download a dangerous program.

Staying safe in the digital environment is complicated – but we’re here to help. To learn some easy ways to keep your data secure, read our recent blog, 4 Cybersecurity Tips To Keep You Safe & Protected.