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 yourself and your family safe and secure online. 

Why it matters: Cybercriminals are always looking for vulnerabilities to exploit. In fact, the United States remains the most highly targeted country for cyberattacks. By taking cybersecurity measures, we can protect our personal information, financial data, and intellectual property from theft, damage, or unauthorized access.

A basic understanding of common cybersecurity terms can go a long way toward keeping your money, identity, and family safe.

1. Cookies

If you’ve ever browsed the web, you’re probably familiar with those pesky pop-up messages that greet you on nearly every website, asking if you want to accept, reject, or customize your cookie settings.

It’s tempting to click “accept” just to make them disappear, but do you really know what you’re agreeing to?

At the heart of the digital conundrum lies a small, unassuming text file known as a cookie.

The details: When you visit a website, it has the power to secretly place cookies on your browser to store user preferences, track how you use their site, and provide tailored advertising. 

Since no single, uniform cookie usage policy 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.

Be smart: Investigate the cookie policy of the websites you use. That way, you can make informed decisions about how much access you’re comfortable granting to your personal information. 

2. Malware 

Short for “malicious software,” malware is any type of computer program designed to harm your computer or device. Even worse, cybercriminals often create and use it with one primary objective: gaining access to your digital domain to steal sensitive data. 

The details: There are several 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 includes:

  • Ransomware: This type of malware encrypts your computer files and demands a ransom to restore access. Even if you pay the ransom, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your files back, as cybercriminals can be unpredictable. 
  • Worms: This malware can self-replicate and spread throughout a network, causing significant damage to the affected system. Because they can replicate themselves, worms are notoriously challenging to detect and eliminate.
  • Trojans: In line with its name, trojans are malware that hides in plain sight. Disguised as seemingly harmless software, applications, or files, they trick unsuspecting users into downloading them. Once installed, Trojans can steal sensitive data and cause significant damage to your device.
  • 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. Adware can slow down your device and make it difficult to browse the web.

Be smart: Learn what steps you can take to prevent malware – from keeping your devices and software updated to thinking twice before clicking on unexpected emails or text messages.

3. Virus

Similar to a flu virus, a malware virus is created to spread from one device to another and can self-replicate. Although some viruses are harmless, others can damage or destroy data files. Additionally, hackers use viruses to access and steal your personal information. 

The details: There are several ways viruses can infiltrate your device. Most involve the downloading of infected files, programs, or documents.

Pirated music, movies, and free games are common culprits, as are phishing emails containing attachments.

Be smart: Look out for these telltale signs that your device may be harboring a virus: 

  • You discover emails sent from your account without your knowledge.
  • Your device becomes suddenly sluggish, with programs taking an eternity to load.
  • You encounter a flurry of unexplained crashes and error messages.
  • Strange or spammy pop-up windows contain ads, offers, or even more malicious payloads.
  • New apps appear on your device that you don’t remember installing.

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