Top 20 digital security terms you should know

SSL, PGP, VPN… If you feel bewildered and keep asking yourself what it all means, check out our essential glossary of digital security terms. Here’s a short list of terms you should know. We’ve used sources such as Tactical Technolgy Collective,  PC Tools and WatchGuard to tell you exactly what’s what.

  1. Backdoor – a hole in a computer system’s security structure deliberately left in place by designers or maintainers. Skype is said to have such backdoors, which can allow third parties to tap into your conversations.
  2. Browser fingerprinting – a method of collecting information about web surfers which analyzes their browser configuration, such as screen size or system fonts.
  3. Collusion – a Google Chrome add-on that helps to visualize and block the invisible websites that track you.
  4. Cookie – a small text file saved on your computer by your browser. It can help identify a user and record personal information such as an ID and password, mailing address or credit card number.
  5. Darknet – a computer network with restricted access that is used chiefly for illegal peer-to-peer file sharing.
  6. DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service Attack) – an attempt to make a machine or website unavailable to users by overwhelming it with requests, thus slowing it down considerably or making communication with it impossible.
  7. Digital signature – a way of using encryption to prove that a particular file or message was truly sent by the person claiming to have sent it. Creating a digital signature involves elaborate mathematical techniques that the sender and recipient can both perform on transmitted data. A digital signature typically depends upon three elements: public key encryption, a Certificate Authority and a digital certificate.
  8. End-to-end encryption – the way data is protected by encoding it at the starting point and then decoding it at the destination. Examples of end-to-end encryption include PGP for email and OTR for instant messaging.
  9. HTTPS – a variation of the web communication standard HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) enabling secure data transmission. You can usually see if you’re using HTTPS in the upper left corner of your browser’s address bar.
  10. IP address (Internet Protocol address) – a unique identifier assigned to your computer when it’s connected to the Internet. Masking your IP address can help disguise your location and other personal details.
  11. Linux – an open source version of the UNIX operating system considered to be extremely secure.
  12. Open source software – computer software with a source code that can be seen, modified and distributed freely. Open source software is generally considered a safer alternative than proprietary software because developers can test it to detect any backdoors.
  13. OTR (Off The Record) – cryptographic protocol used for encrypting instant messaging conversations. For example, OTR is used with the Pidgin instant messaging program.
  14. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) – a freeware program primarily for secure electronic mail. Alternative: GnuPG. OpenPGP is a protocol for encrypting email using public key cryptography and is based on PGP.
  15. Spyware – software that collects information about your computer and how you use it and then relays that information to someone else over the Internet. Spyware ordinarily runs in the background and often installs itself on your computer without your knowledge or permission.
  16. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) – a standard security technology that allows sensitive information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers and login credentials to be transmitted securely.
  17. TLS (Transport Layer Security) – a protocol for encrypting web, email and other stream-oriented information sent over the Internet. It is derived from the SSL protocol.
  18. Tor (The Onion Router) – an anonymity tool that allows you to bypass Internet censorship and hide the websites and Internet services you visit, while also disguising your own location.
  19. Virus – a program or code that replicates itself onto other files with which it comes into contact. Most viruses only replicate, although many can do damage to a computer system or a user’s data as well.
  20. VPN (Virtual Private Network) – a secure network that comes in handy when you surf on open wifi networks in cafés, libraries, etc. since it encrypts your Internet traffic, keeping it from prying eyes. A popular VPN service for both computer and mobile use is Hotspot Shield.

Originally written for the Deutsche Welle Akademie.

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