May 20

Computer Security Terms Explained

I have found through my day job (as a computer technician) that there is a lot of confusion over security in general when it comes to computers and especially a lot of confusion over what things actually do. This article is designed to give a brief explanation of some of the more common security components on your computer and some of the terms used when referring to computer security. Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of how you are being protected and what more you can do to keep yourself safe in the internet age.


Adware is software that is supported by advertisements that are displayed when you are using the software. For example a program where a window pops up to show you an advertisement for a product or service. While there are legitimate uses for adware it can also be used by people who want to track things such as your surfing habits to target specific advertising at you and are often more of an annoyance than a danger.


Anti Malware is often the term used to describe a tool that removes multiple types of malicious software. One such popular program is malwarebytes which removes everything from trojans to PUPS.

Anti Virus

AntiVirus is exactly what you think it is. It is software designed to detect, prevent and remove malicious code that infects your computer. Anti virus software always runs in the background and should update at regular intervals as new viruses are detected. Anti Virus programs can update on a daily basis. You should ALWAYS run antivirus software especially on any computer that connects to the internet.

software hardware firewallHardware/Software Firewall

Firewalls are the source of a lot of confusion when it comes to computer security.

A hardware firewall is something that sits between the internet and your home network.
A software firewall is something that sits between your computer and your home network

The hardware firewall protects your home network overall whereas a software firewall protects the individual computers on the network. For example if a computer on the network is infected by a virus, a firewall on another computer on the network may be protected from infection as it has a software firewall that stops the virus spreading

Hardware firewalls are usually built into routers but they can be purchased as a standalone product. The firewalls built into routers are usually set up with a set of default settings that can be adjusted by accessing your router.
All versions of windows since XP SP3 have a pre-installed software firewall called windows firewall. In most cases this firewall is activated automatically if windows does not detect a third-party firewall. There are many free and paid 3rd party firewalls available for those not happy with the windows built-in firewall such as comodo, outpost, zone alarm. (Free firewalls article)

Software firewalls are also usually included in security suites such as Kaspersky Internet Security, Norton 360.

There are lots of articles around that debate whether you need a third-party firewall or if the windows firewall is enough. My personal opinion is that for “most” users who have a hardware firewall built into the router the windows firewall is more than adequate and it is only worth looking at 3rd party alternatives if you need more features, have no hardware firewall or you are a little more paranoid about your security. I would always recommend running the windows firewall as oppose to no software firewall.

Internet Security Suite

There are many different type of Internet security software out there and not all of them do the same things. Security suites tend to encompass a range of tools along with antivirus and firewall software. Most like Kaspersky Internet Security and Norton 360 provide additional tools such as identity protection and IM protection for example.

computer virus

The downside to some internet security suites in my opinion is that they can be a bit of a drain on system resources as they do

sometimes tend to try and do too much. As with anything some of these security suites are very good but some are the complete other

end of the scale and are terrible. It is important to research the security suite before installing as a bad security suite can have a negative impact on your computer performance and give a false sense of security by trying to do too much with additional features and not concentrating on the basics.


Malware is short for malicious software and refers to any software or code installed on a computer for malicious purposes. Malware can be used for many reasons but the most popular are

  • Disrupt normal operation of the computer
  • Gather information such as passwords (How to create a secure password), sensitive information
  • Gain access to files
  • Damage data
  • Control a computer

Malware is a broad terms that includes viruses, worms, trojans, keyloggers and the more popular rogue security programs that tell you that you have multiple virus infections when in fact the software is the malicious program!

trojan horseTrojan

When security experts refer to a computer having a trojan they are referring to a trojan horse. This is a piece of software that appears to be something useful or desirable but is infact usually carrying a payload (A virus hidden inside a legitimate looking program)

A trojan should not be confused with a normal virus or malicious program as these infections are usually designed to open doors without the users knowledge to allow backdoor access to the infected computer. The more common use of a trojan horse is to give a hacker remote access to the computer.

Trojans are one of the most common infections currently effecting computer users.