What is a Computer Security Risk? - Definition & Types

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  • 0:03 What Is a Computer…
  • 0:45 Viruses, Worms, & Ransomware
  • 1:39 Spyware & Trojan Horses
  • 2:24 Misconfiguration
  • 3:36 Unsafe Computing Habits
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Nott

Christopher has taught college level information technology and IT security, has a master's degree in Information Security, and holds numerous industry certifications.

Your computer is at risk! It's all over the news. We hear it every day, but what does that mean? What is a computer security risk? In this lesson, we'll define it and give some examples.

What Is a Computer Security Risk?

A computer security risk is really anything on your computer that may damage or steal your data or allow someone else to access your computer, without your knowledge or consent. There are a lot of different things that can create a computer risk, including malware, a general term used to describe many types of bad software. We commonly think of computer viruses, but, there are several types of bad software that can create a computer security risk, including viruses, worms, ransomware, spyware, and Trojan horses. Misconfiguration of computer products as well as unsafe computing habits also pose risks. Let's look at these in more detail.

Viruses, Worms, & Ransomware

Viruses are malware that are attached to other files in your system and may be used to destroy your data. Viruses have many capabilities, but, unlike worms, they usually require human interaction to spread from system to system, even if the user is unaware they are spreading it.

Worms are like viruses, but, they have the ability to spread themselves from computer to computer, all on their own. They know how to attach themselves to portable storage devices, like USB drives or removable hard drives, or to move through the network by automatically moving to connected machines.

Ransomware is a relatively new term for malware that, when installed on your system, makes all of your files unreadable, holding your data hostage until you pay the hacker the ransom. Ransomware may be delivered by a virus or by a worm and there is no guarantee that, even if you pay the ransom, you'll get your data restored.

Spyware & Trojan Horses

Spyware is malware that steals your data and may be used to spy on you by using your webcam or microphone without your knowledge. Once spyware is installed, it may steal your sensitive data by recording the login information you use or looking for sensitive files on your computer, then sending that data back to an attacker. In recent months, hackers have been able to access the webcam and microphone of computers and use pictures, video, or audio recordings to blackmail their victims.

Trojan Horses are a special kind of virus. Like the famed wooden horse used by the Greeks to infiltrate the walled city of Troy, Trojan horse viruses are used to deliver other types of malware by hiding them inside programs or files that look legitimate.


Most operating systems today come with some sort of built-in firewall, and there are many third-party tools, normally referred to as 'end-point protection' suites, to protect your computer. These suites of tools usually incorporate different tools to help defend against the risks we've mentioned so far.

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