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What is Internet Security? - Privacy, Protection & Essentials

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  • 1:19 Viruses
  • 2:35 Spyware
  • 4:14 Phishing Scams & Spam
  • 7:23 E-Mail Attachments
  • 9:07 Internet Browsing
  • 10:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

The Internet provides a wealth of information and services, but also presents certain risks. Learn about the various security threats and way to make your online activities more secure and enjoyable.

Internet Security

The Internet provides a wealth of information and services. Many activities in our daily lives now rely on the Internet, including various forms of communication, shopping, financial services, entertainment and many others. The growth in the use of the Internet, however, also presents certain risks. Just think about all the information you send over the Internet, such as personal messages, bank account information, photographs, etc.

As a typical Internet user, you have the reasonable expectation that your communications and transactions are private and secure. When you make a video call to a family member, you expect that nobody else is watching. When you buy something online with a credit card, you expect that nobody else can get access to your credit card details.

For the most part, the Internet is indeed private and secure, but there are a number of serious security risks. This lesson will review some of those security risks and provide some practical suggestions on how to address them.

Computer Viruses

One of the most serious threats consists of viruses and other harmful programs. A computer virus is a computer program that replicates itself into other computer programs and can cause damage to a computer's software, hardware or data. Once a virus is present on a computer, it typically performs some type of harmful action, such as corrupting data or obtaining sensitive information. Computer viruses are only one type of malware, short for malicious software. Malware is used by attackers to disrupt computer programs.

The best way to deal with the threat of a computer virus is to use antivirus software. Antivirus software helps to protect a computer system from viruses and other harmful programs. One of the most common ways to get a virus on your computer is to download a file from the Internet that is infected. Antivirus software scans your online activity to make sure you are not downloading infected files. Antivirus software also helps to detect and remove viruses from your computer system if you do get infected.

Spyware

Spyware is a program installed on your computer that sends information about you and how you use your computer to a third party, typically without you being aware this is happening. Spyware often enters your system when you install some type of free software from an untrusted source. Installation of the program you were interested in also installs the spyware. Since you authorized the installation, conventional protection methods, such as antivirus software, do not prevent spyware from getting installed in this manner.

Once the spyware program is installed, it starts collecting information. Some spyware programs are relatively harmless and collect very generic information that does not personally identify you. Other spyware programs may record your actual keystrokes, including any passwords, and may search through any of your files looking for something that looks like a credit card number. These types of spyware programs can definitely be harmful.

Once spyware has collected its information, it sends this to whoever created the program. Again, this happens without you noticing it. Removing the spyware can be difficult - often the program installs itself again as quickly as you can delete it. To counter spyware, you need to use a dedicated spyware management tool. Some antivirus software is bundled with spyware management tools, but they are separate functions.

Phishing Scams

Phishing is an email scam that is disguised as an official communication from a legitimate website. The message tricks people into providing sensitive information, such as their login details. A typical scam consists of a message that describes some issue with your account and requires you to log in to your account to confirm something. The message looks very official, using logos and formal language, just like you would expect from a legitimate source. The message also presents some sense of urgency to get you worried. When you follow the link, the Web page looks very real - but if you look closely, the Internet address is actually not the official one.

Financial institutions don't send out these types of messages. Don't follow the link. If you are seriously concerned, go to the institution's official Web site and log in to your account the way you normally would. Never log in to your account from a link sent to you in an email.

Spam

Spam consists of electronic junk mail. These are unwanted solicitations sent out to hundreds of thousands of Internet users, typically to buy something, to make a phony investment or to sign up for some type of online service.

Spammers collect email addresses using automated spiders that crawl across Web pages. Spiders also look through newsgroups and discussion forums. Spammers may also use a technique known as a directory harvest attack, which sends a message to millions of automatically generated email addresses. The ones that don't bounce back are considered real and are then used for spamming.

Spamming has become part of the Internet, just as junk mail has become part of the postal system. Antispam software has been developed to filter out the spam before it gets to your inbox. Antispam software uses a number of different strategies:

  • Blacklists are developed from email addresses and Internet domains that are known to be spammers. Emails from these sources are automatically filtered out.
  • Content filtering consists of examining the subject and text of an email message to identify terms and phrases typically associated with spam. Sophisticated filters determine the probability of a message being spam, and you can tweak the filter to be more or less aggressive during filtering.

Most email systems redirect spam into a special spam or junk mail folder. When you have a junk mail folder, you may want to check that everything in the folder is indeed spam. If you come across a particular email that should not have ended up in the spam folder, you can flag that particular email so that future messages from that sender are not considered spam.

Email Attachments

One of the most common ways for viruses, spyware and other harmful programs to spread is through email attachments. You may use email attachments regularly to send a file to a colleague or friend. It's one of the easiest ways to share files with one or more individuals without posting it on a Web site for the whole world to see. Because many computer users have become so comfortable with using email attachments, it has also become a major security threat.

Those looking to spread harmful programs or get access to private information send out emails with an attachment to unsuspecting users. When you open the attachment, a program gets installed on your computer, and you may not even notice that anything has happened.

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