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
Paul Zandbergen

Paul is a GIS professor at Vancouver Island U, has a PhD from U of British Columbia, and has taught stats and programming for 15 years.

Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

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 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 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.

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Additional Activities

Internet Security Word Search Activity

This activity will help you assess your knowledge of privacy, protection, and essentials in internet security.


For this activity, print this page on a blank piece of paper. Search and highlight the word that will complete each of the given clues. Afterward, neatly write them on the appropriate blank space in the clues.


  1. Once the spyware program is _____, it immediately starts collecting user information.
  2. Spammers are individuals who send undesired electronic content to email addresses collected using automated _____.
  3. Email _____ determine the probability of a message being spam by processing incoming messages with anti-spam techniques.
  4. _____ is a piece of software that is used to detect, delete, and/or neutralize computer-based viruses.
  5. A spyware management tool is usually installed in a computer to _____ spyware programs.
  6. When the replication of the virus succeeds, the affected areas are then said to be _____.
  7. Software which has been designed to operate in a malicious, undesirable manner is called a _____.
  8. _____ software includes tools to manage cookies and enable private browsing.
  9. _____ is the use of messaging systems to send an unsolicited message, especially advertising, as well as sending messages repeatedly on the same website.
  10. The malicious act of keeping a false website or sending a false e-mail with the intent of acquiring sensitive information is known as _____.

Answer Key


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