Protect your Mac

Security terms explained

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Zombies and worms and bots—oh my! Most Mac users haven’t had a reason to be familiar with the security world’s colorful terminology. Here’s a primer.


Back door A means of accessing your computer or protected data without your knowledge or permission.
Bot A small program designed to mimic a person’s behavior—for instance, by sending messages via chat software.
Keylogger A program, usually hidden, that records everything you type. Its purpose is to capture your passwords, credit card numbers, Web passwords, and other private info and send them back to someone.
Malware A general-purpose term for all software written for nefarious reasons.
Phishing The process of using counterfeit e-mail messages or Web pages to trick people into providing user names, passwords, and more.
Phone home What keyloggers and other spyware programs running on your computer do when it’s time to transmit your private info to the malware’s author.
Spyware Hidden software that collects your private information—either by keylogging or by accessing your documents—and then phones home.
Trojan horse Malware that pretends to be something else—an image or a software program. It can’t do anything to your computer until you activate it.
Virus Malware that can spread itself by infecting applications, operating-system files, or documents on your computer.
Worm Malware that can spread itself without touching existing applications. Usually it’s a stand-alone piece of code.
Zombie A computer that has been hijacked, without the owner’s knowledge, to perform tasks for someone else.

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