When it comes to being a cybersecurity professional, you not only have to have the knowledge to do the job but also the appropriate vocabulary. This is hardly a surprise since whenever a new field of expertise arrives on the scene, it inevitably spawns new words, acronyms, and phrases.

By being able to converse in the language of cybersecurity, you project an image of experience and competency, which can be reassuring to customers. After all, explaining that “the system is experiencing a data breach thanks to spyware uploaded by a Black Hat hacker” sounds like you know what you’re talking about, and also implies that you can handle the problem. Explaining that the “computer-thingy’s not working good because a bad guy who doesn’t work for the company has put something bad in it” won’t foster much confidence.

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With that in mind, here are the top 20 terms you should know.

Top Cybersecurity Terms to Learn

  1. Authentication 

    The process of identifying a user’s identity, making sure that they can have access to the system and/or files. This can be accomplished either by a password, retina scan, or fingerprint scan, sometimes even a combination of the above.
  2. Botnet

    A combination of the words “robot” and “network”, a botnet is a network of computers that have been infected with a virus, and now are working continuously in order to create security breaches. These attacks come in the form of Bitcoin mining, sending spam e-mails, and DDoS attacks (see below).
  3. Data Breach

    The result of a hacker successfully breaking into a system, gaining control of its network and exposing its data, usually personal data covering items such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, and more.
  4. DDoS 

    The acronym stands for Distributed Denial of Service and is a favorite Black Hat tool. Using multiple hosts and users, hackers bombard a website with a tidal wave of requests to such an extent that it locks up the system and forces it to temporarily shut down.
  5. Domain 

    A series of computers and associated peripherals (routers, printers, scanners), that are all connected as one entity.
  6. Encryption 

    Coding used to protect your information from hackers. Think of it like the code cipher used to send a top-secret coded spy message.
  7. Exploit 

    A means of attack on a computer system, either a series of commands, malicious software, or piece of infected data. Note that in this context, “exploit” is a noun, not a verb, as in “The hacker used a malware exploit to gain access to the credit card’s server.”
  8. Firewall 

    Any technology, be it software or hardware, used to keep intruders out.
  9. Hacker, Black Hat

    Any hacker who attempts to gain unauthorized access to a system with the intent to cause mischief, damage, or theft. They can be motivated by greed, a political agenda, or simply boredom.
  10. Hacker, White Hat

    A hacker who is invited to test out computer systems and servers, looking for vulnerabilities, for the purposes of informing the host of where security needs to be buffed up. They are benign hackers, personifying the old axiom “It takes a thief to catch a thief”. Sometimes called “ethical hackers.

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  11. Malware

    A portmanteau of “malicious” and “software”, describing a wide variety of bad software used to infect and/or damage a system. Ransomware, worms, viruses, and trojans are all considered malware. It most often delivered via spam emails.
  12. Man in the Middle Attack

    An attack on the “middleman”, in this case, defined as the Wi-Fi system that connects users to the Internet. Hackers who commit Man in the Middle Attacks can break the Wi-Fi’s encryption and use this as a means of stealing your personal data because they’re now in the system.
  13. Phishing

    A scam where a hacker poses as a legitimate business or organization (especially credit card companies, banks, charities, Internet providers, other utilities) in order to fool the victim into giving them sensitive personal information or inducing them to click a link or attachment that ends up delivering malware. Some of these schemes are extremely well done, others are sloppy and amateurish and can be spotted with just a little extra vigilance.
  14. Ransomware

    A form of malware that hijacks your system and encrypts your files, denying you access to them until you send money to unlock everything. In other words, it kidnaps your computer and holds it for ransom, hence the clever name.
  15. Spoofing

    Sadly, this has nothing to do with Weird Al Yankovic doing a parody version of a popular song. Rather, it’s when a hacker changes the IP address of an email so that it seems to come from a trusted source.
  16. Spyware

    A form of malware used by hackers to spy on you and your computer activities. If a mobile device such as a smartphone is infected with spyware, a hacker can read your text messages, redirect your phone calls, and even track down where you are physically located!
  17. Trojan Horse

    Yet another form of malware, this one a misleading computer program that looks innocent, but in fact allows the hacker into your system via a back door, allowing them to control your computer.
  18. Virus

    Malware which changes, corrupts, or destroys information, and is then passed on to other systems, usually by otherwise benign means (e.g. sending an email). In some cases, a virus can actually cause physical damage.
  19. VPN

    An acronym standing for Virtual Private Network, a VPN is a method of connecting a series of computers and devices in a private encrypted network, with each user’s IP address being replaced by the VPN’s IP address. Users get Internet anonymity, making it difficult for hackers to attack.
  20. Worm

    Malware that can reproduce itself for the purposes of spreading itself to other computers in the network. Particularly nasty, worms can either be simply a means of slowing down a system by eating up resources, or by committing exploits such as installing back doors or stealing data.


Now that you’ve been brought up to speed with this list of popular terms, perhaps the next step is to sharpen your cybersecurity skills, either for upskilling or with the idea of starting a new career. Simplilearn’s Cyber Security Expert masters’ program equips you with the skills needed to become an expert in this rapidly growing field. The program teaches you comprehensive approaches to protecting your infrastructure, including securing data and information, running risk analysis and mitigation, architecting cloud-based security, achieving compliance and much more with this best-in-class program.

The program consists of five courses, including cloud security and the above-mentioned ethical hacker, presented in over 96 hours of live online classes and more than 64 hours of e-learning content. You will earn a Masters certificate for each course, and be ready to jump into a career that can earn you an average annual salary of USD $100K.

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About the Author

John TerraJohn Terra

John Terra lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and has been writing freelance since 1986. Besides his volume of work in the gaming industry, he has written articles for Inc.Magazine and Computer Shopper, as well as software reviews for ZDNet. More recently, he has done extensive work as a professional blogger. His hobbies include running, gaming, and consuming craft beers. His refrigerator is Wi-Fi compliant.

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