Malware, phishing, cybersecurity: terms you need to know

Jodesz Gavilan

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Malware, phishing, cybersecurity: terms you need to know
Understanding the terms often associated with hackers and cybersecurity may come in handy against cybercrimes

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is facing possibly the biggest data leak yet.

On March 28, LulzSec Pilipinas released data stolen from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) website that includes the personal information of 55 million Filipino voters. Weeks later, on April 21, another website made the data searchable, but this was eventually taken down through the efforts of Philippine authorities in cooperation with their US counterparts.

Now that the threat of hacking has become a concern for most Filipinos, Rappler defines the common terms associated with hacking and cyber threats. This may come in handy in securing not just your computer system but also your personal information. (READ: How to protect your computer vs cyberattacks)

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity, according to the United States National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS), refers to the process which enables the protection of systems and important personal or corporate data from “damage, unauthorized use or modification, or exploitation.”

Ensuring cybersecurity includes coming up with preventive methods that often require a thorough understanding of potential threats – including the range of malware that can be used by hackers. 


Encryption is a process by which message content – usually important information – is scrambled to enhance security and reduce vulnerability to breaches. Its primary purpose, according to TechTarget, is to protect the confidentiality of digital data stored on computer systems or transmitted via the Internet or other networks.

Encrypted data – also called cipher text – can only be read by people who have the right decryption key.


A backdoor is an application that open a computer to remote access without necessarily going through standard security protocols. The method involves bypassing mechanisms intended to keep intruders out.

According to a 2014 report by Internet security software company Trend Micro, backdoors play a crucial role in attacks against specific individuals or corporations – usually to disrupt businesses or to make political statements. These backdoors pave the way for cybercriminals to breach a system or a private network without being discovered. 

The report added that backdoors used in targeted attacks are more powerful, and are especially designed to bypass any type of intrusion detection system (IDS).


According to Darthmouth College’s Institute for Security Technology Studies, cyberattacks are computer-to-computer attacks that undermine the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of a computer or information it contains.

Examples of cyberattacks are man-in-the-middle (MITM), zero day attack, and Denial-of-Service Attack (DoS).

MITM is defined by software security group Kaspersky as an attack wherein a hacker puts malicious software between two communicating parties while in the process impersonating one party.  An example is when an attacker plants a code in the browser that can secretly record data or information.

Zero day attack refers to exploiting a vulnerability which already exists. Hackers take advantage of this usually undetected flaw by using it to release malicious code into the system.

Denial of Service attack (DoS) involves attempts by a hacker to interrupt the operation of systems. This type of attack, although usually not carried out to steal information, can lead to great loss of money and time for companies.

Malware: How they cause harm

Short for malicious software, malware refers to software that can be utilized to intrude in or cause harm to a computer or system. These programs can affect how computers function, or worse, steal private information that may lead to potential criminal activities.

Malware can spread in various ways – through emails, webpages, and the use of infected disks or drives. There are also many types of malware that can render computers vulnerable and may cause more damage if not immediately detected.

A root kit is a type of malware designed to give remote access to hackers. Once it is installed in a computer, the party behind the malicious software can control the system. For example, it can steal files or modify settings.

Spyware can tap into a user’s activities without detection. It can be used to harvest important data from private accounts through keyloggers – a type of spyware that can keep track of the activities of your keyboard thus can be used to record your passwords.

Virus, worm, Trojan horse: What’s the difference?

It is a common mistake among computer users to believe that a virus, worm, and a Trojan horse are the same thing. While they are all malicious programs that may harm a computer, they are different from one another.

A computer virus can spread from computer to computer, usually via an executable file. According to technology company Cisco, a virus can be activated when a user opens or runs a malicious host program or file. Once infected, a computer system may experience a performance reduction or corrupted programs and files.

Unlike a virus, a worm does not attach itself to a program to spread. This type of malware can self-propagate by exploiting vulnerabilities in the system’s existing security. An example is the Conficker worm, which can disable critical security and system services of a computer.

A Trojan horse may look legitimate up front. Once users load or activate it in their systems, this type of malware can launch various attacks including corrupting files and stealing information. Security software company AVG Technologies says a Trojan may also create a backdoor that enables hackers to make changes in the system to steal data.


Phishing, according to Trend Micro, is another method used to gain sensitive personal information from a user to be used for identify theft. Although it doesn’t necessarily breach a system, phishing comes with malicious intent. 

Scammers make use of emails that appear authentic that can lure recipients into giving out bank accounts and credit card details. These emails are usually structured to look like they come from reputable companies, which then lead recipients to fake websites where they are asked to input their personal information.

In 2013, criminals made use of an Apple ID phishing scheme to get information from users that included billing addresses and credit card details.  –

Read more about the Comelec breach and how you can protect yourself:

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.