Types of Internet Security Threats

By Milton Kazmeyer

Hackers and their malicious programs can be a major online security threat.
i Hlib Shabashnyi/iStock/Getty Images

The Internet can be a dangerous place, with threats lurking around every virtual corner. These malicious programs and individuals can compromise your computer system, steal your identity and even clean out your bank account if they manage to breach your defenses. Keep an actively updated malware suite on any PC connected to the Internet, and learn to spot the obvious threats to keep yourself safe.

Viruses and Malware

Malware programs can access your PC in a variety of different ways. In some cases, the malicious programs masquerade as legitimate downloads; in others, they may infect files on popular download sites. Additionally, they can take root on your computer via your browser by using scripting language on a hijacked Web page. Email attachments are an extremely common method of infection, since many users will open an attachment sent by an infected friend or coworker without thinking twice about it.

Worms and Botnets

Some threats can even use your computer to launch attacks against other targets. Worms are automated pieces of malware that use security loopholes to travel from system to system across the Internet. A worm can infest your system and attack any computer connected to the same network. Botnet or zombie programs are even more malicious, as they dig deep into the operating system of infected PCs and perform commands for the malware author. A common hacker tactic is to infect large numbers of systems at once and force them all to simultaneously flood a target site with connection requests, knocking it offline.

Spyware and Keyloggers

Some security threats are subtle. Spyware programs take root on your PC to record information about your browsing habits, reporting the information to advertisers. Depending on the nature of the software, it may also try to redirect your search engine requests and home page to commercial sites in order to maximize the author's profit. Keyloggers are similar, but much more malicious. These programs hide on your computer in order to capture passwords and account numbers as you type them in, transmitting the data to a third party for exploitation.

Scams and Phishing

Ultimately, some of the most dangerous threats to your online security come from other humans. Scams abound online, and one of the most prevalent involves tricking you into voluntarily giving up account information. These techniques usually begin with emails or forged contacts from financial institutions, warning you of a potential threat and insisting that you provide identity information to reclaim your account. Of course, the email or website provided for you to send in that information is illegitimate, and by responding you inadvertently create the security threat.