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UK citizens confused by security terminology

Survey: Many Internet users in the UK don't understand words like phishing, Trojan and spam, which could make them more likely to fall victim to cybercrime
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Written by Dan Ilett on

Many people in the UK don't understand terms commonly used for Internet scams and hacking attacks, a study suggests.

A survey conducted by Populus and entitled "Do you speak geek?" revealed that words, such as phishing, rogue dialler, Trojan and spyware were often a mystery to 1,000 people questioned, of whom over half were Internet users.

A spokesman from AOL, which commissioned the study, said that home PC users were more susceptible to scams if they were unfamiliar with the concepts and words behind them.

"Some of the terms being bandied around are more suitable for a computer programmers' convention than for people who want to go online at home," said Will Smith, a security professional at AOL. "If Internet users can’t understand the language used to describe these risks, they are going to find it hard to not get ripped off."

Rogue diallers are software applications that are secretly installed on a computer and dial premium rate telephone numbers for Internet access. This can result in expensive phone bills. A Trojan is a seemingly innocuous application that secretly installs software or performs actions which are malicious in nature such as giving hackers control of the machine the Trojan is run on. Spyware programs secretly copy information that is entered on a computer and report it back to a third party.

A high number of respondents, 83 percent, said they were worried about their personal information being stolen. Identity theft email scams — known as phishing scams — have been widely reported in the press, but the survey found that 84 percent of those questioned failed to understand the term.

Thirty-nine percent of people surveyed were unfamiliar with the word Trojan. And although 76 percent of respondents were concerned about the number of junk emails they received, 16 percent said they had never heard of the term 'spam'.

More than a fifth of respondents admitted not knowing how to tackle online security problems.

AOL claimed that the majority of people surveyed understood Internet scams after they were given a simple definition of the word "phishing".

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