Glossary of Digital Terms

See also: Back-up and Storage Solutions

Adware. A piece of software that automatically downloads or shows an advertisement when a user is online. The advertisements may be banners, pop-ups or other forms.

Application, app. A computer programme, often specifically one for mobile phones or tablets.

Blog. An online diary or series of articles. Short for ‘weblog’. v. blogging, n. blogger. See also vlog.

Buffering. The process of data being pre-downloaded and stored in a temporary cache before use. It is used for large data files such as those in streaming. This process can cause pauses in playback as more data are downloaded.

Clicktivism. Online support for a cause, often via social media, typically backed by little or no ‘real’ activity.

Cloud, cloud computing. The provision of computer system resources, including both power and storage, from remote locations, usually large data centres. Many businesses have their own private clouds, but services such as Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, and Dropbox all provide cloud storage to ordinary users.

Cyber-attack. An attempt to destroy or damage a computer network or system.

Cyberbullying. Bullying that takes place online or using digital means.

Cyber-security. Measures used to protect computer systems from cyber-attack. May include virus protection, malware protection, and use of passwords.

Denial-of-service (DOS) attack. A form of cyber-attack that aims to shut down a network or service, and make it unavailable to users. A distributed denial-of-service is similar, and aims to flood a network or service with traffic, so that it is unable to function. This is why some spam emails and messages urge you to forward the message immediately to ‘at least ten people’, or ‘all your contacts’.

E-commerce. Commercial transactions carried out electronically, using the internet. Also often known as online shopping.

Fake news. News stories that are either completely untrue, or do not contain all the truth, with a view to deliberately misleading readers.



Malware. Any piece of software designed to harm or damage a computer, system or network. Malware includes viruses, worms, ransomware, spyware, adware and Trojan horses, among others.

Mobile (computing). The use of a mobile phone to access the internet.

Operating system. The underlying software that manages a computer’s hardware and software, and provides the user interface. Examples include Android, iOS and Windows.

Password. A word or phrase that you use to gain access to a particular website or account, known only to you. Strong passwords contain both upper- and lower-case letters, plus alphanumeric or other characters (not just letters).

Pharming. Directing users to a fake website that looks like or purports to be a genuine site, for the purposes of obtaining personal information or payments.

Phishing. A fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive data or information from someone, such as usernames, passwords, or bank details, or simply to obtain money. Phishers usually pretend to be someone trustworthy. Phishing is usually done by email, but may also be by text message or other messaging service. See also spear phishing, whaling for specific forms of phishing.

Ransomware. A malicious piece of software designed to prevent you from accessing your own computer, information or data until you have paid a ‘ransom’.

Scam. A dishonest scheme or fraud, including via computer.

Social media. Websites or applications that allow users to create and share their own content via social networks.

Spam. Unwanted and unsolicited email.

Spear phishing. A phishing attack aimed at a specific organisation.

Spyware. A piece of software that covertly transmits data about computer activities from one computer hard drive to another. It therefore allows one person to find out what someone else  is doing on their computer.

Streaming. The digital distribution of content via the internet. It is mostly used in the context of television, but podcasts are also delivered via streaming. In technical terms, streaming is the delivery of data to a computer as a continuous stream (rather than a single download). Playback and use of the data can therefore start while data are still being transmitted to the computer.

Trojan horse. A piece of malware that misleads computer users about its intent.

url. Short for ‘uniform resource locator’, a url is basically a website’s ‘address’.

User. Anyone using a computer.

User interface. How a user interacts with a computer, including a smartphone, tablet, or laptop: what the user sees when they open the device and log in.

Virus. A piece of software or code that can ‘infect’ a computer system and do some damage. Viruses generally need some kind of human interaction to spread, and are often attached to files.

Vlog. A video diary hosted online. An extension of the term ‘blog’ or ‘weblog’. Vlogging, vlogger.

Whaling. A form of phishing that targets high-profile individuals or company executives.

Widget. An application or small piece of software that enables users to carry out a specific function or access a service.

Wifi. A wireless connection to the internet for tablets, laptops or smartphones. The term is a play on ‘hi-fi’ as a shortening for ‘high fidelity’ reproduction of sound, but does not itself have a ‘long form’.

Worm. A type of malware that spreads copies of itself between computers. It can replicate itself without any human involvement, and does not need to attach itself to a file to spread.


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