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Common Security Terms Dictionary: P

written by: •edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 7/22/2010

If you’re new the computing world, all of the acronyms, nomenclature, and strange terms can become a little intimidating. It’s my hope that this dictionary series will help you absorb this information and shed some light on the world of “techno babble.”

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    A collection of data that is packaged for transmission over the internet. A TCP/IP packet for example will contain a header that tells network devices the destination address of the packet.


    An update or “fix” for a software or firmware issue. A patch does just what its name implies. It patches a security hole.

    Personal Firewall

    A personal firewall functions the same as a conventional firewall. It regulates the flow of data traffic but for a specific computer. Many antivirus software suites come with a personal firewall. The Windows operating system firewall is another example of a personal firewall.


    Phishing is an email scheme with the primary purpose of fooling a user into voluntarily providing sensitive information such as account numbers, usernames, and passwords. For example, the email will appear to originate from a trusted source such as your bank but will request information that your bank should already have on file. A true bank would never request such information via email.

    Ping (Packet Internet Groper)

    A command line utility that is used to send out response requests to a specific IP address or domain. The purpose is to determine if the recipient address is reachable. This utility is sometimes misused for malicious purposes such as a DoS attack. For example, a “ping of death” is a type of attack that sends a flood of ping requests to a target computer with the intent of overloading and subsequently crashing it.

    Port Scanning

    A type of surveillance method used by hackers. Queries are sent to networks or server computers in the hopes that the responses will reveal weaknesses in port security. These weaknesses can then be catalogued and eventually exploited.

    Private IP Address

    An IP address that resides within one of three specified ranges. The purpose of a private IP address is to allow for communications between hosts within a domain. These addresses are never used to communicate over the public internet. Instead, they send requests through something like a proxy server, for example, so that their actual location within a network remains “transparent” to the outside world.