Smishing, vishing and phishing: The most confusing digital terms explained

Phishing is one of several digital terms that confuse people. (Getty Images)
Phishing is one of several digital terms that confuse people. (Getty Images)

For anyone who didn’t grow up with the internet (read: most of the Gen X and Baby Boomer cohort), certain digital terms can be rather confusing. Heck, some terms even leave the younger generations scratching their heads.

A new survey of 2,000 adults over the age of 65 has found the 20 most confusing digital terms, including "smishing", "USB-C" and "vishing".

The study, from BT Group, found that 11% of respondents said learning a foreign language would be easier than learning some digital terms, while 78% said they felt left behind due to their lack of knowledge.

Terms explained: Read more

With this in mind, here are the top 20 most confusing digital terms and the meanings of each.


Smishing stands for ‘SMS phishing’. It is a practice used by scammers who send texts pretending to be a company and asking for personal information.


Vishing or "voice phishing" is when a scammer calls you on the phone or leaves a voicemail pretending to be a company and requesting personal details.


A hyperlink is a clickable link that takes you from one webpage to another. You can often tell if a word is hyperlinked due to it being highlighted, underlined or is a different colour to the rest of the text.

For example, by clicking this link you will be taken to the Yahoo Life UK homepage.

close up of hand holding usb-c cord
A USB-C cable is often used for Android phones. (Getty Images)


A USB-C is the name for a type of connector. Similar to a USB cord, a USB-C has a different shaped end and is often used to plug into Android smartphones and charge them.


The National Cyber Security Centre defines ransomware as "a type of malware that prevents you from accessing your device and the data stored on it". The criminal group responsible for the ransomware will often demand a sum of money in exchange for getting control of your data back.


URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, but is rarely called by its full name. A URL is the web address you type into the search bar to find a site. For example, is a URL.


Phishing is the term for scammers who pretend to be from companies such as banks or insurance companies to gain access to your personal information like passwords or credit card numbers. Phishing is often done via email or other messages.

QR code

QR code stands for quick verification code and is a type of barcode that can be scanned and will take you to a certain webpage.

A QR code, or quick verification code, can take you to a website by scanning it. (Getty Images)
A QR code, or quick verification code, can take you to a website by scanning it. (Getty Images)


When someone talks about a digital cloud, they are not referring to the clouds you see in the sky. Instead, in the digital landscape, a cloud refers to software, files and services that are accessible and editable via the internet rather than saved locally on your computer.


Malware is a type of software that is specifically designed to gain unauthorised access to someone’s computer and damage their computer system.

IP address

An IP address is a string of characters that identifies an individual computer. So every internet user will have an IP address.


No, not the kind you bake. Internet cookies refers to data found on websites and stored within your web browser that tells the site you are returning.


Streaming is to watch or listen to something over an internet connection. For example, when you listen to songs on Spotify or watch a show on Netflix you are streaming it.


Tabs refer to the internet pages you have open. If you have multiple tabs open, this means you can click through the different pages at the top of your screen when you’re on the internet.


A computer processor, or a CPU is the circuitry inside your computer or laptop that processes basic instructions to run your computer.

spam on email
Many email providers often filter out spam messages. (Getty Images)


Like phishing but less targeted, spam is any unwanted and unsolicited messages you receive, usually via email.


Antivirus is a software that can protect your computer from viruses and malware.


Hardware refers to some of the physical components of a computer such as a monitor, a mouse and a keyboard.


A browser is an internet browser. It’s what opens when you click your preferred internet source (such as Google Chrome or Safari). Browsers are used to access web pages.


An upload is when you transfer a photo, video or some sort of data file from your computer to a page on the internet such as posting a photo on social media or attaching a document from your computer to an email.

Watch: One in six older adults completely ‘baffled’ by digital terms