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someone using a computer



Listen to Professor Crystal

Phishing. Now, you really have to listen to the spelling of this one. P-H-I-S-H-I-N-G. Not, F-I-S-H-I-N-G. Can be very confusing to hear this word in speech, therefore, you know, 'he's phishing' - what does it mean? No problem in writing, of course.

It's the spelling. When somebody is phishing in an internet context, what they're doing is they're creating a replica of a webpage, usually a page belonging to a major company, and the idea is to fool somebody into passing on sensitive data to the person who's doing the phishing - in other words, your password or your personal details. So it's really a very dangerous notion this, and people are very concerned about it on the internet at the moment.

Etymologically, it's easy. It derives from the traditional word 'fishing' and the idea is that the perpetrators are angling for information. So it's very clever word play. And the fact that it is clever in that way, of course, shouldn't hide the fact that it's also a crime.

Well, it's one of several words that are being used at the moment to identify different types of activity on the internet that people think are a bit dubious, like 'hacking' for instance, 'to hack' - to gain unauthorised access to a computer site or a file. And, as often with these words, they develop a more general meaning outside of the internet. I've heard 'hack' now being used in a general sense meaning 'to solve' or 'to work something out' - you know, 'I've hacked it' means 'I've found a solution to the problem' - not necessarily, anything to do with computing at all.

Actually, I haven't heard 'phishing' in general use yet. Probably, it won't come into general use because of its ambiguity. If I say 'I'm phishing', or 'I think you're phishing' - I'm sure you'd think I was down by a river, rather than sitting by a computer!


download transcriptTranscript (pdf - 42k)

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