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What Is Hacking?

Hacking is the process of discovering and exploiting vulnerabilities in a computer system or network, usually to gain unauthorized access to personal or organizational data. While hacking is not always done with malicious intent, it often carries negative connotations because of its association with cybercrime.

What Is Hacking

The history of hacking

While hacking nowadays carries predominantly negative implications, this hasn’t always been the case. In the early stages of computer hacking, hackers were regarded as technology aficionados whose primary aim was to customize and enhance systems. However, as cybercrime evolved, becoming more sophisticated and widespread, hacking became predominantly associated with malicious activities. Let’s delve into a concise history of hacking:



The term ‘hacking’ was first linked with members of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club, who would ‘hack’ their advanced train sets to modify their operations. Transitioning from toy trains to computers, they experimented with IBM 704s to broaden the capabilities of computing tasks. Initially driven by curiosity to explore and improve existing programs, their endeavors often yielded superior results compared to existing software.


Hacking continued into the 1970s, diversifying into telephone hacking. Phone hackers, or ‘phreakers,’ sought to exploit operational quirks in the electronic telephone switching network. John Draper gained notoriety when he discovered that a toy whistle found in Cap’n Crunch cereal emitted the precise 2600-hertz tone, signaling to the network that a line was ready for a new call. This allowed phreakers to manipulate the network and make free long-distance calls. Notably, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were reportedly phreakers before founding one of the world’s most successful computer companies.


With personal computers becoming increasingly accessible to the public in the 1980s, there was a surge in computer hacking. However, the motives behind hacking shifted. While earlier hackers aimed to enhance computers, the newer generation was primarily driven by personal gain, engaging in activities like software piracy, virus creation, and unauthorized data access. Recognizing this shift, the US enacted the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.


Hacking gained infamy in the 1990s with high-profile cybercrimes and arrests. Notable hackers included Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen, Robert Morris, and Vladimir Levin, convicted of offenses ranging from software theft and radio station manipulation to launching computer worms and conducting digital bank heists.


Government agencies and major corporations faced increasing cybersecurity threats. Prominent targets like Microsoft, eBay, Yahoo!, and Amazon fell victim to Distributed Denial of Service attacks. Notably, a 15-year-old breached the US Department of Defense and the International Space Station systems.


With the internet integral to daily life, hacking became more sophisticated. New cyber threats emerged regularly, and hacktivist groups like Anonymous gained prominence, exposing government secrets and championing causes they deemed in the public interest. Governments, corporations, and computer giants intensified efforts to enhance cybersecurity, with experts continually innovating to outpace hackers.

Types of Hacking/Hackers

There are typically four main motivations behind individuals hacking websites or systems: (1) seeking financial gain through activities like stealing credit card details or defrauding financial services, (2) engaging in corporate espionage, (3) aiming for recognition or respect for their hacking prowess, and (4) participating in state-sponsored hacking to obtain business intelligence and national secrets. Additionally, there are politically motivated hackers, or hacktivists, such as Anonymous, LulzSec, and WikiLeaks, who aim to draw public attention by leaking sensitive information.

Various types of hackers involved in these activities include:

Black hat hackers

Considered the “bad actors” of the hacking world, black hat hackers actively search for vulnerabilities in computer systems and software to exploit them for financial gain or more malicious purposes, like gaining notoriety, corporate espionage, or participating in state-sponsored hacking campaigns. Their actions can cause significant harm, including theft of personal information, compromise of computer and financial systems, and disruption or sabotage of websites and critical networks.

White hat hackers

Viewed as the “good guys,” white hat hackers strive to prevent the success of black hat hackers through proactive hacking. They utilize their technical skills to breach systems, assess and test network security levels, a practice known as ethical hacking. This helps uncover vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious actors. Although their techniques may resemble those of black hat hackers, white hat hackers are employed by organizations to identify and address potential security weaknesses.

Grey hat hackers

Grey hat hackers operate in a morally ambiguous area between good and bad intentions. Unlike black hat hackers, they breach standards and principles without malicious intent or financial gain. Their actions are often driven by a desire to serve the greater good. For example, they may exploit a vulnerability to raise awareness of its existence, but unlike white hat hackers, they do so publicly, inadvertently alerting malicious actors to the vulnerability’s presence.

How does hacking work?

So, how do hackers carry out their activities? Hackers employ a range of techniques to achieve their goals. Some of the most common methods include:

Social engineering

Social engineering involves manipulating human behavior to exploit vulnerabilities and gain access to personal information. By assuming false identities and using psychological tactics, hackers can trick individuals into revealing personal or financial details. They often use phishing scams, spam emails or instant messages, or fraudulent websites to accomplish this.

Password hacking

Hackers employ various methods to acquire passwords. One approach is brute force attacks, where hackers systematically guess all possible combinations to gain entry. They may also use algorithms to generate combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols to crack passwords. Another method is a dictionary attack, where a program tries common words as passwords to gain access.

Malware infection

Hackers may infiltrate a user’s device by distributing malware through emails, instant messages, websites with downloadable content, or peer-to-peer networks.

Exploiting insecure wireless networks

Instead of using malicious code, hackers may exploit open and unsecured wireless networks. This process, known as wardriving, involves hackers searching for open wireless connections. Once connected, they can bypass basic security measures to access devices on the network.

Backdoor access

Hackers may develop programs that identify unprotected pathways into network systems and computers. They can gain backdoor access by deploying Trojan horses, which are designed to collect and steal data without the victim’s knowledge.

Email interception

Hackers can create code to intercept and read emails. However, modern email programs often use encryption that prevents hackers from reading intercepted messages.

Keystroke logging

Certain programs enable hackers to track every keystroke made by a computer user. Once installed on a victim’s computer, these programs record keystrokes, providing hackers with information to infiltrate systems or steal identities.

Creating zombie computers

A zombie computer, or bot, is a device that a hacker controls remotely to send spam or execute Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Victims unwittingly establish a connection with the hacker’s system after executing seemingly harmless code. The hacker gains covert control over the victim’s computer, using it for criminal activities or spam dissemination.

What damage can hackers do?

Cybersecurity hacking poses serious risks. Once hackers gain access to your data or devices using any technique, they can:

  • Steal your money and open credit card or bank accounts in your name
  • Damage your credit rating
  • Request new account Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) or additional credit cards
  • Make unauthorized purchases
  • Add themselves or an alias as an authorized user to exploit your credit
  • Obtain cash advances fraudulently
  • Misuse your Social Security number
  • Sell your information to others for malicious purposes
  • Delete or damage important files on your computer
  • Acquire sensitive personal information and potentially share it publicly

Why do people hack?

Who are hackers and what drives their actions? Motivations behind hacking vary widely, with some of the most common being:

Financial gain

Many hackers are motivated by the prospect of making money. They achieve this by stealing passwords, accessing bank or credit card information, extorting ransom payments for withheld data, or selling acquired data to other hackers or on the dark web.

Corporate espionage

In some cases, hackers target competitor companies to steal trade secrets. Corporate espionage involves hacking to access classified data or intellectual property, aiming to gain a competitive edge over rival corporations.

Political espionage

Nation-states may employ hackers for political objectives, such as stealing classified information, interfering in elections, accessing government or military documents, or inciting political turmoil.


Occasionally, hackers are driven by personal grievances, seeking revenge against individuals or organizations they perceive to have wronged them.


Hacktivism represents a form of digital activism, where hackers leverage their skills to support a particular political or social cause.


For some hackers, the motivation lies in the pursuit of recognition and accomplishment. They may compete with peers, seeking acknowledgement for their exploits, often boasting about their activities on social media platforms.

Security enhancement

Not all hacking is malicious; some hackers engage in white hat hacking or penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities and enhance overall security. White hat hacking is considered ethical, as it aims to improve security for all users.

Prevention from Hacking

Protecting yourself from hackers involves practicing good cybersecurity habits. Here are some essential tips for preventing hacking:

  • Use strong passwords: Ensure each online account has a unique and robust password consisting of at least 12 characters, including a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. Consider using a password manager to help manage multiple passwords securely.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA): Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication wherever possible. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second piece of information, such as a code generated by an app or sent via SMS, in addition to your password.
  • Be cautious of phishing: Stay vigilant against phishing attempts, which often begin with suspicious emails or texts containing links or attachments. Avoid clicking on links or opening attachments from unknown senders, and promptly delete suspected spam messages.
  • Manage your digital footprint: Take proactive steps to manage your online presence by deleting old accounts and apps, reviewing privacy settings on social media, being cautious about sharing personal or financial information publicly, and regularly clearing unwanted cookies from your browser.
  • Keep devices and software up to date: Regularly update your operating system, applications, and devices to ensure you have the latest security patches, minimizing vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.
  • Secure your devices: Store devices securely and use features like fingerprint recognition, secure PINs, or unique gestures to lock them. Consider enabling device tracking features like Find My iPhone or Find My Device.
  • Exercise caution with downloads: Only download software from trusted sources and carefully evaluate free software and file-sharing applications before installation. Conduct transactions only on websites with up-to-date security certificates (HTTPS) and avoid sharing data with untrustworthy sources.
  • Disable unnecessary features: Turn off features like GPS, wireless connections, and geo-tracking when not in use to prevent hackers from accessing your information, location, or connection.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive activities: Public Wi-Fi networks pose security risks, so refrain from conducting personal transactions like online banking or shopping on them. If necessary, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for added security.
  • Install reliable antivirus software: Ensure your device is equipped with high-quality antivirus software that provides comprehensive protection against viruses, malware, ransomware, and other cyber threats, effectively safeguarding your data and privacy.


What is hacking?

Hacking is the process of discovering and exploiting vulnerabilities in a computer system or network, typically to gain unauthorized access to personal or organizational data. While hacking may not always involve malicious intent, it often carries negative connotations due to its association with cybercrime.

How has hacking evolved over time?

Hacking has undergone significant evolution since its inception. Initially perceived as a pursuit by technology enthusiasts to customize and enhance systems, hacking transitioned into predominantly malicious activities as cybercrime became more sophisticated and widespread. Today, hacking encompasses various motives, techniques, and consequences.

What are the main motivations behind hacking?

The motivations behind hacking are diverse and often driven by personal, financial, or political objectives. Some common motivations include seeking financial gain, engaging in corporate or political espionage, seeking revenge, promoting activism or social causes (hacktivism), pursuing recognition or notoriety, and enhancing cybersecurity through ethical hacking practices.

How can individuals protect themselves from hackers?

Protecting oneself from hackers involves practicing good cybersecurity hygiene. Key prevention measures include using strong and unique passwords, implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA), being cautious of phishing attempts, managing digital footprints, keeping devices and software up to date, securing devices, exercising caution with downloads, disabling unnecessary features, avoiding public Wi-Fi for sensitive activities, and installing reliable antivirus software.

What are the different types of hackers?

Hackers are often categorized based on their motivations and activities. Common types of hackers include black hat hackers (engaging in malicious activities for personal gain), white hat hackers (conducting ethical hacking to improve security), grey hat hackers (operating in morally ambiguous areas), and hacktivists (using hacking for political or social activism). Each type has distinct characteristics and objectives.

How do hackers carry out their activities?

Hackers employ various techniques to achieve their objectives, including social engineering, password hacking, malware infection, exploiting insecure networks, gaining backdoor access, intercepting emails, logging keystrokes, creating zombie computers, and more. These methods can vary in complexity and effectiveness, depending on the hacker’s skills and objectives.


Hacking has evolved from a curiosity-driven exploration to a multifaceted landscape of motives and activities. Whether for financial gain, activism, or cybersecurity enhancement, hackers wield significant influence in the digital realm. As hacking continues to evolve, it’s essential for individuals and organizations to remain vigilant and proactive in protecting against cyber threats. By understanding the history, motivations, and techniques of hacking, we can better safeguard our data and privacy in an ever-changing digital world.


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