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Hacking refers to the use of special software programs to manipulate network data. It is a practice that can be used to gain a competitive edge, or to steal valuable information. Various government agencies use hacking to acquire or collect information, as well as to cause political unrest.

Hackers are usually a part of the criminal community, but they can also be employed by law enforcement, or security agencies. They may use anonymity tools to mask their identities, or to evade detection. In some cases, hackers may pose as criminals and attempt to access corporate or government technology.

The term “hacker” comes from the word hack, meaning to crack or break into. A specialized programmer can break into a computer to modify its hardware or software, or to gather information. Usually, hackers are paid by the system owner.

Some hackers engage in a positive form of hacking, or “ethical hacking,” to protect data and improve the security of all users. Others are socially motivated, or “hacker-activists.” These individuals seek to highlight an issue, or to create attention for a political agenda.

While some people call themselves a hacker, many others prefer to self-identify as a member of the computing community. For example, Linus Torvalds, the co-creator of the Linux operating system, is considered a hacker by some.

Some hackers are hired by nation states to gain competitive advantage. Nation states can use hackers to conduct elections or interfere with the activities of their rivals.