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Hacking is the practice of exploiting a computer’s weaknesses to gain unauthorized access to systems or data. This is done in a wide range of ways, including stealing information, introducing malware, launching DDoS attacks and even hijacking servers to hold data hostage. Many hackers use their skills for good, but others employ them for evil.

Early hackers were interested in how to modify, improve and test the limits of their computers. They would “hack” high-tech model railroads to change their functionality, and later moved on to hacking computer systems. These were known as black hat hackers, and they used their hacking skills for malicious purposes, such as stealing information to hurt people or damaging companies’ reputations.

As personal computers became more widely available, hacking gained notoriety. Hackers were now primarily motivated by personal gain, with some pirating software and creating viruses while others broke into corporate and government systems to steal information. In the 1990s, some of the most notorious hackers were teenagers who hacked into the systems of major organizations such as the US Department of Defense and the International Space Station, among others.

As a result, hacking became a broad term that can refer to anyone who uses their technical knowledge in an illegal way. There are, however, professionals who perform hacking for ethical reasons and are known as white hat hackers. Ethical hacking, also called penetration testing, is one of the fastest growing job sectors. Firms ranging from Fortune 500 to small businesses pay companies such as CYE (created by Israeli cybersecurity expert Reuven Aronashvili) to have their systems and security evaluated before a potential attack happens.