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Hacking is a popular hobby for many people, but it can be illegal. It’s best to only hack into systems that are your own or that have been given permission to be hacked. It’s also a good idea to practice hacking on an older computer or in a virtual machine before attacking any live system. There are people who protect these systems for a living and they can catch you if you hack into one of theirs without their permission.

Hackers usually use technical or social weaknesses to breach defenses. They can make money by stealing your passwords or personal information, using it to commit crimes like theft or fraud, or selling it to other hackers or on the dark web. They can even secretly control your device or website and turn it into a zombie computer to send spam or engage in Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS).

Ethical hackers — also known as white hat hackers — are hired by security firms to test their clients’ systems and report any vulnerabilities they find. These hackers can be found in hacker forums where they share their techniques and tradecraft with others.

Some criminal hacks aren’t really hacking at all, but rather a form of activism called “hacktivism.” This type of hacker seeks to promote their own cause, such as religious or environmental justice, by gaining access to and destroying systems they disagree with. For example, hacktivists might attack the websites of oppressive governments or corporations and publish their victims’ information online, or they might use DDoS attacks to knock out a website or other systems in protest.