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Hacking involves a combination of technical knowledge, problem-solving skills and creativity to bypass security measures and access private information or protected systems. It gained notoriety in the 1990s with high-profile cybercrimes, including the first distributed denial of service attacks, stealing proprietary software code and even breaching systems at the Pentagon and International Space Station. Hacking is a form of social engineering and can be motivated by criminal financial gain, information extraction, protesting, making a statement or just for the thrill of doing it.

A traditional view of hacking depicts a lone rogue programmer in his bedroom, but hackers are actually highly skilled professionals with advanced techniques and stealthy attack methods. They are the multibillion-dollar industry that makes it possible to compromise business data and leach sensitive personal information from individuals — sometimes with just one click of a link in a malicious email or scam website.

To get started, it’s a good idea to learn a few programming languages, including C and C++, and the assembly language that powers the processors that run your computer. You should also know the basics of the open-source Unix system (Linux) and PHP, which is used by most web applications. You’ll want to master the shell scripting program Bash, as well as Python or Ruby, which are high-level programming languages that help automate tasks and manipulate systems.

Then, you can start practicing on your own systems and work your way up to more sophisticated hacking targets. But remember, hacking is illegal and you should only do it for ethical reasons or if you have permission to do so.