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The word hacker has become synonymous with a lone rogue programmer with the ability to wreak havoc on computer systems. Despite this image, hacking is actually a multibillion dollar industry that involves sophisticated techniques. It’s also an invaluable skill for professionals to learn, particularly in the age of cybersecurity threats that can threaten personal devices and information.

Ethical hacking allows IT and security experts to identify vulnerabilities in software and hardware before criminals can exploit them. These hackers, known as white hat hackers, gain permission from the system owner to perform penetration tests and report their findings. They’re a key part of any organization’s defense against cyber crimes.

On the other hand, black hat hackers hack into systems illegally to cause disruption and financial damage. These hackers are a danger to businesses, government agencies and individuals. They typically work for themselves or on behalf of organized crime groups.

Grey hat hackers are the middle ground, falling somewhere between white and black hats. These hackers probe a system to find a vulnerability, and then reach out to the company to offer a solution — for a fee, of course. They’re not as ruthless as black hats, but they’re also not as ethical as white hats.

While some hacking is illegal and immoral, it can also be a valuable tool for the military and other security organizations. For example, hackers can help test surveillance systems for weaknesses that could be exploited by unauthorized parties.