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Hacking is a term used to describe someone who uses their technical know-how to breach a computer system or network using non-standard methods. It has been used to refer to a range of activities that have been both good and bad.

The term was first coined in the 1960s by members of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club as a way to explain their hobby of tinkering with hardware and software. The original hackers were curious and innovative, pushing the boundaries of what was possible with the new technology. As the Internet and computers developed, hacking came to be used as a synonym for breaking into computer systems without authorization. While popular culture often portrays hackers as cybercriminals that steal data and wreak digital havoc, this is actually a misunderstanding of the term. When hackers use their skills to break into and breach a computer system or network, it’s technically called security hacking, and when they do so for malicious reasons, that’s called cracking.

When white hat hackers hack into systems, it’s considered legal because their employers and clients have given them permission to do so. However, when hackers attack a system without prior consent (such as in the case of Tesla’s Gigafactory), it crosses from a harmless hobby into illegal cybercrime and can lead to prosecution.

Sometimes hackers are motivated by financial gain, stealing trade secrets from competitor companies. Other times they may be seeking revenge on an individual or organization that has wronged them. And in some cases, hackers are hired by nation states to carry out activities such as spying on adversaries or destabilizing their infrastructure.