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Hacking is the process of breaking into computer systems illegally and/or maliciously. Hacking requires technical skills and a strong desire to explore and improve technology. It is considered a dangerous hobby for many, but hackers are also known to be creative thinkers and problem solvers. They are willing to work around obstacles and try a number of tactics to break into seemingly impenetrable systems. Some famous hackers include Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who hacked into a government system to call the Vatican after learning that a specific tone whistled into a phone would allow them to make free long-distance calls.

Other hackers use hacking as a profession and may be referred to as white hat hackers or ethical hackers. They identify cybersecurity flaws and vulnerabilities and report them to organizations so that they can patch these holes before threat actors exploit them.

Cybercriminals exploit hacking to gain unauthorized access to computers, networks, mobile devices and internet of things systems. They may steal confidential information like credit card details and bank account numbers or sell these stolen credentials to third parties. They may also infect devices with malware like ransomware to extort money or personal data from victims.

The term hacking as it relates to technology first emerged at MIT in the 1950s, where students in the Tech Model Railroad Club used the term to describe their process of “hacking” their high-tech train sets to modify their functions. The hackers eventually migrated from trains to computers, attempting to expand the abilities of these new technologies. Some of these early hackers have gone on to become highly-respected technologists and entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, Donald Knuth, Vinton Cerf and Steve Jobs. Others have been incarcerated for hacking into the systems of companies and government agencies.