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Hacking is the process of breaching defenses to gain unauthorized access into computers, phones, tablets, IoT devices, networks and more. This activity can be done for a variety of reasons, such as profit, information gathering, activism or recreation. Malicious hackers may also want to destabilize infrastructures of adversaries or spread political propaganda.

Hackers are constantly on the move, and new cyber threats emerge on a daily basis. Hacking gained notoriety in the 1990s with high profile hacking cases that ranged from stealing proprietary software and tricking radio stations to win expensive cars to launching computer worms and causing websites to crash in what is known as a distributed denial of service attack. Hackers have even targeted government agencies and major corporations.

Ethical hackers, sometimes referred to as white hats, are a subset of the hacker community that is considered legitimate. This group of hackers are employed by companies or work as security consultants, and they follow a code of conduct that requires them to obtain permission from an employer before hacking and to keep their findings confidential.

Black hat hackers are those that breach security systems for their own malicious purposes. They may steal passwords by using trial and error methods, such as attempting to guess every possible combination of letters, numbers, symbols and other characters or by running programs that log keystrokes, as well as installing various types of malware on a victim’s machine. Other techniques include intimidation, where the hacker pretends to be a supervisor and threatens the loss of employment or by name-dropping (using names from authorized users that are easily found online or by examining discarded documents, also known as “dumpster diving”). They may also use programs that identify security vulnerabilities in a target’s system and exploit them.