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Hacking is a term that describes the use of computer software and hardware systems to gain access to information and/or cause harm. The practice gained prominence with the advent of the Internet and has since expanded into a multibillion dollar illicit black market industry. While many hackers gain notoriety through cybercrime, some hackers are more ethical and work to improve security flaws found in software and systems. These are known as White Hat Hackers.

Hackers may be motivated by notoriety, competition, or a desire to explore and expand the capabilities of computers. Several well-known hackers have made their name exploiting computer systems, including Kevin Mitnick who was caught hacking into the computer system of The New York Times and Adrian Lamo who broke into the US Department of Defense and Security Pacific Bank’s computer systems to expose security flaws.

While many hackers work individually, some hacking groups collaborate to coordinate attacks and breaches. Often, hacking involves finding sensitive and confidential information that has been accidentally shared on the Internet and used by others, such as passwords, usernames, email addresses and personal photos. Hacking also involves finding and cracking encryption codes that protect data.

A hacker’s first steps are to probe and identify a vulnerability in a company’s computer systems or software. They then offer to fix the problem for a fee, or they may simply expose the flaw publicly. This is known as grey hat hacking. Other hackers may hack to promote a social or political agenda, for example by attacking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s private wall with messages that highlight his privacy settings.