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Hacking is the unauthorised access and manipulation of mobile devices, computer systems, networks or websites to steal information or cause damage. It can be as simple as phishing for passwords or as complex as an advanced persistent threat (APT) that lurks in a network for months before causing disruptions. Hacking can also be a form of activism, as seen in the hacker group Anonymous who take part in protests by attacking websites or even defacing them.

The term hacking first entered popular language in 1955 when members of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club used it to describe the rough cutting and chopping they did on their high-tech train sets to modify their functions. More recently, hackers use their technical skills to probe cybersecurity defenses for vulnerabilities and exploit them for malicious purposes.

Ethical hackers, sometimes called white hat hackers, offer penetration testing services to businesses that hire them to find and close security holes before they’re exploited by threat actors. However, the term hacker has come to be associated with a darker side in the media where hackers are portrayed as villainous characters who break into computer systems for ill-gotten gains or simply because it’s fun.

Learning to hack requires significant trial and error, but there are some key skills to start with. A solid understanding of programming languages is critical, particularly those that are often used in web development like PHP. A strong grasp of Web protocols such as HTTP/2 and HTTP/3 can help uncover a wide range of vulnerabilities as well. In addition, knowing how to do advanced Google searches can be helpful in finding information that’s been accidentally shared on the Internet.