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The term “hacking” conjures up a stereotypical image of a lone, angry kid in his or her bedroom who is highly skilled in coding and modifying computer software and hardware systems. But this narrow view fails to capture the true technical nature of hacking – it is a multibillion-dollar industry with highly sophisticated attack methods that often go undetected by cybersecurity software and IT teams.

Hacking involves gaining unauthorized access to computer networks and computers for illegitimate reasons such as monetary gain, espionage, or committing other cyber crimes. Hackers use their skills to steal sensitive personal data and cause financial, operational or reputational damage to organizations. Hackers also employ phishing scams and malware to target individuals through email or text messages. They also use spoofing to impersonate legitimate websites or organizations to trick victims into opening malicious attachments or links.

While many hackers use their skills to advance their own careers and companies, there are those who are motivated by a desire for revenge on people or entities they feel have wronged them in some way. They may use their hacking abilities to engage in corporate espionage or attempt to destabilize the government, economy or other global institutions by using tactics such as phishing scams, data breaches, distributed denial-of-service attacks and publishing victims’ personal information online.

The term “hacker” was first used at MIT’s Technical Model Railroad Club to describe members who modified the functions of their train sets to expand what the machines could do. The programmer subculture that developed around this activity viewed secondary circumvention of security mechanisms as legitimate, and many of the early hackers were eager to explore and experiment with the limits of what their computers could do.