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Hacking is the process of identifying and exploiting weaknesses in software, hardware and computer systems. It can be done for both good and bad purposes. Ethical hackers use their skills to find security flaws in order to improve the overall security of a company’s digital infrastructure. Malicious hackers exploit the weaknesses of a system to steal sensitive information or disrupt an organization’s services.

The term ‘hacker’ originated with members of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club who hacked their high-tech train sets to expand their functions. The hacker subculture gained notoriety in the 1990s, when infamous cases involved hacking into websites of government agencies and large corporations, as well as stealing proprietary software code. Teenagers Jonathan James and Adrian Lamo are among the most famous hackers of all time.

In addition to analyzing a system’s technical vulnerabilities, ethical hackers must also understand how malicious hackers operate and the tools they use to breach security defenses. Ethical hackers can use their knowledge of these techniques to proactively protect a company’s digital infrastructure from attack, while simultaneously improving their own career prospects.

White hat hackers, also called ethical hackers, are individuals who work with the permission of the system owner to identify and fix computer security vulnerabilities. They may offer to pay companies for identifying these weaknesses, or they may simply report the issues to their employers in an effort to keep sensitive data safe from attack. Other types of hackers include grey hats, script kiddies, and hacktivists, who hack to send social, religious or political messages through hijacked websites or Distributed Denial of Service attacks.