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Hacking is a term that has taken on negative connotations since the 1990s, when high-profile cyber crimes made headlines. From stealing proprietary software and tricking radio stations to win expensive cars, to digital bank heists and even attacks on the International Space Station and the Department of Defense, hackers have gained a notorious reputation.

While the term “hacker” has a pejorative connotation in the media, it can also be used to describe those who engage in ethical hacking. These individuals, called white hat hackers, break into systems with permission to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by a malicious attacker. The practice of ethical hacking is commonly used by cybersecurity firms to protect businesses and clients from cyberattacks.

Another use of the hacker label is hacktivism, which describes individuals or groups that promote a political or social cause by carrying out cyberattacks. This form of hacking is typically more disruptive than malicious, and it can include website defacements or denial-of-service attacks.

Considering that data breaches can cost companies millions of dollars, it’s important to take precautions against these attacks by fortifying security measures and ensuring that employee training is up-to-date. Earning a professional certification such as the EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker can demonstrate to managers that an individual is invested in improving their company’s cybersecurity, which can lead to a higher salary and even a promotion when performance review time comes around.

The most common vulnerabilities that are targeted by hackers include smartphones, smart TVs, internet-connected security cameras and other IoT devices. These devices are particularly susceptible to hacking when they’re connected to public Wi-Fi or other unsecured networks.