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What is Hacking?

The definition of hacking is the act of exploiting system vulnerabilities and compromising the security of digital devices and networks to gain unauthorized access to data. Hacking acts as a catch-all term for any type of misuse of a computer to break the security of another computing system to steal data, corrupt systems or files, commandeer the environment or disrupt data-related activities in any way.


The individuals who engage in this activity are known as hackers. Hackers can have various motives, ranging from financial gain to testing security systems.

What is Hacking?


Key Takeaways

  • Hacking involves hackers gaining unauthorized access to computer systems.
  • Hackers can be classified as white hat, black hat, or gray hat based on their intentions.
  • Hacking has evolved from the early days of computing to a significant threat in the digital age.
  • Implementing strong security measures and staying informed about potential threats can help prevent hacking.
  • Not all hacking is malicious; ethical hackers work to improve security.

History of Hacking

The history of hacking dates back to the 1960s, when the term was first associated with US university MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club. Early hackers were hobbyists who explored computer software and hardware for fun and to develop their knowledge.

The first computer virus, Creeper, was released in 1971 by Bob Thomas, a programmer at BBN Technologies, onto the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), which preceded the modern Internet. The virus was not designed to be malicious, rather it was proof of concept for self-replicating code.

By the 1980s, hacking had gained notoriety with the advent of personal computers and the emergence of hacking groups. This led to the development of more robust cybersecurity measures.

How Hacking Works

Hacking involves identifying and exploiting weaknesses in a system’s security.

This process typically includes:

How Hacking Works

  • Gathering information about the target.
  • Using tools to find vulnerabilities.
  • Exploiting vulnerabilities to enter the system.
  • Ensuring continued access to the compromised system.
  • Hiding evidence of the intrusion to avoid detection.

Types of Hacking

Hacking can be categorized into several types, each with different methods and intentions:

Black hat hacking
Malicious hacking for personal gain or to cause damage.

White hat hacking
Also known as ethical hacking, this involves authorized penetration testing to improve security.

Gray hat hacking
A blend of both, where hackers exploit vulnerabilities without malicious intent but without authorization either.

Hacking Tools

Hackers use a variety of tools to carry out their activities, including:

Devices Most Vulnerable to Hacking

Several types of devices are particularly susceptible to hacking because of various factors, such as widespread usage, insufficient security measures, and the complexity of their operating environments.

Personal Computers
Personal computers are a prime target for hackers seeking to maximize their reach. Common operating systems (OS) like Microsoft Windows and Apple’s MacOS regularly encounter security flaws that can be exploited if not promptly patched.

Many users do not follow security best practices, keeping weak passwords, not updating software, or clicking on phishing links.

The vast number of mobile apps available increases the risk of malicious applications slipping through vetting processes, especially on platforms with less stringent controls. Smartphones are often connected to public WiFi networks, which hackers can exploit to intercept data. Many users do not regularly update their operating systems or apps, leaving them open to vulnerabilities.

Internet of Things (IoT) Devices
Many IoT devices are designed with convenience in mind, often at the expense of robust security measures. Manufacturers frequently ship devices with default usernames and passwords that users fail to change. IoT devices often lack straightforward update mechanisms, resulting in software becoming outdated and vulnerable to attack.
Many routers come with default settings that are not secure, including easily guessable passwords and open ports. Routers may have firmware vulnerabilities that are not updated regularly, leaving them exposed. Because routers are the gateway to home and business networks, compromising a router can give hackers access to all the devices connected to it.

5 Tips to Prevent Hacking

  • Use strong passwords – create complex passwords and change them regularly.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA), as this adds an extra layer of security.
  • Regularly install software updates to fix security vulnerabilities.
  • Install antivirus software to protect against malware and other threats.
  • Be wary of phishing scams – do not click on suspicious links or provide personal information.

How to Protect Yourself from Hacking

To protect yourself from hacking, you should:

  • Educate yourself to stay informed about the latest hacking techniques and threats.
  • Secure your network by using a strong, encrypted Wi-Fi connection.
  • Back up data regularly to ensure you can recover your information in case of an attack.
  • Install and update antivirus and anti-malware programs.
  • Regularly check financial and online accounts for unauthorized activity.

As online threats constantly evolve, proactive defense strategies like antivirus software are paramount, and you can purchase an antivirus for Chromebook or an antivirus for Mac. In the ongoing battle between hackers and defenders, the implementation of robust cybersecurity measures remains indispensable.

Hacking Examples

Some notable hacking examples include:

In 2017, Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting agencies in the US, experienced a massive data breach. Hackers exploited a vulnerability in a web application to gain access to the company’s systems. Over several months, they exposed the personal information of approximately 147 million people.

In May 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack affected computers worldwide by exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows to encrypt users’ files and demand a ransom payment in Bitcoin to unlock them. The attack spread rapidly, affecting more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries.

Stuxnet is a sophisticated worm discovered in 2010, but it may have been developed and deployed in 2005. Unlike typical malware, Stuxnet was designed to target Iran’s nuclear facilities, causing damage to the centrifuges used for uranium enrichment. The worm’s sophisticated nature suggests it was likely developed by state actors.

The Bottom Line

The meaning of hacking encompasses unauthorized access to systems and data, which can lead to significant security breaches and personal data exposure. Understanding the definition of hacking, different types of attacks, and prevention methods is crucial in ensuring your devices and the networks you use remain secure. While hacking poses substantial risks, taking proactive measures can help protect your data.


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Nicole Willing
Technology Journalist
Nicole Willing
Technology Journalist

Nicole is a professional journalist with 20 years of experience in writing and editing. Her expertise spans both the tech and financial industries. She has developed expertise in covering commodity, equity, and cryptocurrency markets, as well as the latest trends across the technology sector, from semiconductors to electric vehicles. She holds a degree in Journalism from City University, London. Having embraced the digital nomad lifestyle, she can usually be found on the beach brushing sand out of her keyboard in between snorkeling trips.