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In computing, a Hacker is any skilled computer expert that uses their technical knowledge to overcome a problem. While “hacker” can refer to any computer programmer, the term has become associated in popular culture with a “security hacker”, someone who, with their technical knowledge, uses bugs or exploits to break into computer systems.
Types of Hacker
- Hacker culture
- Hacker culture is an idea derived from a community of enthusiast computer programmers and systems designers in the 1960s around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) and the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The concept expanded to the hobbyist home computing community, focusing on hardware in the late 1970s (e.g. the Homebrew Computer Club) and on software (video games, software cracking, the demoscene) in the 1980s/1990s. Later, this would go on to encompass many new definitions such as art, and Life hacking.
- Security related hacking
Security hackers are people involved with circumvention of computer security. Among security hackers, there are several types, including:
White hats are hackers who work to keep data safe from other hackers by finding system vulnerabilities that can be mitigated. White hats are usually employed by the target system’s owner, and are typically paid (sometimes quite well) for their work. Their work is not illegal, because it is done with the system owner’s consent.
Black hats or crackers are hackers with malicious intentions. They often steal, exploit, and sell data, and are usually motivated by personal gain. Their work is usually illegal. A cracker is like a black hat hacker, but is specifically someone who is very skilled and tries via hacking to make profits or to benefit, not just to vandalize. Crackers find exploits for system vulnerabilities, and often use them to their advantage by either selling the fix to the system owner, or selling the exploit to other black hat hackers, who in turn use the it to steal information or gain royalties.
Grey hats include those who hack for fun or to troll. They may both fix and exploit vulnerabilities, but usually not for financial gain. Even if not malicious, their work can still be illegal, if done without the target system owner’s consent, and grey hats are usually associated with black hat hackers.
Definitions of Hacker
Reflecting the two types of hackers, there are two definitions of the word “hacker”:
- an adherent of the technology and programming subculture.
- someone who is able to subvert computer security. If doing so for malicious purposes, the person can also be called a cracker.
Overlaps and differences in Hacker
The main basic difference between programmer subculture and computer security hacker is their mostly separate historical origin and development. However, the Jargon File reports that considerable overlap existed for the early phreaking at the beginning of the 1970s. An article from MIT’s student paper The Tech used the term hacker in this context already in 1963 in its pejorative meaning for someone messing with the phone system. The overlap quickly started to break when people joined in the activity who did it in a less responsible way. This was the case after the publication of an article exposing the activities of Draper and Engressia.
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