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A hacker is commonly defined as a person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data. This term has changed over the years as technology has evolved, and there are currently two main definitions, with an ongoing debate of each of their validity. 1) an individual computer enthusiast who enjoys exploring computers and how to stretch their capabilities, and 2) a malicious individual who tries to obtain information by "hacking" or "cracking" computer systems. These individuals were originally called "crackers", however that name has lost popularity due to a variety of reasons[1][2]

For many hackers, hacking is about autonomy, politics, and having fun, but is also about making a difference in the world - whether through maliciously hacking into computer systems or writing software to protect against future hacks.[3]

With the right knowledge, entire computer networks are opened up to hackers.


Hacking has been around in different forms since the development of the first computers. The first hackers appeared at MIT and hacked electric trains and tracks to make them perform differently before moving onto the computing systems being developed on campus. Many early hackers began as phone hackers, "phreaks", before moving onto the realm of computers. As the presence of hackers began to grow, they formed hacking groups, such as the Legion of Doom. In 1986, Congress passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which made it a crime to break into computer systems. Two years later, "the Mentor" (Loyd Blankenship) is arrested and publishes the Hacker Manifesto.The same year, the first worm is distributed through the internet. The self-replicating worm, created by Robert T. Morris Jr. spreads to 6,000 computer networks, including government and university systems. In the early 1990's when Netscape Navigator, which made information on the web much more accessible, begins to take off, hackers quickly move their skills to this new target. The subsequent rise of America On Line led to the release of AOHell, an application that unskilled hackers could used to hack in to AOL, spamming user mailboxes and chat rooms.[4] In 2010, more than 1.5 million hacker-caused defacement were reported, with even more in 2011. 2011 also marked the return to prominance for many hacker groups, including Anonymous, and Lulz Security, who were responsible for Sony, Fox, HBGary, and the FBI. The recent explosion in hackers can likely be attributed to Attack Tool Kits (ATKs) - widely available software that is designed to exploit security holes in websites.[5]


Black Hat

Black hat hackers violate computer security out of malicious intent, or for personal gain. Black hats mainly operate by writing programs which work to damage computer systems and networks. Anti-virus software works to protect against these types of hackers.[6]

White Hat

White hat hackers are often considered to be "ethical hackers". They create computer security programs and perform penetration tests to help people protect their computers and networks against attacks. While white hats search out computers and computing systems to hack into, after they have found the weakness of the system, they cease hacking activities and inform owners of vulnerabilities they have found. Some people hire white hats in order to seek out potential security problems in their system. Additionally, white hat hackers can become certified by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants.[6][7]

Gray Hat

Gray hat hackers are are a combination of black hats and white hats. If they find a target which they can successfully hack, they often tell the system's administrator that they found a weak point, but rather than disclosing what it is, they often elect to offer to fix the problem for payment. Gray hats often associate themselves with hacking groups, such as L0pht. While in the past, businesses often extended the job to such hackers (especially if this option was cheaper or more convenient), more recently businesses have begun to prosecute instead, leading to a decline in the practice.[6]


While hackitivists perform the same hacks as other types of hackers, the motivation behind their attacks is different. Hacktivists are individuals who attack with the goal of spreading a political message. Many of their attacks involve web page defacement, where the hacktivists modify pages to display their own political views or messages. Many extremest organizations employ hacktivists in an attempt to further spread their messages.[6]


Cyberterrorists use hacking in an attempt to instill fear into people. Cyberterrorism is a relatively new term for hackers. [6]

Nation States

Nation states have large amounts of computing power at their disposal, which they use to target the military, the financial and utilities sectors, as well as other critical infrastructures. [8]

Script Kiddie

Script kiddies are low level hackers. They usually have limited knowledge of programming, and simply execute programs written by others in an attempt to cause havoc. Script kiddies sometimes join up with each other to create hacking groups, such as LulzSec, because they are able to cause more serious disruptions as a group than they would be able to individually. The term "script kiddie" is thought to be insulting in the hacking world, because it not only suggests having no skills, but also covering up this lack of skills using scripts in programs that others have written.[9] [10]

Packet Monkey

Similar to Script Kiddies, Packet Monkeys are juvenile hackers who perform denial-of-service attacks on websites. [11]


Wireless Network Sniffing

Wireless network sniffing is essentially "eavesdropping" on the network. Network sniffing utilizes sniffers, programs which intercept and decode network traffic. Sniffing also allows hackers to determine the easiest points of entry in a network. While it is possible to sniff wired connections, network sniffing is much easier with wireless connections since it can be done remotely, whereas in a wired connection, the hacker would have to install the sniffing program on one of the hosts within the system. The ultimate goal of wireless network sniffing is usually to discover the secret WEP key.[12]


Scanning is the act of sniffing through tuning in to various radio channels used by devices. Passive scanners allow hackers to listen in on the system without being detected. Passive scanning often allows a hacker to identify the SSID of a network.[12]

Wireless Spoofing

Wireless spoofing attacks open a network up to many other forms of attacks. The hacker constructs frames by filling out fields that contain addresses or identifiers with legitimate looking but non-existent values, or with values that belong to other individuals. In the case of values that belong to others, hackers have usually obtained these through sniffing. The three main types of wireless spoofing are: MAC address spoofing, IP spoofing, and Frame spoofing.[12]

Wireless Network Probing

Probing, also known as active scanning, occurs when a hacker sends artificially constructed packets to a target which return useful responses. This allows hackers to collect MAC addresses, as well as IP addresses. Unlike passive scanning, active scanning is possible to detect. [12]

Denial of Service

Hackers often deny service in order to allow themselves more control over a computer network. One method of doing this is jamming air waves so that the LAN is unable to function. Another method is forcing a computer into a "doze" state, during which a hacker is able to steal packets from the computer.[12]

Hacking in Video Games

Hacking in video games is a growing concern for video game developers. Hackers often temper with the data in order to have advantages over other players such as hacking to see enemies through walls or make their own player move faster.[13] There are other more crucial examples of servers being hacked such as 2011 Call of Duty breach. Hackers were able to breach and manipulate the code used for the multiplayer feature in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. They executed the hack with such precision that Sony eventually announced they were unable to resolve the code due to the inability of their own developers to fix the problem. [14]

The video game series Watch Dogs, which launched in May of 2014, is one of the first big-budget series to revolve around hacking. In its first two titles released (Watch Dogs and Watch Dogs 2) users play through the lives of Aiden Pearce and Marcus Holloway; two "grey hat" hackers. Both hackers user their cellphones as a way to tap into and take advantage of super-connected, futuristic versions of Chicago and San Francisco.


Some argue that the outcomes of so-called white hat hacking- the exposure of security flaws and other problems that present danger or insecurity to digital users- outweigh the penalties of laws and policies that would be restrictive to the activities of hackers or the short term damages that would result in the benefits to the public good.[15]

While on the surface hacking appears completely unethical, there are cases in which it is in fact ethical. White hats are individuals who hack in an attempt to find and fix security problems, and are often hacking into computer systems with the permission of their owners. However, outside of white hat hacking, there are limited types of hacking that would be considered ethical in any sense of the term. Hackers break into computer systems in order to accomplish their own agendas, whether that be their own amusement, to spread a message, or to incapacitate part of the web. To do this they often steal passwords, find back ways into the system, or forcibly break into the system, all of which involve entry into an area to which they should not have access. Hackers generally seem to put little weight on the ethics of the situation, as they attack computer systems without regard for those who they are hurting or disabling. Hacking affects the privacy of online users, a lot of whom do not have the skills or are not technological savvy enough to defend themselves from such hackers. It can be argued that hacking is also the fault of website designers and computer programmers, who often leave loose ends to their programs or websites that allow them to be hacked.

In popular culture

Hackers in the popular culture are often shown as anarchists and vigilantes. They are often times shown as enemies to the United States government but eventually become a part of the cause.

In the ABC show Agents of Shield, main character, Daisy Johnson, is initially introduced as an anti-government hacktivist part of the anarchist organization “the Rising Tide”. Throughout the series, Daisy is seen to let go of her skepticisms about SHIELD and truly believes in its mission. [16]

Penelope Garcia, the technical analyst of the fictional FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit in Criminal Minds, is originally a hacker who gets caught by the FBI. She’s given two options: to either join the FBI or to get arrested.

Chloe O’ Brian, a long-time friend of Jack Bauer, in the show 24 is the technical analyst. In 24: Live Another Day, Chloe, now grief-stricken by the loss of her son and husband joins a hacktivist group that exposes classified secrets of the government. [17]

See Also


  1. "Hacker vs. Cracker", Chad Perrin, 17 April 2009 [1]
  2. "Computer Network Security", Joseph Kizza, 2005 eBook
  3. "Hacking: Digital Media and Technological Determinism", Tim Jordan, 2008 eBook
  4. "Timeline: A 40-year history of hacking," PCWorld.com Staff, 19 Nov 2001 [2]
  5. "A Brief History of Hacking", Mark Ward, 9 June 2011 [3]
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "Cybercrime: Investigating High-Technology Computer Crime", Robert Moore, 2010 eBook
  7. "Hands-On Ethical Hacking and Network Defense", Michael Simpson, Kent Backman, and James Corley, 2010 eBook
  8. "7 Levels of Hackers", Eric Chabrow, 25 Feb 2012 [4]
  9. "Hacking: Digital Media and Technological Determinism", Tim Jordan, 2008 eBook
  10. "7 Levels of Hackers", Eric Chabrow, 25 Feb 2012 [5]
  11. "Script Kiddies and Packet Monkeys - The New Generation of 'Hackers'", Dennis Dion, 29 Jan 2001 [6]
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "Handbook of Information Security, Threats, Vulnerabilities, Prevention, Detection, and Management", Hossein Bidgoli, 2006 eBook
  13. "How can I hack online games?", Quora Anonymous User, 10 April 2017 [7]
  14. "Infinity Ward admits MW2 is hacked and can’t be fixed on the PS3… not until Sony fixes it’s mess", Gavin Mannion, 17 January 2011 [8]
  15. "The moral ambiguity of social control in cyberspace: a retro-assessment of the ‘golden age’ of hacking", Jim Thomas, 1 October 2005 [9]
  16. https://abc.go.com/shows/marvels-agents-of-shield/cast/agent-daisy-johnson
  17. 24. (2001, November 06). Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0285331/

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