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What is hacking?

John Sears

John Sears


Oct 12, 2022


7 min read

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Hacking has become a common word in the information age, in an era in which most of us use the internet on a daily basis. Hackers view the large amounts of information created as a massive opportunity. The growth in data has led, in turn, to an exponential growth in cybercrime in recent years, but what exactly does hacking mean?

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about this concept.

Defining hacking and its history?

Hacking can be simply defined as the act of successfully compromising digital devices and networks. Hacking usually occurs via unauthorized access, which results from failures in security at some level.

Traditionally, hackers worked individually, but this picture is changing. Cybercrime has become a multibillion dollar illicit market industry. And attempts to hack people and organizations have become more sophisticated. Today, many hacking groups work together, coordinating their attacks and operations. For example, the Bureau 121 and Lazarus groups have notably collaborated on attacks.

The term “hacker” was first used in the 1960s by MIT professionals. At this time, very few people had high-level knowledge of computing. But a few extremely skilled individuals were able to hack into early computer systems.

When we think about hacking today, it is typically associated with cyberspace. The term was first used in the 1984 novel Neuromancer. More hackers emerged as computing technology became increasingly prominent.

It was only in the era of the internet that hacking began to develop the prominence that it enjoys today. The internet has necessitated a huge amount of information being stored in the public domain, often in cloud devices. In short, if cybercriminals are able to overcome system security, they can gain access to private and potentially valuable information.

Hacking is usually technical in nature, and thus it requires a huge amount of technical knowledge. Occasionally, successful hacks can originate from stolen passwords and other human errors. But typically, attackers use complex knowledge of computer systems in order to infiltrate them.

Another increasingly common way to engage in hacking is to trick everyday people into inadvertently revealing information. This approach is often referred to as phishing – a technique that has proliferated in the era of mass email marketing.

Other types of hacking

While “black hat” hackers attempt to steal data and engage in cybercrime, another form of hacker exists that is an antidote to these attempts. “White hat” hackers are politically or socially motivated. Essentially, they are activists. Often these people attempt to shine light on an issue of consequence. White hat hackers also target groups or organizations that they consider to be immoral or nefarious.

Conflict between black hat and white hat hacking groups is common. Black hat hackers engage in activity that could be considered destructive, while white hat hackers attempt to counteract such behavior. The two groups have diametrically opposed motives – they often clash in discourse as well.

White hat hackers, by their very nature, are opposed to the activities of black hat hackers. Conversely, black hat hackers are often hostile towards white hat hackers. For example, as early as 2013, Xylitol reported receiving countless death threats via social media. Considering the organized criminal gangs and the potentially billions of dollars that are involved, sometimes this conflict can even become dangerous for white hat hackers, who have been threatened or even physically attacked. Completing the picture are “gray hat hackers”, who often violate laws, but do not have the malicious intent of their black hat equivalents.

Another type of hacking is arguably the most mysterious, involving nation states and the process of state-sponsored hacking. Such state-sponsored activity can be used to steal business or national intelligence, destabilize the infrastructure of adversaries, or even for reasons of political propaganda. Attacks can remain somewhat hazy and unclear, but sometimes activities are uncovered. One recent example was the United Nations report on North Korea, which suggested that the rogue nation funded its ballistic missile program via stolen cryptocurrency. This is definitely a controversial area of modern hacking, but it is one of which most countries in the world already have acute awareness.

Protecting yourself against hacking

While a significant proportion of cybercrime is aimed at large organizations, there is also a lot of black hat hacking aimed at everyday people. In fact, almost everyone in society has become a potential target of hackers. The prominence of cyber attacks means that it's important to familiarize yourself with this issue. Understanding the measures you can take to protect yourself is hugely important, and here NordLocker’s malware research can be informative.

The first thing to understand is that virtually all forms of technology are vulnerable to hacking. This principle applies to any device connected to the internet. In fact, one of the interesting aspects of hacking going forward is that cybercriminals will undoubtedly target Internet of Things infrastructure in the years to come. Many more everyday items will become vulnerable as a consequence.

Several layers of protection can be implemented to prevent hacking. Many of these procedures will be familiar to those who are savvy with the internet and computing.

How to protect yourself against hacking:

  • Protect your information – Encrypt sensitive information where possible. Only store private data in secure places.

  • Use anti-malware – Ensure that your devices are protected by firewalls and antivirus software.

  • Download files with care – Only download files when you are certain of the reliability of the source.

  • Update your software regularly – Download and install all updates for any software that you use.

  • Browse carefully – Only use websites that are well-known and established. Pay attention to Google ratings of site security.

  • Ensure password strength – Use lengthy, unique passwords that are hard to crack, and ideally utilize password management software.


Anti-malware protection is extremely important for anyone utilizing the internet at home. Malware is one form of threat to computers that utilizes computer viruses in order to steal passwords and other data. Anti-malware protection can neutralize these programs and block malicious phishing websites. Criminals can target multiple platforms and devices, so it's important to install anti-malware protection on every system that you utilize. It's also important to be generally careful with applications and downloads.

Careful downloading

You should only download apps from legitimate marketplaces that have credible reputations. Anything you download can ultimately be harmful to your computer, so it’s important to use established platforms. Google Play and the Apple App Store are the obvious places to begin, but other credible alternatives are also available.

Regardless, every time that you download an app, you should check the ratings and reviews first. It's important to ensure that you're not installing anything that can clog up, or cause problems for, your computer or mobile device. If you encounter an app with a low rating, a small number of downloads, and poor reviews, it is advisable to avoid downloading and installing the software.

Protecting information

It's also important for you to protect your information. One of the most common ways that cybercriminals manage to breach systems is simply by posing as someone else and conning people into revealing their personal details. It's important, therefore, to understand that no online payment system will ever ask you for login credentials or any form of personal information such as credit card numbers – and certainly not via email. You can automatically assume that any such requests are illegitimate and ignore them.

Update your software regularly

Regardless of whether you're using mobile or desktop systems, it is important to update your operating system on a regular basis. Other software on the system should also be updated regularly. Attackers will exploit vulnerabilities in software and operating systems, but they can be patched by developers. It is therefore critical to ensure that you remain up to date at all times.

Browse carefully

If you stick to safe and established websites, you reduce your potential for developing vulnerability to hacking. Malware and other methods used to exploit computer systems lurk amid unsafe websites, so you should avoid sites without credentials as much as possible.

Furthermore, if you are using a website that is less established or potentially dubious, you should never download unverified attachments or click on links contained within websites, unless you are certain that they are legitimate. Similarly, it is important to be vigilant with email and avoid clicking on links and attachments in unfamiliar emails. Anti-malware software will assist you with this process to some extent, but you must still be vigilant.

Password safety

One final important aspect of personal security is to engage in diligent password safety. Keep all of your passwords secure at all times, but also use strong passwords in the first place. The simpler that you make your password, the easier that it is for hackers to crack. It is therefore important to choose a unique and complicated password because hackers are simply far less likely to target such passwords.

Furthermore, using different passwords across multiple services is recommended. However, doing so can sometimes make managing all of your passwords difficult from a logistical perspective. Password managers can help deal with this issue. These programs help you keep control of all of your online credentials. Again, no legitimate organization will ever ask you for login credentials, social security numbers, credit card numbers, or other form of personal data via email.

What are the consequences of being hacked?

It is important to take hacking seriously because the consequences for an individual or organization can be serious. For businesses and organizations with serious assets, an increasingly popular form of hacking is ransomware. Ransomware usually involves a hacker not only compromising a computer system but permanently locking it, encrypting all information and data included on the system, and threatening to delete it permanently.

During a ransomware attack, a generic message will be sent to the targeted organization, requesting payment, usually in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Even if payment is made, there is absolutely no guarantee that system integrity will be restored. So avoiding ransomware in the first place is of paramount importance.

Hackers can also compromise the usernames and passwords of everyday members of the public, enabling them to access systems via your accounts. If your online banking details are compromised, the consequences can be extremely serious. Cybercriminals can also steal your personal identity. They can open credit cards and bank accounts in your name and run up massive credit card bills that are then attributed to your identity. Being hacked can cause you an inordinate amount of difficulty as well as permanently ruin your credit rating. Other hackers will simply make purchases with your cards and banking credentials.

Social Security abuse is another particular prominent issue in the United States. Criminals may also steal information and sell it to other parties for illicit or illegal purposes. Whatever form identity theft takes, it can be debilitating for the individual. The consequences of identity theft should never be underestimated.


Hacking has become so prominent that it is a virtual inevitability that you will be targeted at some point. It's therefore extremely important to be vigilant with all computing services that you use. The consequences of data breaches can be devastating, whether you are an organization or an individual. It can sometimes be impossible to recover your operation and reputation. Investing time in understanding and protecting yourself against hacking should be considered essential.

John Sears

John Sears

Verified author

John believes that the best things in life are simple. He uses the same approach when he’s writing about online security. John says that his #1 pet peeve is phishing scams. Ironically, his favorite non-work related activity is fishing.