Computer hacking is the practice of modifying computer hardware and software to accomplish a goal outside of the creator’s original purpose. People who engage in computer hacking activities are often called hackers. Since the word “hack” has long been used to describe someone who is incompetent at his/her profession, some hackers claim this term is offensive and fails to give appropriate recognition to their skills.
Computer hacking is most common among teenagers and young adults, although there are many older hackers as well. Many hackers are true technology buffs who enjoy learning more about how computers work and consider computer hacking an “art” form. They often enjoy programming and have expert-level skills in one particular program. For these individuals, computer hacking is a real life application of their problem-solving skills. It’s a chance to demonstrate their abilities, not an opportunity to harm others.
Since a large number of hackers are self-taught prodigies, some corporations actually employ computer hackers as part of their technical support staff. These individuals use their skills to find flaws in the company’s security system so that they can be repaired quickly. In many cases, this type of computer hacking helps prevent identity theft and other serious computer-related crimes.
Computer hacking can also lead to other constructive technological developments, since many of the skills developed from hacking apply to more mainstream pursuits. For example, former hackers Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson went on to create the UNIX operating system in the 1970s. This system had a huge impact on the development of Linux, a free UNIX-like operating system. Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster, is another hacker well known for his accomplishments outside of computer hacking.
In comparison to those who develop an interest in computer hacking out of simple intellectual curiosity, some hackers have less noble motives. Hackers who are out to steal personal information, change a corporation’s financial data, break security codes to gain unauthorized network access, or conduct other destructive activities are sometimes called “crackers.” This type of computer hacking can earn you a trip to a federal prison for up to 20 years.
If you are interested in protecting your home computer against malicious hackers, investing in a good firewall is highly recommended. It’s also a good idea to check your software programs for updates on a regular basis. For example, Microsoft offers a number of free security patches for its Internet Explorer browser.