What is a hacker?

Although a lot of people hear the word “hackers” and think we’re talking about “cybercriminals”, a hacker is not always a bad guy. A hacker is just a person who uses computer programming or technical skills to overcome a challenge or problem. As with most labels, there’s a good side and a bad side, and there are also people who fall somewhere in between.

There are many different types of hackers. For example, a “white hat” hacker is an ethical computer security expert or programmer who works with organizations or ethical hacking groups to find cybersecurity vulnerabilities in order to fix them, not take advantage of them. You may have also heard of “hacktivists”, who use technology to spread social, political, ideological, or religious messages. Hackers can also be people who are involved in the software side of maker culture. These hackers use programming and electronics to create art, music, applications, or innovative solutions to challenges.

If the word “hacker” brings to mind a cybercriminal who uses their programming expertise to break into corporate and private systems to steal data, you’re probably thinking of a “black hat” hacker. These are hackers who intentionally violate computer security for a variety of reasons, such as theft, fraud, corporate espionage, and even old-fashioned malice. (The terms “white hat” and “black hat” come from the Western movie genre in America because the heroes of those stories often wore white hats, while the villains wore black ones.) Additionally, there are also “gray hat” hackers whose goals are somewhere in between. Many of them are freelancers looking to make a profit by exposing vulnerabilities in an organization’s security structure, and offering to fix them for a fee.

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