A hacker was originally an expert or enthusiast of any kind (eg horse riding, astronomy). It was first used in conjunction with computer programming in the 1960s, when certain computer programmers used the term to describe themselves. Hackers are people who enjoy exploring the details of programmable systems. The term hackers has, over the last few years, been increasingly misunderstood and misused. In the media you can often find articles telling of hackers breaking into computer systems and websites stealing and destroying information. In reality however, people who call themselves hackers are the best IT specialists with extensive programming and networking knowledge. Hackers are often very intelligent. A hacker will take delight in hacking into a computer system, and will get joy from finding bugs and holes in the operating system allowing him access.
The word hacker is now widely used and recognized over the world as a computer user breaching a system's security and stealing valuable information. This happens much to the annoyance of true hackers who feel they are not respected. However this term is now so widely used that it has changed its meaning and is used instead of cracker (see below). Hackers are often ex-crackers who have decided to use their skills to help other people and make a living. They are often hired by governments and other large corporations to find holes in, and hence protect, their computer networks. For this reason crackers have no respect for hackers and vice versa. Hackers consider themselves as an elite, and there is a sense of ego satisfaction in being and being known as a hacker.
These individuals are generally responsible for breaking into networks, cracking passwords in websites and programs, and generally causing havoc throughout the Internet. They are mostly malicious teens who get a kick from destroying or altering data on a system. Crackers will look for a weakness in a computer system and then exploit that weakness. Some of them are advanced computer users, but often they have no idea of what they are doing and have very little, or no programming skills.
There is another breed of computer users, called 'cypherpunks'. This term originates from a movement or fashion trend called 'cyberpunk' which is closely associated with goth and rave subcultures. The movement began in the 1970s, when a lot of computer users felt that their means of communication was at a great risk of being 'processed' by government agencies. It was only rumours at the time, but today, there are reports that governments scan email and phone conversations. These cypherpunks believed that the only solution was for everyone to have free access to encryption methods. At that time the government began to treat computer encryption as a weapon and restricted its use, putting the cypherpunks at great risks.
Hackers believe that information sharing is a positive thing. Most hackers are actively willing to share their ideas and expertise; they will often write open-source code allowing others to see what they have done. They believe that it is alright to hack into a system as long the hacker does not steal or destroy data while exploring the system, and will not alter any data except what is needed to cover their tracks. They also have a natural mistrust for authority, because, often enough, their hobby leads them to sometimes break the law. Above all, hackers believe that computers can change your life for the better. These points are widely accepted.
The Stereotypical Hacker
Hackers dress casually, typically in T-shirt, jeans and running shoes. They often have an intellectual or humorous 'slogan' T-shirt with a slogan along the lines of: 'I'm number one, so why try harder!' They will often have long hair and a beard. After about 1995, the dress style gained influence from punk, gothic and rave subcultures and led to a tendency to wear a lot of black. Hackers dress for comfort, function and low maintenance rather than for appearance.
The most obvious characteristics of a hacker is that they have a high intelligence and are very curious. They are generally not intellectually narrow and they show an interest in a lot of subjects. One important point is that hackers are control freaks and love to make their computers do little things for them. Hackers should always be judged and rated by their hacking, not other factors like degrees, age, race or position.