Perhaps the most misunderstood term in our times is the word hacking.
The first thing that comes to most people's mind when listening to the word hacker is a shady character sitting in front of a computer stealing other people's personal information.
But that's not true. The actual word "Hacking" doesn't mean anything like that. The people who does that kind of things are called crackers.
There is a widespread misconception about these words. But we don't want to indulge in misconception, do we? So, let's get our terminologies right.
What is hacking?
Hackers are the people who takes fun in exploring a system and try to solve problems in an intelligent and fun way. Usually they are related to the field of computer science. But in a broader sense, people from other fields with such mindset can also be associated with hacking.
What is cracking?
Crackers are people who break into computer systems to gain illegal access to the private information of a user, e.g. passwords, bank account details etc. This is NOT hacking, even if the media call them so.
There are two sorts of crackers—
White hat crackers: This type of crackers try to break into a system to test its vulnerabilities and help to patch up the problem, often in exchange of payment.
Black hat crackers: This type of crackers break into a system, gain the personal information of users and use them for illegal purposes, such as financial transactions, identity theft etc.
The Hacker Culture
There is a distinct culture called "Hacker Culture", formed by people who share the hacking mindset of a out of the box approach to a problem.
The culture itself can be traced back to the 70's MIT in the early days of computing.
Hacking requires understanding a system completely. An average user learns the minimum essential features of a system, but a hacker explores every corner of the system to learn what the system can do and what it can't to.
As they take a deeper plunge into the system they are very likely to find problems, such as security vulnerabilities, with the system that a normal user wouldn't find. But in stead of exploiting them it is the duty of a hacker to make the problem publicly known and if possible help to fix it.
Hacking means taking an out of the box approach which is both fun and intelligent while solving a problem. For a hacker, solving a problem is a reward in itself.
Hackers and the open source
The open source softwares (by open source I mean both the Open Source movement and the Free Software movement) are closely related to the hacker culture. The basic principle is to distribute the source code of a software publicly so that programmers around the world can take part in the development and maintenance of the software. This style of software development started with hacking mindset and it spread worldwide. It enabled the benefit of human endeavor to reach every corner of the world. Since then open source development has produced some of the best softwares in the world, including Linux, Mozilla Firefox etc.
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Remember: Crackers break into your house, hackers make them burglarproof.