In the original (or arguably real) sense, someone who knows how a particular type of thing or machine works so well they can take it apart and rebuild it to work differently or better.
Computer hacking began with people wanting to build their own computers, before home computers or mass-produced machines...
Best answer: In the original (or arguably real) sense, someone who knows how a particular type of thing or machine works so well they can take it apart and rebuild it to work differently or better.
Computer hacking began with people wanting to build their own computers, before home computers or mass-produced machines existed.
The only way to get some specialist parts was to get scrap from commercial mainframes and minicomputers and strip it down to re-use the parts.
[To put prices in perspective, the first keyboard I bought, in the early 70s, cost me £65 - for an uncased part out of a scrapped machine. Adjusted for inflation, that's rather more than £1000 / $1300 in current values].
Once you built a computer, you had to learn to program it - and possibly write all your own tools and utilities to do that.
Most people doing that could read and write machine code directly, as assemblers took too much memory and memory was *extremely* expensive.
Being able to do that also meant you could look at and "read" other peoples programs, making them work differently - often a requirement as often home-built-machines did not stick to any standards and programs written on one needed patching to run on another.
That's historically what hackers are - people who can rebuild hardware and software how they like.
Back then, there was nothing illegal about "exploring" other computer systems using a dial-up modem and in fact a lot of big companies had no problem with allowing other computer enthusiasts to dial-in and look at things on their machines.
None of those real enthusiasts ever dreamt of doing anything to cause harm.
A lot of the tools and skills can be misused for malicious purposes, but to an original hacker that's wrong - it's cracking not hacking.
TV & Movie writers don't care, they think hacking sounds better - so to most people now, hacking means malicious acts.
There are also a lot of people who have no genuine skills but have found the various software tools written for analysing and disassembling other software etc., know to hackers as "Script kiddies".
Most of the things you see attributed to "hackers" on TV are just plain wrong. It's not possible to just gain access to any specific computer you want remotely, no matter what facilities the attacker has.
Since the general introduction of requirements of "strong" passwords, it's also totally impossible to bypass those to gain access to an account. To "brute force" just a six character password that uses uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols would take over a hundred years - in the system did not lock the attacker out after a few wrong attempts.
By the time you get to ten character passwords, it's up to over a million years even it you could do a million tries per second...
There are some methods of stealing data from badly written sites, as you see in the news occasionally - generally peoples names and email addresses etc., that have used a particular web site. It does not give access to individual accounts and cannot happen with properly written software.
The commonest things blamed on hackers (as just about every "I've been hacked" post on this site) are the result of social engineering and no connection with actual hacking.
Things like "phishing" emails that try to trick people into visiting a fake look-alike web site and entering their login data.
Even some of the big business computer compromises have been dome like that - eg. someone using an internal phone and pretending to be an employee who's lost their password & convinced someone to give them access to the computers...
That's not "hacking".
Or tricking someone in to running a program that gives someone else access to or control of their computer, by saying it's a photo or bill etc. attached to an email, or saying it's a free game on a web site - getting the computer user to install malware; a trojan.
Again, not "hacking" or cracking. Social engineering - the user gives away access themselves, albeit unintentionally.
And for info, remember that now any attempt to access any computer system or computer-based device without the owners permission is a criminal offence; that includes both such as trying to access someone else account and simply doing things the owners rules say you must not do. Any offence can possibly lead to a massive fine or a prison sentence.
[Electronics designer and programmer for 40+ years, also an original 70s (legal) hacker].
4 weeks ago