Hackers Are Evolving Faster Than Technology

Illustration of a security padlock formed with electric current imposed over a circuit board
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Ever wonder about the origins of the hacking movement? How were hackers born? If you’re old enough, do you even remember when the word “hacker” was first coined?

Hacking's Origins

Hacking came from “phreaking” (hacking phone systems), out of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Breaking into networks was called “cracking.” The prototype hackers were interested in getting into phone systems.

And then personal computers were invented. More and more people and businesses and governments adopted PCs, and a whole new world of technology beckoned the hackers. They had a field day playing around in this new techy realm, and along the way, discovered weaknesses in the networks.

Hacking soon after became illegal, but that didn’t stop these criminals. At first, a lot of hacking was done for the adrenaline surge—the computer equivalent of illegal base jumping or scaling a skyscraper. Hackers wanted to be a star in their community.

But over time, these cyber thrill-seekers realized that they could make money off of their e-quests. Why destroy a file, corrupt a program and play cat-and-mouse with the IT team when you can rip off all the suckers out there and make a killing?

Hacking, essentially, is burglary. Hackers steal people's identities, such as getting ahold of login information to the victim’s bank and then making withdrawals. When cybercrime is committed on a larger scale, like to a giant retailer, the damages skyrocket into the tens of millions for a single business.

One who hacks isn’t necessarily bad. Hacking is a particular act, and it’s bad when done by bad people for financial gain or to tarnish the recipient’s reputation. All hackers are pretty smart, and we techy-challenged folk sometimes like to convince ourselves that all hackers are crooked, maybe as consolation for not being as smart as them.

How to Hack

Hackers use hardware and software to test how easily a computer network can be penetrated. Areas of weakness are called vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities can be found at any one of a number of points, such as the Internet connection itself, the browser or the operating system of the user’s computer.

A decade ago, hackers crashed computers—making the user instantly know they were hacked. These days, hackers have figured out ways to commit crimes without the user knowing it. How could they get your banking information if your computer is crashed?

Instead, they infect your computer with a Trojan that waits quietly, undetected, then spring into action when you begin online banking—sending information to the hacker.

Beware of Viruses

Your smoothly-running computer right now could have a virus lying in the shadows, waiting to be triggered by some action on your part—kind of like a mugger waiting in the shadows for the right victim to walk on by, then leaping into action.

The trigger might be, as mentioned, logging onto a bank. Or it could be visiting a malicious website (after being lured there) or clicking on an attachment or a link inside an e-mail. It could be from being duped into downloading a malicious program. These actions unleash a virus that infects your computer. And they’re not the only actions, either, but they’re the most common.

There are no signs that the rate of viral infections is slowing down. It’s actually boomed over the past few years. That’s because hackers have been advancing at a more rapid pace than that of the “white hat” hackers who specialize in figuring out how the bad “black hat” hackers plan their attacks.