a.k.a. hacking

What is a hacker? It's someone who knows how to program computer software and can get behind login screens to change the code. A hacker is really a computer enthusiast who enjoys learning everything about a computer system and, through clever programming, pushes the system to its highest possible level of performance. Often confused with crackers, these hobbyists are skilled programmers with the reputation of having a mischievous bent for breaking into secured systems. So in one sense, a hacker is a person who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about it.

In another sense, the term "hacker" tends to connote membership within a global community defined by computer networks. It implies that the person subscribes to some version of the hacker ethic. Hacking has been going on since computers were invented, and sometimes there have been extremely damaging consequences. A variety of old-time hackers have now "gone commercial" and taken hacking to the business level, now known as Ethical Hackers. They use their hacking skills to develop penetration tools, and then go out and analyze a customer's or company's software or networks for security vulnerabilities to report the findings back to the customer or company.

Hacker wannabes take note: It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Most hackers consider themselves something of an elite (that's right dude, meritocracy based on ability), although new members are said to be gladly welcome.

Historical perspective: Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, admits to being a hacker but only if he's sure you understand that the word means something different to him. To him, hacker culture is about using shared effort and knowledge to make something bigger, better, and faster than an individual can do alone. "There's an intense focus on openness, sharing information, as both an ideal and a practical strategy to get things done," he explains. He has even instituted what he calls "hackathons" at Facebook, what others might call brainstorming sessions for engineers. Hacker culture may have become more mainstream but in the age of cyberbullying and cyberfraud, hacking can still be very damaging.

NetLingo Classification: Online Jargon