The original hackers were a group from ~1975 onwards of computer hobbyists who disassembled machines, traded parts, and rebuilt them to improve them. The verb ‘to hack’ was already used by radio amateurs since the 50s to mean ‘to tinker’, as in Scrapheap’s challenge “we’ll fix that in tinkering time”. The hackers also wrote software for their computers, publishing their programs to share with and impress others. This was done in magazines made of paper! Two members of the Homebrew Computer Club around San Francisco’s Santa Clara Valley were Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple. Another member of the hacker community was Bill Gates, who founded Microsoft. That San Francisco valley is today called Silicon Valley.
These hackers modified their machines and wrote software to give them functionality that their manufacturers hadn’t intended, thought possible, or even considered. Observe that they owned their machines, so there is no question over the legality of their hobby. It is comparable to car enthusiasts serving their own car, who might ‘soup up’ its engine.
For the last thirty years, ‘hacking’ can also describe malicious modification of computers owned by other people. This happened at first by accident - in 1982 a game called Elk Cloner would as a practical joke by its creator display a poem on its 50th use. Shared on floppy discs, the game and the joke spread beyond its intended domain. Later those with perverse intent wrote viruses which would announce their conquest of a users computer before destroying data. Many of them were grumpy teenagers, which made a good news story. For the last fifteen years almost all hacking is done by organised criminals. It is a huge business. Viruses of 2010 do not announce their conquest but stay silent, they do not destroy a user’s data but silently collect it, so that the criminals may gain access their bank account. Rather than break a computer, the virus subverts it into sending spam (advertising for dodgy...
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