In the field of information technology, a “hacker” is someone who invades computer systems without authorization. In the public consciousness, criminal hackers are predominantly presented as people who use their skills to their advantage and to the detriment of others. However, there are also “ethical hackers,” who find gaps in systems and networks so that they can be better secured. For example, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) hires professional hackers for this purpose.

What does the term “hacker” mean in detail?

The term derives from the verb, “to hack,” which means, “to hack something, to disassemble.” The term “hacker” was created in the 50s and originally referred to tinkerers who disassembled technical devices and tried to reassemble them differently, as new or improved. Since the early 1980s, the term has been increasingly linked to the topic of cyber crime. Today, there are roughly three types of hackers:

  • Ethical hackers, or “white hats” detect vulnerabilities and issues that can help address these vulnerabilities. They can do this professionally or in their spare time and even prove their ethical attitude through internationally recognized certificates.
  • Criminal hackers, or “black hats” are the ones most commonly associated with the word “hacker” today, for good reason, so it is very important to raise awareness of the dangers they pose.
  • A third group is called, “Gray Hats”. This is a collective term for all hackers who cannot be clearly assigned to the other two groups, because, as an example, they use illegal means to uncover security vulnerabilities in a computer program and publish them on the Internet, but without giving the manufacturer time to fill in the gaps.
  • The original meaning of the term, “hacker,” is based on the popular “life hacks” on the internet. These are playful tricks that make life easier (at least supposedly), such as, how to cool a beer in 2 minutes, or how to clean the computer keyboard with a post-it.

Where do I encounter hackers in everyday work?

You can encounter hackers in everyday working life almost anywhere. One example is by a cleverly crafted email that encourages you to open an attachment (social engineering). In our networked world, a hacker’s activity can also have an impact on seemingly non-digital aspects of our everyday lives such as train, bus or subway failures due to the hack of a public transportation service provider. Or thanks to an ethical hacker, the next update of your company car’s onboard computer contains program lines making opening the central locking system difficult for unauthorized persons.

What can I do to protect myself from hackers?

Hackers use many different methods, starting points and security holes for unauthorized intrusion into computer systems. Increase your company’s cyber security comprehensively, in order to offer hackers as few attack points as possible. Important measures include among others

  • As many daily updates as possible
  • Relevant IT structures, such as firewalls and virus scanners
  • Employee sensitization
  • Secure passwords
  • Possibly separate networks for sensitive business units or departments

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