A hacker is an individual who uses computer, networking or other skills to overcome a technical problem. The term also may refer to anyone who uses their abilities to gain unauthorized access to systems or networks in order to commit crimes. A hacker may, for example, steal information to hurt people via identity theft or bring down a system and, often, hold it hostage in order to collect a ransom.


The term hacker has historically been a divisive one, sometimes being used as a term of admiration for individuals who exhibit a high degree of skill and creativity in their approach to technical problems. However, the term is also commonly applied to individuals who use this skill for illegal or unethical purposes.


Hacker was first used in the 1960s to describe a programmer or an individual who, in an era of highly constrained computer capabilities, could increase the efficiency of computer code in a way that removed, or hacked, excess machine code instructions from a program. It has evolved over the years to refer to someone with an advanced understanding of computers, networking, programming or hardware.