The term hacker has a double meaning within the field of computing. It can be an expert computer programmer who creates complex software and hardware. These hackers are experts in the field of computing and have achieved a certain elite status within their field. The other commonly known meaning of the word is someone who breaks into computer security networks for his own purpose.
The media has perpetuated the more exciting connotation of the term with films and books on the subject. Films such as War Games portray breaking into the Pentagon’s security system as similar to playing a computer game. A film about the computer hacker designing a software system would probably not do very big business at the box office.
A person who breaks into systems primarily to steal is not regarded as a computer expert, although she can be. A hacker within the professional world of computing is regarded as a professional computer expert. In the professional computing world, she can be a computer and network security expert. She can also be a highly skilled software programmer or a hardware modifier. The type who breaks into bank accounts or a company’s network does exist, but the meaning is entirely different from that of a professional hacker.
The stereotypical image of a computer hacker, as portrayed by the media, is one of a shadowy figure, alone at a computer, stealing secrets and money. This type of computer hacking can bring rewards, but it can also bring huge fines and prison sentences. Thanks to the media, the average person is likely most familiar with this definition.
It is true that computer crime is on the increase, but it mainly takes the form of computer fraud. People are duped into giving out their bank and personal details after receiving bogus emails. This is not computer hacking, as it does not involve an attempt to break into a computer’s software system.
In many cases, it is not very difficult to gain access to someone’s email password. There are many Internet sites that claim to be able to gain access for a fee, but these sites usually work by sending bogus emails asking the recipient to verify passwords for security reasons. This is not real computer hacking.
A real hacker in the field of computer security is someone employed to stop any unauthorized access to a network’s security system, so when someone says that she has this job, it is not necessarily a bad thing. She may be able to help upgrade a computer instead of breaking into it.