A hacker is a person who creates and modifies computer software and computer hardware, including computer programming, administration, and security-related items. The term usually bears strong connotations, but may be either favorable or denigrating depending on cultural context.

In computer programming, a hacker is a programmer who hacks or reaches a goal by employing a series of modifications to exploit or extend existing code or resources. For some, "hacker" has a negative connotation and refers to a person who "hacks" or uses kludges to accomplish programming tasks that are ugly, inelegant, and inefficient. This negative form of the noun "hack" is even used among users of the positive sense of "hacker".

In computer security, a hacker is a person who specializes in work with the security mechanisms for computer and network systems. While including those who endeavor to strengthen such mechanisms, it more often is used, especially in the mass media, to refer to those who seek access despite them.

In other technical fields, hacker is extended to mean a person who makes things work beyond perceived limits through their own technical skill, such as a hardware hacker, or reality hacker.

In hacker culture, a hacker is a person who has attained a certain social status and is recognized among members of the culture for commitment to the culture's values and a certain amount of technical knowledge.

The hacker community, the set of people who would describe themselves as hackers or who would be described by others as hackers, falls into at least four partially overlapping categories. Sometimes alternate terms such as "cracker" are used in an attempt to more exactly distinguish which category of hacker is intended, or when attempting to put a contextual distance between the categories due to the Hacker definition controversy.

The positive usage of hacker is one who knows a (sometimes specified) set of programming interfaces well enough to program rapidly and expertly. This type of hacker is well-respected (although the term still carries some of the meaning of hack), and is capable of developing programs without adequate planning or where pre-planning is difficult or impossible to achieve. This zugzwang gives freedom and the ability to be creative against methodical careful progress. At their best, hackers can be very productive. The technical downside of hacker productivity is often in maintainability, documentation, and completion. Very talented hackers may become bored with a project once they have figured out all of the hard parts, and be unwilling to finish off the "details". This attitude can cause friction in environments where other programmers are expected to pick up the half finished work, decipher the structures and ideas, and bullet-proof the code. In other cases, where a hacker is willing to maintain their own code, a company may be unable to find anyone else who is capable or willing to dig through code to maintain the program if the original programmer moves on to a new job.

Additionally, there is sometimes a social downside associated with hacking. The stereotype of a hacker as having gained technical ability at a cost in social ability has historical basis in an uncomfortable amount of factual foundation in many individuals. While not universal, nor even restricted to hackers, the difficulty in relating to others and the often abrasive personalities of some hackers makes some of them difficult to work with or to organize into teams. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for hackers to thrive on social interaction.

In the networking sense, a hacker is one who specializes in work with the access control mechanisms for computer and network systems. This includes individuals who work toward maintaining and improving the integrity of such mechanisms. However, the most common usage of hacker in this respect refers to someone who exploits systems or gains unauthorized access by means of clever tactics and detailed knowledge, while taking advantage of any carelessness or ignorance on the part of system operators. This use of hacker as intruder (frequent in the media) generally has a strong negative connotation, and is disparaged and discouraged within the computer community, resulting in the modern Hacker definition controversy.

For such hackers specializing in intrusion, the highly derogatory term Script kiddies is often used to indicate those who either claim to have far more skill than they actually have, or who exclusively use programs developed by others to achieve a successful security exploit.

Another type of hacker is one who creates novel hardware modifications. At the most basic end of this spectrum are those who make frequent changes to the hardware in their computers using standard components, or make semi-cosmetic themed modifications to the appearance of the machine. This type of Hacker modifes his/her computer for performance needs and/or aesthetics. These changes often include adding memory, storage or LEDs and cold cathode tubes for light effects. These people often show off their talents in contests, and many enjoy LAN parties. At the more advanced end of the hardware hackers are those who modify hardware (not limited to computers) to expand capabilities; this group blurs into the culture of hobbyist inventors and professional electronics engineering. An example of such modification includes the addition of TCP/IP Internet capabilities to a number of vending machines and coffee makers during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Hackers who have the ability to write circuit-level code, device drivers, firmware, low-level networking, (and even more impressively, using these techniques to make devices do things outside of their spec sheets), are typically in very high regard among hacker communities. This is primarily due to the enormous difficulty, complexity and specialized domain knowledge required for this type of work, as well as the electrical engineering expertise that plays a large role. Such hackers are rare, and almost always considered to be wizards or gurus of a very high degree.

There are theoretical types of hackers who are considered to possess an atypical level of skill beyond that of other meanings of the positive form of "hacker", which include the Guru and the Wizard.

In some portions of the computer community, a Wizard is one who can do anything a hacker can, but elegantly; while a Guru not only can do so elegantly, but instruct those who do not know how. In other sub-communities, a Guru is one with a very broad degree of expertise, while a Wizard is expert in a very narrow field. In practice, such exact distinction are usually more at home in a RPG world, and not often heard in actual conversation.

Due to the overlapping nature of the hacker concept space, many of these individuals could be included in more than one category.

* Linus Torvalds, who was a computer science student at the University of Helsinki when he began writing the Linux kernel in 1991.

* Mel Kaye, the archetypal Real Programmer, was credited with doing "the bulk of the programming" for the Royal McBee LGP-30 drum-memory computer in the 1950s. Ed Nather, another hacker, published the widely acclaimed "Story of Mel" in the 1980s.

* Donald Knuth, best known for practically creating the field of algorithm analysis, coding the TeX typesetting system, and writing The Art of Computer Programming - one of the most respected references in the field.

* Dan Bernstein, the author of qmail and djbdns, also a mathematician and cryptographer.

* John Carmack, a widely recognized and influential game programmer. Through his work, he has made significant contributions to the field of 3D computer graphics and his games have sold in the millions. In 1999, Carmack appeared as number 10 in TIME's list of the 50 most influential people in technology.

* Bill Gosper, mathematician and programmer, and contemporary of Richard Greenblatt.

* Richard Greenblatt, primary designer of the MIT Lisp machine and pioneer of computerized chess.

* Grace Hopper, the first programmer of the Mark I Calculator, also developed the first compiler for a computer programming language.

* Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and author of many fundamental UNIX utilities.

* John McCarthy, the inventor of the Lisp programming language. Also coined the term "Artificial Intelligence".

* Rob Pike, a software engineer and author. He is best known for his work at Bell Labs, where he was a member of the Unix team and was involved in the creation of the Plan 9 and Inferno operating systems.

* Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement and the GNU project, and original author of Emacs and gcc.

* Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, who created Unix in 1969. Ritchie is also notable for having created the C programming language.

* Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of the C++ programming language.

* Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of the PHP scripting language.

* Guido van Rossum, the creator of the Python programming language.

* Wietse Venema, best known for writing the Postfix mail system and co-creating (with Dan Farmer) the Security Administrator Tool for Analyzing Networks (SATAN), a remote vulnerability scanner.

* Larry Wall, the creator of the Perl programming language.

* Steve Wozniak, a co-founder of Apple Computer (with Steve Jobs). Got his start making devices for phone phreaking, working with John Draper.

* Theo de Raadt, the founder of the OpenBSD project.

* Fyodor — Author of the open source Nmap Security Scanner, web site Insecure.Org, co-author of hacking novel How to Own a Continent, and founding member of the Honeynet Project.

* Johan "Julf" Helsingius — Operated the world's most popular anonymous remailer, the Penet remailer (called penet.fi), until he closed up shop in September 1996.

* Adrian Lamo - American hacker who gained notoriety by hacking high-profile websites using common flaws in their webpages. Hacks include The New York Times, AOL, MCI Worldcom, Cingular, Google, and the NSA.

* Mark Russinovich - Expert on Windows architecture and programming; noted for identifying the limited differences between Windows NT Server and Workstation, and discovering the 2005 Sony Rootkit software

* Bruce Schneier - Founder and CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc.

* Phil Zimmerman - Designer and developer of PGP that brought public-key cryptography to the masses, and inadvertantly upset the US government which at the time considered cryptography to be a non-exportable munition.

* Solar Designer — Founder of the Openwall Project.

* Don Lancaster — author of the Hardware Hacker column in Radio Electronics magazine.

* Steve Wozniak — co-founder of Apple Computer, credited with contributing greatly to the personal computer revolution of the 1970s.

Listed below are individuals who, while fitting in one or more of the above categories, are currently more widely famous (especially among the general public) for their media presence than their technical accomplishments.

* Loyd Blankenship (also known as The Mentor) — Former LOD member. Author of The Conscience of a Hacker (Hacker's Manifesto).

* Eric Corley (also known as Emmanuel Goldstein) — Long standing publisher of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly and founder of the H.O.P.E. conferences. He has been part of the hacker community since the late '70s.

* Patrick K. Kroupa (also known as Lord Digital) — Former LOD member, co-founder of MindVox, author of Phantom Access programs, and MindVox: The Overture. Appears in over 20 books and hundreds of media and press articles.

* Kevin Mitnick — A former computer criminal who now (since his release from prison in 2000) speaks, consults, and authors books about social engineering and network security.

* CULT OF THE DEAD COW — A high profile hacker group that has both made news and been consulted by the media on numerous occasions.

* Eric S. Raymond — One of the founders of the Open Source Initiative. He wrote the famous text The Cathedral and the Bazaar and many other essays. He also maintains the Jargon File for the Hacker culture, which was previously maintained by Guy L. Steele, Jr..

* Bruce Perens — Also one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative. He was the former Debian GNU/Linux Project Leader, and is the primary author of the Open Source Definition.

* The 414s and Neal Patrick, subjects of brief but widespread media coverage in 1983, as the United States media was becoming aware of hackers

* Gary McKinnon, accused of hacking into 97 United States military and NASA computers in 2001 and 2002.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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