The term ‘hacking’ is used very broadly, but in general is used to refer to seeking and exploiting weaknesses to networks and databases.
Hacking may target a network, which allows the hacker to gain access to a network and then intercept traffic on it.
It can also be aimed at gaining entry to a database of information.
This activity can be both legal and illegal and there are several possible objectives behind it.
There are many types of hacking, including cyber crime, ethical hacking, hacktivism, and state-sponsored hacking.
Cyber crime will usually be trying to gain entry to a network to gain access to data that they can use either for financial gain or feed back into more attacks.
This could include data such as intellectual property or more mundane personal information such as names or contact details. All of this data has a monetary value.
Meanwhile, hacktivism is a form of hacking by people with a non-financial agenda.
For example, the much-publicised Ashley Madison attack was carried out by the Impact Team, who claimed moral motives. The hackers stole details of 37 million customers of Ashley Madison. They released a limited amount of data shortly after the hack was made public, threatening to release all of the data if the site was not shut down.
Ethical hackers are people who use their computer expertise to attempt to hack into systems in order to pre-empt attacks by the above groups, essentially.
Examples include a team called Assure Ethical Hacking set up by BT to try and expose security flaws through hacking, for example in autonomous vehicles.
There is some controversy around the usage of the term hacking, since many people in the IT industry use the term ‘hacker’ to refer simply to somebody with a good knowledge of computer systems.