What is hacking?

Internet security imageImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

At the end of last week, criminals carried out a serious hacking attack, which affected countries all over the world.

The cyber attack saw a harmful computer programme spread to about 150 countries, including the UK, Spain, Russia, the US and China.

The program – which is called WannaCry – has caused chaos for many organisations.

Frankfurt train stationImage copyrightEUROPEAN PHOTOPRESS AGENCY
Image captionThis picture shows how the harmful computer programme also affected trains at Frankfurt’s main station in Germany

The programme worked by locking down computer systems and demanding that people paid money in order to be able to get back into their system.

One of the main organisations affected by the attack in the UK was the NHS.

Some hospitals had to cancel treatment and appointments, while many doctors were forced to use pens and paper to do their jobs, as their computers weren’t working.

But why do people carry out attacks like this? And is hacking always a bad thing?

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What is hacking?

Hacking is when someone breaks into a computer system.

They break in by going around the usual security, like passwords, and getting in to the computer system via a different route to the official one.

It’s a bit like breaking into a house, but finding a different way in other than the front door.

Criminals carry out hacking attacks against businesses or organisations because they want to break into a company’s computer systems to cause trouble.

NHS websiteImage copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionThis picture shows an NHS website telling people that they were experiencing problems with their systems

For example, they might want to steal information about customers or to stop an organisation from being able to run properly.

The fact that so many companies all around the world are on the internet makes it easier for hackers to break into systems like this, as so many people are now connected online.

A lot more information is also stored electronically than it used to be.

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What is the effect of hacking?

Hacking can have a devastating effect on a company.

  • Time is lost as the company try to fix their systems and websites
  • The organisation’s reputation is damaged, as it shows their systems are maybe not very safe
  • They might lose customers if people stop trusting the company and decide not to use their services anymore
  • Important or sensitive information about customers could be stolen
  • Companies might be forced to pay money in order to get back into their computers – and once they’ve paid the money, the criminals might not even let them back into their system anyway
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Is hacking always a crime?

When hacking is used for harmful reasons such as above, then it is a criminal offence and against the law.

Woman using computerImage copyrightPRESS ASSOCIATION
Image captionThere is a law which makes it illegal to carry out attacks like the one that happened on Friday

However, knowing how to hack a computer system is not a crime – and you can use those skills in a positive way.

Many companies will employ people who know how to hack and ask them to deliberately try to break into their systems. This helps companies to know if their security is good enough and see where there are problems.

For example, it’s a bit like having somebody come to look at your house to tell you which windows need better locks so your house is more secure.

Those who know how to hack are also needed in order to stop hacking attacks. For example, the attack that happened last week was stopped by a 22-year-old cybersecurity researcher, because he had hacking knowledge.

So it can be used for good things too.


If you want to check this article out at its original source, you can find it here.


What is hacking?

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True or false: you have to be 22 years old to be a hacker

If hacking can be good, do you think it should be something that is taught in schools? Why?