The truth behind what hacking really means in the computer science field is a complex question. The word "hacker" itself has a history predating modern computers and technology by at least a hundred years. However, the modern use of the word relates specifically to the everyday devices you use at home and in the office.
In much of pop culture, the term hacker is used to refer to someone who steals passwords to access accounts that are not their own, or people who use cheat codes in video games. However, in the field of computer science neither of these are actually hacking. Cheat codes are freely published and used intentionally by many gaming software developers, and stealing a password off of someone's desk or guessing it based on their security questions is not really a feat of computer science at all. Here's what hacking really means in the computer science field.
The earliest case of legitimate hacking can be traced back to 1963 when a PDP-1 computer was attached to MIT's telephone system and used to intentionally disrupt service. In more recent years, hacker groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec have disrupted services and exposed consumer information at some of the largest corporations around the world. In the advent of these types of attacks, the work "hacking" has taken on a largely negative connotation as belonging to people who seek to cause damage using the power of their computers and the internet alone, usually by rogue groups who are not associated with any specific company or professional entity.
The important thing to remember is that these types of hackers are using advanced coding of viruses, along with specialized theft devices and programs to steal information and corrupt digital data without the owner's consent.
Hacking for Computer Science Professionals
The good news is that there is a new and growing use for the word hacker today. Seeing how easy it has been for hacker groups to launch attacks on major companies, there is a strong need for these companies to assess their security systems by hiring skilled hackers to do targeted testing. As a result, "white-hat hacking" has become very prevalent. These are trained computer science professionals who want to aid businesses with improving their security by conducting planned hacks to find points of weakness in their system. The results of these tests are then used to create a more comprehensive security solution that prevents attacks from malevolent outsiders. This process is typically referred to as penetration testing, and results in a positive outcome for the companies involved. There is an ongoing need for new hackers who can predict the growth and change of technology in coming years and find solutions to the constantly changing landscape of digital security.
To truly understand what hacking really means in the computer science field requires an in depth understanding of the evolution of technology, and how previous attacks have been successful. On the plus side, those attacks have led to a whole new field of study and understanding in the hacker community, which is allowing skilled hackers the opportunity to be a force for good going forward.