From MIT To WikiLeaks: A Brief History Of Hacking

By order of the White House, June 1 is the National Day of Civic Hacking.

From MIT To WikiLeaks: A Brief History Of Hacking

By order of the White House, June 1 is the National Day of Civic Hacking. Coders in most states will use public data to develop software solutions to government problems. That’s a big step for the word hacking, which hasn’t always been cast in a positive light. A brief history:


(✓) Good hack
(✖) Bad hack

  • 1950s (✓) The term hack begins circulating on MIT’s campus to describe a well-executed practical joke.

  • 1963 (✖) The MIT student newspaper blames “so-called hackers”–the first pejorative use of the word–for tying up phone lines.

  • 1983 (✖) In the movie War Games, a young hacker accesses a military supercomputer and nearly starts World War III.

  • 1984 (✓) Journalist Steven Levy publishes a defense, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.

  • 1994 (✖) As the web takes off, security criminals take to message boards and proudly call themselves hackers.

  • 1995 (✖) The FBI captures computer criminal Kevin Mitnick, who is charged with stealing 20,000 credit card numbers.

  • 1995 (✓) “White hat” hacker Tsutomu Shimomura helps in the capture of Kevin Mitnick.

  • 1998 (✖) Network Associates (now McAfee) runs an ad during Super Bowl XXXII in which hackers trigger a Russian missile.

  • 1999 (✓) The first hackathon is born at a JavaOne conference. The concept inspires many startups.

  • 2004 (✓) Tech writer Danny O’Brien creates the term lifehack, which means to improve one’s own daily life through simple software solutions.

  • 2006 (✖) WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange becomes the new face of hacking.

  • 2009 (✓) Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo, among others, form Random Hacks of Kindness, a forum to code for disaster relief.

  • 2010 (✖) The U.K.’s News of the World becomes engulfed in a “phone hacking” scandal.

  • 2011 (✖) After breaches at the CIA, PBS, Gmail, and the U.S. Senate, plus the rise of Anonymous, 2011 becomes the “Year of the Hack.”

  • 2012 (✖) “Chinese hackers” reportedly infiltrate Halliburton, The New York Times, and others.

  • 2013 (✖) Michelle Obama’s credit report is allegedly compromised. President Obama says, “Hackers [are] a big problem.”

[Images: Gluekit (Hacking); Everett Collection (War Games); Carl Court/Afp/Getty Images (News Of The World); Ap Photo/Max Nash (Assange); Najlah Feanny/Corbis Saba (Shimomura); Ap Photo (Atomic Bomb); Ap Photo/M. Spencer Green (Obama)]