Hackers have a bad name everywhere, it seems, except in Silicon Valley, founded as it was on the virtues of creatively overcoming technical limits by any means. This tradition produced the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Mark Zuckerberg, who, on the eve of Facebook’s initial public offering four years ago, lamented the “unfairly negative connotation” of the word. Hacking, he wrote, “just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad.”
This year will be remembered for the bad. Hardly a week passed without news of some kind of digital breach, somewhere in the world, often establishing some kind of record—for sheer scope, for novel tactics or for setting an ominous new precedent. Hackers broke into the U.S. Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service and likely the National Security Agency. They stole or tried to sell data from private companies including Adult FriendFinder, LinkedIn, Mail.ru and Yahoo. They leaked the confidential medical records of elite athletes Simone Biles and Serena and Venus Williams, the private photos of celebrities including comedian Leslie Jones and, along the way, the embarrassing password choices of a billionaire hacker named Zuckerberg.