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The Media

On Usage of "Hacker vs. Cracker" 240

rcp writes "The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those of you not from The Great White North) has an article on why the media use the term hacker versus cracker. " Well, at least it's an understanding of why they use the terms incorrectly.
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On Usage of "Hacker vs. Cracker"

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  • Hackers are kids who make government agents' lives miserable a la Hackers. Crackers are white boys who make Shaft's life miserable.
    Just talking 'bout Shaft...ya damn right....

  • I wish everyone would get over the hacker/cracker definition thing. Language changes, it is dynamic. That's one of the cool things about English is that it is very adaptable. Gay used to mean happy. Even if you could convince everyone you know of the difference, once the media has gotten ahold of something you're fighting a juggernaught. Besides, do the people who don't know the difference REALLY matter?
  • In order to CRACK a machine, one must HACK at it first. And if you're hacking at a machine for several hours, you can still get busted with an attempt to break in. In this case, you haven't CRACKED anything but you got caught HACKING.

    I think the terminology is loose enough, and as long as us geeks understand the true meaning between hacking and cracking, we could just let it slide.
  • Hush yo' mouth!
  • The CBC actually covers tech issues quite accuratly and often reflects on the views of slashdot readers (not by name, but ideas presented here are often discussed on CBC news.)

    Hopefully they'll keep it up :)
  • ...the scene has always called a...

    Cracker = someone who removes copy protection from games..

    Hacker = someone who enters other peoples computers via a modem (not necessarily damaging the system, but doing it in an un-authorised manner...)

    only occasionally is a hacker someone who `really likes coding`...

    and these definitions seem to be pretty prevalent outside the scene too... though i dont claim that there are no uk based dissenters from these definitions (i`d be interested to hear either way, actually).

  • Here are some useful hacker-related links:
  • by juuri ( 7678 ) on Monday May 08, 2000 @06:18AM (#1085361) Homepage
    Can someone please explain to me why it matters so much if the mainstream press gets such an insignificant term wrong? There are far more atrocities of error everyday in the common press for far many more things (even computer tech). Worrying about a term that so few people care about is exactly whats wrong with most of the proponets of open-source/linux/today's computer flavour... the problem is mis-directed energy. I really miss the days when your choice of operating system was more on its merits than on a "sport's team" mentality; at least when people bickered then, if they lost the fight they would go back and try to improve their OS to match the other one. These days its nothing but rhetoric from every side of the fence. Blah.

    Openstep/NeXTSTEP/Solaris/FreeBSD/Linux/ultrix/OSF /...
  • I admit that the hacker vs. cracker debate has been a mild amusement to me for many years (most notably after picking up a copy of the New Hacker's Dictionary in my local library back when I was in high school, but I digress). I've often wondered why news organizations insist after what I assume to be constant derision to use the same incorrect (at least in my opinion) definition of a malicious computer user.

    While it is refreshing to see someone actually explain to us why they use the term, it is disheartening to see that at least the CBC will continue to use "hacker" to refer to script kiddies, inept programmers and other low-life scum. At the very least, it is food for thought and affords us all an opportunity to now make more educated arguments in the hacker vs. cracker debate. Now that we know why the news organizations choose to use the words they do, we can make more informed complaint letters to them as well as dictionary authors.
  • Just the other day I was watching a report on the I love you *feature* (hehe) and I noticed that the Slashdot homepage was diplayed on the computer monitor behind the journalist. Go CBC! ;-)
  • You can kind of understand how the media ends up using the word HACKED since there are MANY pages out there (see: attrition.org cracked pages archive), that specifically say "YOU HAVE BEEN HACKED BY" or just the ever rampant "hacked" .gif (my apologies Unisys) staring you in the face when you look at it.

    On an old school note, maybe its me, but I remember the commodore 64 days, when *games* were what was "cracked". (The infamous "cracked by eaglesoft, crack by the ball brothers," etc etc). Which at that time, it was the removal of copy protection. Maybe I'm just showing my age.
  • Dictionaries, although invaluable references, are always a little behind the way people really speak. Just as grammer can be viewed as prescriptive (telling, or prescribing what the correct way to speak is -- probably what you remember from school) or descriptive (describing how people ACTUALLY speak) so do dictionaries end up being a little prescriptive (what words ought to mean, what they USED to mean, what they historically meant) and a little descriptive (how people actually use words.)

    English can be a little vague. What does love mean? I say I love strawberries (yum!) and my cat (frankly, I doubt so yummy -- all that fur) and although I use the SAME word we all know I mean differnt things. This is hardly an ideal situation.

    A sensible paper, one might hope, would choose the more precise word (cracker when they mean "malicious slob who breaks into computer systems and causes damage" and hacker when they mean "talented computer enthusiast".

    Just because the dictionarys haven't caught up with the vernacular is no reason to hold up the dictionaries as the "holy grail" of word knowledge.
  • The word gay actually is what got me into semantics when I was in high school. I grew up with it being slang for stupid, as in "that movie was gay". I knew it as that even before I knew/understood the idea of homosexuality. As far as I saw it, the history went a little like this:
    1. The word means happy
    2. Homosexuals, in struggling for acceptance take a retalitory stance and adopt the term gay, implying that their lifestyle is happy, whereas being straight is not
    3. The generally homophobic youth culture changes the meaning to stupid, implying that homosexuals who choose to call themselves that are stupid.

    Really interesting to see the way words change. Duh is now in the dictionary. But as far as this debate, it's just one culture (programmers) trying to distance themselves from another (script kiddies) while still maintaining a bit of counter-culture status.
  • It really bothered me when the DoS attacks were happening they were blaming it on Hackers. At least this proves that some reporters in the news media actually do research before spouting a story. But, the delay in this report shows that the truth only comes on slow news weeks.

    I still think that they use the definitions wrong, hackers i agree with, but crackers should be left to burlgers to crack safes. Leave crackers a sa term for the 40's, the data safes of the 90's were best broken by hackers.
    Plus it ties nicely into the cliche for a hacker.

    A pale, underexercised
    computer nerd who, when not writing
    code spends his time playing
    AD&D, hacking both at imaginary creatures and
    real computers.

    Too bad most cliches and stereotypes are no longer valid. just about anybody today is a hacker to some extent, weather directly or indirectly.
    if you disagree, think abount it the next time you play an MP3, watch a movie with DeCSS, or run that nifty program you got for "Free." (Don't deny it, almost everybody who owns a computer has pirated some peice of software from a relative.)
  • From the article: "Perhaps [coining the term] cracker was not so much an attempt to educate the media, then, as a desire to rewrite the dictionary."

    Yup, seems like a pretty safe bet. :)

    But seriously. Of course we want to rewrite the dictionary -- how would the journalists like it if we kept calling them "lusers?" Thing is, they'd have an authority to fall back on: hey look, guys, we and our peers have another name for ourselves! We're not lusers!

    We hackers just want the same, is all. Too much to ask?

  • The reason it matters is simple. If I were to refer to myself as a hacker, meaning an enthusiastic programmer, what response am I likely to get? Usually, people will look at me as if I'm a kind of criminal. Try it sometime. When a potential employer asks about your computer skill level, tell them you're a hacker.
  • Look, if you're going to get frosted over people who (to you) misuse the word "hacker", why on Earth would you turn right around and start misappropriating the word "cracker?" Cracker, as it relates to computers, never had the meaning that the annoyed hackers are trying to foist on it.

    It's a little past time to realize that words change over time, and that the war on this word is lost, so I definitely don't have much energy for this sqabble. But please, if you're going to carry on with it, at least show a little consistency.


  • ...I'll keep doing my part to see that people use the correct terminology. For instance, when my parents asked me about the recent wave of hacker attacks, I quickly pointed out the difference between hacker and cracker. And so forth. Maybe I won't make a big impact, but *some* people will be able to acknowledge the difference.

    That, and they won't get confused when I say that I'm trying to find a quick bologna/cheese/bacon sandwich hack....

  • Is it because term "cracker" could be easily misunderstood in the South (Georgia etc.)?

    just a thought,
  • Personally, I don't care what the public thinks that hacker means, because I don't refer to myself as one, but I can see whyt those that do might be upset about it.

    I suspect that the hackers are kinda miffed because it means that, in the popular imagination at least, they're lumped together with the script kiddies and virus writers of this world.

    When someone says that they're a hacker, they mean something akin to "dedicated programmer", and have a right to be miffed when someone else thinks they mean "common vandal".

    Would you like it if people thought of you as a criminal, just because of a misused term?


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 08, 2000 @06:25AM (#1085374)
    I know all you guys think its really cool to call yourselvers "hackers" and pretend that you are some sort of antisocial wizards.

    I know you are all wrapped up in the misunderstood genius syndrome.

    I know you all think the world would be better off if it would just blindly accept your intellectual superiority and form a huge technocracy [technocrat.net].

    Unfortunately, the rest of the pathetic, stupid world still clings to the silly notion that there is more in life than overclocked Celerons and k-rad Perl scripts.

    "Hacker" is what 90% of the world uses to refer to a someone who gains improper access to a computer. Let it go. Get on with your lives.

    Seriously. Right now -- close your web browser, get up, go outside, and go for a walk. If you are in Minnesota, take an umbrella.

  • Eh, didn't we agree that, in order to be inoffensive, all occurences of the word hacker would be substituted with cracker when the media meant cracker, on Slashdot?

    Besides, how dare CBS question our use of the word? Don't they realize we are the powerelite? What does it matter what everybody else is using, what the major dictionaries are defining? The Jargon File is the final say in this matter. If it's not mentioned there, it must be incorrect.

    I think we should hold a rally in Washington, the One Million Geek March, to protest the unfair treatment (you know, getting paid lots of money, doing what we love, being associated with people who crack into systems) of the geeks. We could all dress up like Jedi, and Jon Katz could talk about how....

    sorry, I usually zone out when Jon starts writing...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ... but I kind of like it. (Some of us southern boys take umbrage at "cracker", don't you know.)
  • by psychophil.com ( 2573 ) on Monday May 08, 2000 @06:28AM (#1085377) Homepage
    A cracker is a saltine. A hacker is an axe murderer.

    The press routinely uses the wrong language to describe its stories. Anything to make the headline scarier to grab more attention. A prefect example is ANY 'gun' story. The press will routinely say that an 'arsenal' of guns was found whenever cops find a large amount (for the press that usally means more than 2) of weapons. The correct term is actually 'armory' but that doesn't scare people since many have some sort of National Gaurd armory near their town. People are used to the term armory. An armory is where weapons are stored, an arsenal is where they are manufactured. Another example is using the term 'clip' instead of 'magazine'. They are different items. In general just about all modern (post Korean war) weapons now use magazines to hold their rounds. But again, a magazine is newsweek or time, a clip is not as familier of an item.
  • Is OOG the first Slashdot user to have his own fan club?

  • by Accipiter ( 8228 ) on Monday May 08, 2000 @06:28AM (#1085379)
    What I find funny, is the word 'hack' actually had/has another meaning, even before the computer term arose to it's current status.

    MIT is famous for it's constant barrage of practical jokes around campus. These usually range from putting a police car on the top of one of the buildings to Smiley Faces placed at strategic points. These jokes are referred to as 'hacks', and to my knowledge, always have been.

    The MIT Hack Gallery is here:
    http://hacks.mit.edu/Gallery.html [mit.edu]

    There's some pretty creative stuff in there, and most of the hacks follow a strict "Code of Ethics" guideline, and usually anything that violates the code wouldn't be considered a hack. (A tip of the hat to the CORRECT usage of the word.)

    The page gets it right when it says:
    "Note that this has nothing to do with computer (or phone) hacking (which we call "cracking")."

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • I think you've got it backwards. Seems like the article is a great explanation of why the "hacker" is used to connote malicious computer vandals. Words mean what people think they mean. Most people think "hacker" means "computer vandal". Some are aware of its other meaning "computer enthusiast/expert". I can jump up and down and scream that fire is "hot cockleorum", but that doesn't mean anybody else has to agree with me. I've always thought this is a pretty ridiculous debate...English (and, likely, many other languages) is not subject to the delicate sensibilities of its users.
  • Some notes:

    First, there are no such things as "true meanings." Meaning in language is created when reference is secured. Even among us, saying that "a hacker is in the system" quite reliably constructs a consistent meaning. (Let's leave Quine, Ayers, and Putnam out of all this for now, you language philosphers. If I hear about twin earth, I'll plotz.)

    The article has the issue square to rights by referring to canonical sources - established dictionaries. At this point, the geek community may as well say that the word "hacker" refers to white-tufted thrush, and that the appropriate term is "pendejo," for all the good it will do. The institutions that have the general authority to determine meaning in media, government, and education - the dictionary writers (who fill the void left by the absence of the sorts of language academies that France and Spain use) - have made their claim.

    Language is created by usage. Very few attempts to engineer the use of language are successful, unless there is some real-world social or political tumult associated with it. If there is a civil-rights movement for hackers, perhaps the language about it will come under greater scrutiny. (Of course, that means, that if the public ended up meaning by 'hacker' what some folks here want them to mean by 'hacker,' the dictionary writers will eventually follow suit. I don't see any mechanism for that to happen - there isn't enough motivation on the part of the public.)

    On another level, I think it is misguided to completely toss out the Hollywood hacker media fantasy. Of course there aren't teen-model wunderkind hackers rollerblading around the city. Of course [cr|h]acking doesn't involve 3d imagery and heart-stopping graphics. But the mediated image of the hacker does reveal a sort of public anxiety that so much of our infrastructure is now opaque to all but those with the technological expertise to decode it. It is a testimony to our (we being high-tech cognoscenti of different stripes) status, and the general public awe that it inspires. We should, if not embrace the glamorized image, at least be somewhat pleased that we can inspire it.

  • That's right. Just because you claim ownership of a certain set of professions within english-speaking society does not mean you get to define the words associated with them. What goes into a dictionary is common usage. And in truth, cracker is not commonly used in the way that hackers would want.

    So get over it. The votes have been counted. Hacker means what it means. Positive and negative. Don't expect it to make sense, people. It's English. Our noses "run" and our feet "smell". "Cleave" is a word with two synonymns that are antonymns of each other.

    Take a deep breath, and relax. And don't bother petitioning dictionary publishers. They just report common usage, they don't define it.

    Pragmatist? Sure, if it works.

  • So the media would much rather use their own language to describe these groups than use the terms described in the proffesional jargon. Instead of going by what computer experts agree on, they'd rather listen to other journalists.

    In that case, let's stop calling Podiatrists by their professional given name. Let's instead call them Foot Fetishists, since it is more obvious to the layman what they are about (who knows what a podiatrist is, anyway?). That's pretty much the same thing as calling hackers crackers and vice versa. Let's also call Journalists Buffoons, especially the non-technical who decide they are more qualified to cover hi-tech topics than the professionals to whom this is bread and butter.

  • Don't have time to look up the link.. but you may also want to check out the scriptkiddie HOWTO.

  • You can kind of understand how the media ends up using the word HACKED since there are MANY pages out there (see: attrition.org cracked pages archive), that specifically say "YOU HAVE BEEN HACKED BY" or just the ever rampant "hacked" .gif (my apologies Unisys) staring you in the face when you look at it.

    Actually, I think the vogue is now, "you have been owned by...", followed by some 1337-speak. I agree that a "cracker" is someone who breaks through a barrier, like copy protection or security, and DoS attacks are a little different, so maybe we should call such "crackers" "owners" instead. :)

  • The hackers have been been cracked by hacks.

    Get even refer to all journalists as hacks.

  • There's really no fighting the majority on English usage. If the bulk of people use "hacker" to mean people who break into computers, then hackers who don't break into computers will either have to pick another term or use a distinction like white hat hacker vs black hat hacker. (Personally, I'd like a blue hat.)

    There are, as Ayn Rand [olist.com] pointed out, some words that have two meanings illegitimately packed into one. People routinely, for example, equate ethic with altruism on a fairly regular basis, assuming that ethical behavior is necessesarily other-regarding.

    "Hacker" may well be one of those terms, given the majority's use of it, but it's hard to fight a word that has been so entrenched. Perhaps the most that can be done is make people aware that hacker has other, more benevolent, meanings.

    Recently on GeekPress [geekpress.com]:

    Private eyes in the sky [geekpress.com]

    When (not actually) in Rome [geekpress.com]

    Switches Raise Prospects for Tiny Technology [geekpress.com]

    Honey, the dot-com riches are all mine [geekpress.com]

    Music can be brought to life by humming [geekpress.com]

    Sleeping on the Job Earns Points and Kudos [geekpress.com]

    -- Diana Hsieh

  • So, the problem is, the reaction to the "stealing" of hacker was to coin a new word. Maybe instead we should be pushing existing words, like "vandal" or "marauder". Or maybe we should just accept the complete and total ambiguity of the word, and let context decide for us, the way we do with most words in English.
  • Seeing as the journos seem to see the need to state a definition for "hacker" most every time they use it ("This Web-site vandalism is just another of the recent works of 'hackers', malicious users who break into Internet-connected computers"), it's clear that they believe that the word "hacker" is not yet clearly-enough defined in the common parlance to stand on its own.

    One does not, after all, state a definition for common words like "golfer", "policeman", or "beer"; that one states a definition indicates that one believes the word to need defining. ("The driver had been drinking 'beer', an alcoholic beverage made from fermented barley spiced with hops.")

    Therefore, to say that they rely on the common parlance for the meaning of "hacker" is disingenuous. They might as well say "This Web vandalism is just another of the recent works of so-called 'crackers', malicious users who break into Internet-connected computers." Doing this would serve the cause of education -- improving, rather than damaging, the common parlance -- and further would avoid pissing off hackers.

  • Agreed. The article looked hard into why hackers get upset by the misuse of "their" words, and then clearly explained why the CBC was going to carry on doing it.

    They may not agree with those who would use hacker in its entirely white hat sense, but they definitely understand what the fuss is about.
  • We know what a hacker is: someone who can make furniture with an axe, or the technological equivalent. We know that a cracker doesn't necessarily have that much skill, but that their intent is malicious.

    If Oxford, et al won't list a cracker as a malicious son-of-a-bitch with a script, surely they could fit fucker -- which already has a long historical meaning of being a wankerous person -- around the kind of moron who screws up a computer or network.

    Of course, the trick is getting news services to print the word in it's new context. (Yes, I'm kidding.)

  • This debate has been going on for at least 10 years - in one debate (on FidoNet IIRC), someone suggested using the terms "stoats" and "weasels" instead. Unfortunately I could never remember which was supposed to be which.

    As to 'within the scene' and 'outside the scene' what scene are you talking about. Certainly I have not met any programmer-type-hacker who has been happy with the media's use of the word hacker, and most of the people I have spoken to consider both of your examples to be 'crackers'.

  • the scene has always called a...

    You can stop there. The problem is that "the scene" consists of crackers. Crackers have always called themselves hackers anyway, much to the annoyance of true hackers. FWIW, I've encountered "hacker" in the sense "really likes coding" quite a lot in the UK, though more so in recent years. Perhaps that's due to the influence of a global Internet -- cultural differences are bound to cross borders, particularly between coutries that (nominally, at least :-) speak the same language.

  • One of the definitions given for "hack" in the Hacker's dictionary reffers to a "prank" (not necissarily computer related, but usually technical) (that's how I interpreted the deffinition, at least). So why wouldn't a computer prank (altering web sites, denial of service) be called hacks, and a person who performs these hacks be called a Hacker?
  • it doesnt work that way. people give you a name, and you grow into it. thats how it operates

    it's not like Black Sabbath got up in the morning and said "hey, we'll call this Metal". no. the others chose it, and they took the word and made mean something new. of course the counterargument is that spears does get up every day saying "hey, i think i'll make shit today" but thats another story.

    see also punk (which means male boytoy and young elephant), funk, pirate, and web squatter.

    *shrug*. just move on and bend the definition. after all, when you say punk, we dont think elephant anymore.

  • If I decided in my head that the word "Thief" means "considerate, conscientious person tryin' to get a break in life", and called myself a thief in conversation, I oughtn't be surprised if people got the wrong impression. Communication requires that one is responsible for making at least a rudimentary attempt at using words as they are commonly understood.

    Like "nucular". : )
  • Let's see, I'm a hacker in the literary sense: the whole great works of literature thing doesn't appeal to me, just writing what I like. Now computers, I'm a marginal hacker: I'm working on my skills, can do some fixing and coding when needed, but I'm not at the point where you would want me coding the flight control systems for the jetliner you take when you fly off to destinations mundane. Now, I know a few people who are crackers, and who were called hackers by those who knew less. However, these people are also hackers as they do have some coding skills. However, I have also seen the iloveyou virus, which, though the media purports was written by a hacker, was writen by a script kiddee.

    What does all this mean? I think it means that we need to start coining a few new terms for those with a bit of knowledge of computer systems, or prehaps a new term for me and my fellow literary intepts. Or maybe a new spelling for hacker in the programming/computer enthusiast meaning, Haquer perhaps?

    Anyways, all this can lead to confusion.

  • by Psiren ( 6145 ) on Monday May 08, 2000 @06:35AM (#1085398)
    Sorry, but 99 percent of the general public thinks a hacker is someone who steals secrets and trashes computers. That's not going to change no matter how much you whine about it. You may as well give up. You sound like the people who complain because they can't use the word gay to mean happy anymore. The meanings changed. Deal with it.

    Now weary traveller, rest your head. For just like me, you're utterly dead.
  • I used to insist, when talking to friends about computer intruders, on using "cracker" and not "hacker". Now this insistence only invites derision, so I don't do it anymore. Now I just call computer intruders hackers, and the real hackers - "computer experts". Nobody challenges that (even if "expert" is sounds silly, and in a few cases doesn't apply at all). IMHO, this means *I* have won the argument, since they don't challenge that statement.

    In anycase, I have seen Chinese newspapers translate "hacker" homonymously as "hei ke". Literally this means a "black visitor", thief or assasin. A very apt translation if you ask me. :-)

  • I agree.

    I think it's silly for people to try to clarify the difference between hacker and cracker to people who don't know the differene between a hard drive and a CPU.

    Why bother? People have chosen to use hacker to describe computer people who do bad things. Give up people! Who cares? They don't understand the distinction between yahoo and netscape!

  • It seems that many people (including the author of the article) are implying that there is some malice on the part on whoever chose to define the words the way they have. It is, however, nothing more than linguistic evolution. The people who compile the Oxford English Dictionary have strict rules on word identification that they follow to the letter. There is no stupidity or oversight on their part.

    To gain an entry in the OED, the researchers need to demonstrate a minimum of TWELVE published uses of the word with its new definition over a period of not less than FIVE years. On identifying this, an entry into the OED is made. Thus, the definition of a hacker in its new, controversial form has appeared because that is the way many people define it. This is the process of linguistic evolution, and it is constant and unstoppable.

    To decry such a natural process is pointless, and should put you in mind of your grandparents complaining about how "they've hijacked the word 'gay' no it doesn't mean happy any more no it's disgusting isn't it?". There is nothing anyone can do about the redefinition of 'hacker' though. It will, from now on, always have the dual meaning, and the media feel entirely justified in using it as it is in the dictionary, as well as being a commonly accepted term by 400 million people. If you wish to help the OED correctly define 'cracker' then maybe you could supply them with a series of published articles spanning five years. Then it would appear in a later edition.

    The only other potential solution is to find a new word for 'hacker' (non-malicious) meaning, and then use 'hacker' the same as the rest of the English-speaking world do, and then this thread will go away forever.

  • Wow, my second /. post in one day. When I was coming up, a hacker was a) a person who was really good with computers, someone who really knew the ins and outs. b) Someone who used that knowledge to break into other computers in order to learn more about them. A cracker on the other hand (in computer speak at least) was a person who defeated copy protection in commercial/shareware software, ie, your key generators or your patch to remove the nag screen. This people were skilled themselves (how many people still know assembly? I don't). These are my definitions today and I don't really care how else they are used. I don't understand why people get so upset. A 13 year old kid (just cause you are 13 don't mean you aren't good, this is just an example) who runs a script to DOS you in my opinion is just a low-skilled bad hacker. If he "cracks" some program, he is a higher skilled hacker (good or bad, depends on if he did it for knowledge). If the same kid is writing kernel patches, he is a highly skilled good hacker. Anyway thats my opinion take it for what its worth.
  • Well, at least it's an understanding of why they use the terms incorrectly.

    According to the Webster's and New Oxford dictionaries, they aren't using the terms incorrectly.

    Hacker... cracker... whatever... whining about the difference seems anal retentive. (this is going to cost me karma points, I'm sure)

  • What if Robert T. Morris has released an internet worm today instead of way back in 1988? Would he have received the same punishment today as he did back then?
  • If there is a civil-rights movement for hackers, perhaps the language about it will come under greater scrutiny. could I become a hacker-american then?
    "Leave the gun, take the canoli."
  • How words evolved and fall into and out of usage can actually be pretty interesting. Pointing out where a word came from originally is generally a bad way to back up an argument for/against it's use.

    For example, saying something is 'gay', meaning stupid, a lot of people will say is utterly wrong because it comes from homophobic people using it. It's not wrong because it was used by homophobic people and has since come into common slang for 'stupid' or 'silly' and is completly unrelated to homosexuals.. Of course, you still shouldn't use it simply because it offends some people.

    A more interesting example [takeourword.com] is the word 'black' vs. 'negro'. Black was originally an offensive term used for Africans. In order to be polite people started using 'negro' and 'nigger'. Of course, ironically, the term negro became impolite (well, downright offensive, really) and so 'black' came back into style. (And of course 'African-American' for those PC types).

    It just goes to show. A word only means what the majority of people think it means...

  • OK, kids, anyone who's been on the scene longer than Linux kjnows the real scoop:

    A hacker is someone who gets inside and groks systems. This is usually done with permission and to the benefit of the system, but not always. There are bad hackers and good hackers. Get over it.

    A cracker is someone who breaks software copy protection. Period, the end. Most of them are pretty pissed at being lumped in with virus writers and "skript kiddeez".

    The "hacker" vs. "cracker" debate is an excuse to co-opt language for political ends. I have little patience for political revisionism of common usage, -especially- when the revision is built on an ignorance of our own past.

    SoupIsGood Food
  • True, nobody owns the words "cracker" or "hacker", and nobody can make anyone else use one word instead of the other. That's not the issue, though. The issue is that people who use the word "hackers" instead of "crackers" sound like fucking idiots to people who have a fucking clue. Stupid newbies who think they know everything and moronic reporters make me physically sick. Maybe one day we'll have something like in the matrix, where you can almost instantly educate someone about something if they want to learn it. Until then, we're going to have to deal with these fucking idiots.
  • Very, very few people in this community really care about hacker vs cracker. It's become one of those issues that is trendy to pull out when someone wants to establish their "hacker credentials". "Yeah, I really hate that the media uses cracker, too".

    Please. This issue is dead. It always was dead. It always was a stupid issue.


  • We should let the media have 'hacker' and adopt a new term. I nominate "snapper," as in "You whippersnappers think you know everything!"

    Dictionary.com [dictionary.com] defines whippersnapper as "A person regarded as insignificant and pretentious." Is this not how hackers were originally viewed?

  • >The noun cracker was coined by hackers around 1985, according to MIT Press,
    >"in defense against journalistic misuse of hacker."

    This is the problem. Games/apps were cracked by crackers long before these hackers "invented" the word.

  • Ironic the Candians came up with this article. What do they call Eskimos? The Inuit. Why? Because that's what the Inuit call themselves.

    I'm from London. I hate it when Americans refer to me as British. I am not British. The only pople I've met that call themselves British are 1) Irish Prostestants 2) members of the British National Party. I'm English. Please refer to my tribe by it's own name.
  • It is interesting to know that there is at least some sort of reason that media would not use the term "cracker". However, it seems to me that most journalist stampede to the term "hacker" just because someone else used it first. And the argument about the dictionaries defining a hacker as one who breaks security in addition to "computer enthusiast" is shady. After all, many dictionaries use the MEDIA as a source for their definitions. "We don't set trends but follow them" indeed.

    It would be an interesting (if unlikely) experiment to have several newspapers start using the term "Cracker" instead of "Hacker" and see what comes of it. I'll not hold my breath, however.

    The media seems to think we hackers should shut up and stop arguing because "the dictionary has spoken". Why should we do that? As at least one poster has stated, most jounalists would certain object to being called "opinion-mongers" for example. So why should all hackers have to put up with the derogatory use of the term when there is a perfectly good term for lawbreakers (like "vandals" or "crackers"). Then there is the argument "language is dynamic and changes all the time. You should bite the bullet and accept it" cuts both ways. Both sides can use the same argument.

    Then again, there will always be some term to debate about endlessly and there will always have people using opposing monologues.

    I'll watch the debate as it proceeds and continue to use the "correct" term and try to convince others to use it as well. I'll not cry foul too loudly if we all get shouted down, though.

    Such is life.

  • Sometimes I forget myself. People ask me why I look so tired (I'm up in the day because I have a JOB). My instant thought is maybe they can help me with whatever problem I was working on the night before, so I go into a long winded explaination. About half way through, I see the glazed over faces, and finish with a half-hearted "umm . . . hacking code"

    The alternative is when you DO finish something neat, and you're all happy-like and want to show it off. Usually to people who don't care. Being a geek is an odd lifestyle. It's a wonder I have any friends left.
  • Language is created by usage. Very few attempts to engineer the use of language are successful, unless there is some real-world social or political tumult associated with it.

    Hmm, looking at the impact we techies are having on the world today, I would not be very surprised if our usage of language will well become the "standard". After all, we are the ones who use hacker and cracker in the "proper" way, and if we come to have a great influence over the world, our usage will become standard. (According to the same argument.)

  • I meant, "Yeah, I really hate that the media uses hacker, too"... well, you know what I meant.


  • unless you're just a 5K1P7 K11D13... after all, there's no hacking involved in a metacrawler search for known exploits, and then running them. Easier than freecell...

    as for the definition of the word, people who don't know that MS doesn't make Pentiums and Netscape aren't going to listen/understand anyway. Kind of a lost cause.
  • by B'Trey ( 111263 ) on Monday May 08, 2000 @06:52AM (#1085418)
    Then who's fault is that?

    There's a difference in lingo and language. Language is defined by the mainstream. If a majority of the people use a word in a certain sense, then that's what the word means. If you don't use it the same way, you're either using the word wrong or you're speaking a specific lingo.

    I've been in the Navy for 15 years. If I ask another sailor the location of the nearest head, he'll direct me to the restroom without any problem. If I ask a waiter in a restaurant where the head is, I'll likely get some really strange looks. It isn't the waiters fault, however, it's mine.Head does not mean restroom in the English language, only in naval lingo.

    In geek-speak, hacker means one thing. To the rest of the world, it means something else. If you use geek-speak to a non-geek and are misunderstood, the fault is yours, not theirs.

  • An indeed, the term "hack" also was used to refer in Oxford to both journalists, and those most reprehensible of beasts, student politicians after your vote.
  • The page gets it right when it says:
    "Note that this has nothing to do with computer (or phone) hacking (which we call "cracking")."
    How right of you to point to MIT for origions to the "hacker" name! And the quote is a nice point, but an even better explanation can be found when you follow the link to their FAQ [mit.edu]. There you will find the following:
    Aren't hackers the people that break into computer networks?

    Maybe to the rest of the world.
    Many of us at MIT call those who break into (crack) computer systems "crackers." At MIT, a "hacker" is someone who does some sort of interesting and creative work at a high intensity level. This applies to anything from writing computer programs to pulling a clever prank that amuses and delights everyone on campus.

    And there's the crux of the problem. The "hacking" culture is generally a creative one - if a bit unorthodox. MIT, and other hotbeds of activity, generated their own culture way before the media dreamed it would devote so much front-page ink to computer issues.

    The vandalism and network attacks that so often are labled as "hacks" have little to do with this creative culture. No wonder "hackers" would rather the media latch on to another buzzphrase for their headlines.

  • Unfortunately, the rest of the pathetic, stupid world still clings to the silly notion that there is more in life than overclocked Celerons and k-rad Perl scripts.

    You can't mean this! It's...the...end of...life as...we know it!

    Help me!

    (Falls over dead)

  • by Spud Zeppelin ( 13403 ) on Monday May 08, 2000 @07:23AM (#1085436)

    Some people have suggested vandal, which is fine since they're all dead and won't write any e-mail complaints to the CBC.

    Umm... what about those of us who are University of Idaho Vandals?? Hmmm?? I would think that among people currently at my graduate alma mater, the people at the CSDS [uidaho.edu] might have just as many (valid) issues with "vandal" being used as we in the obsessive-compulsive programmer community do with "hacker".

    Personally, I don't see any good reason not to use "cracker". Applying a term that is basically a racial epithet for "poor white trash" to a different class of trash entirely seems ironically appropriate; perhaps it's actually not-so ironic -- has anyone done a study to determine how many system intruders grow up in environments conducive to being bereft of both values and motivation?

    My opinion only, IANAL.

  • ... that one obsolete medium (the CBC) is using another obsolete medium (dead-tree editions of dictionarys) to defend their isiotic and improper use of terminology.

    I have, at home, a dead-tree dictionary that defines "computer" along the lines of "a person whos job it is to do complex mathematical computations", with no mention of transistors, microchips, or silicon.

    If *I* relied on dead-tree format references for MY language skills, how then, would I describe this box sitting on my desk?

  • Look, if you're going to get frosted over people who (to you) misuse the word "hacker", why on Earth would you turn right around and start misappropriating the word "cracker?" Cracker, as it relates to computers, never had the meaning that the annoyed hackers are trying to foist on it.

    A Cracker, as it relates to computers, is someone who maliciously breaks security systems. Now these security systems could be within programs (copy protection), computers themselves (firewalls or gaining root), etc. I fail to see where this meaning was never used before? Even the small programs which these people make to break copy protection are called "cracks". Why should it be a different word when they're doing the same thing?

    -- iCEBaLM
  • You're saying stuff that's mostly valid, but I think you are missing a few shades:

    the code of ethics is more of a geek code of ethics, not a hacker code of ethics, but hacking originated within that cultural context. When hacking was exported (or even just explained) it was necessary to retrofit the code. My evidence for this would be the example of "moating", the practice of throwing people in the water around the MIT chapel (and also Freshman Shower Night which probably doesn't exist anymore): the person who is about to be submerged is allowed to remove belt, wallet, watch, etc. prior to being dunked. In exchange for this courtesy, the person stops struggling and trying to escape, only to resume the fight after taking off the fragile items. This is not hacking, but it has the ethic of not being irreversibly harmful.

    "Note that this has nothing to do with computer (or phone) hacking (which we call "cracking")."

    Cracking is circumventing passwords or other systems designed to limit access. The word had that meaning a long time ago (safe-cracking) and I think the hacker community picked up on that (and a linguist would point out the c/h initial fricatives made it a natural). Hacking is screwing around with things. I think that referring to guru-level coding as hacking is trying to make the point that what would be great feats to mortals are mere games to gods, and that mental activities that dullards find difficult drudgery, smart people often find fun.

  • by zpengo ( 99887 )
    is it just me, or is a DDoS attack *neither* hacking nor cracking? Cracking involves some sort of infiltration, overcoming obstacles, etc., whereas DDoSing basically just involves flooding.


  • Outside a tiny (relatively speaking) demimonde, www.jargon.org [jargon.org] has no real authority. Referring to it will be as effective as referring to the Book of the Subgenius.

    The 3D imagery I was referring to in the Hollywood hacker stereotype is the swooping-through-the-network shots, the flashing "Access Denied" signs that spin in space, the crumbling walls that represent a bypassed security measure, etc.

    Frankly, I think your term for 'hacking' as a verb is pretty general. I mean, I know what you mean (and that is the heart of the debate,) but such usages to me indicate a sort of "Me-too"-ism, sort of like sticking the word "engineer" at the end of a job title, because programming for some perverse reason enjoys a status in some communities that other forms of demanding technical work don't. "Hacking" can be as general as 'working really hard at something' or 'doing something cleverly.' I know I swore off from the philosophy of language, but I think of Wittgenstein's 'family resemblences' when talking about words and meanings: how the word game, for example, has a meaning whcih can't be bound by necessary and sufficient conditions, and includes things which merely resemble each other in some ways. If you think of 'meaning' as 'the ability for input to activate a term-node in a neural network,' then those sort of phenomenon makes more sense.

  • Why don't the real hackers just "make up", or better yet, hack up, patch or port the word "hacker" and "hack" into a new word?

    Seriously, mix it up a bit, come up with some word, NO ONE could dispute.

    How do you spell pronouce "Hack" or "Hacker" in say latin? Let's use that, or if that sucks, what is hacker backwards in german?

    It is a lost cause to fight for the word "hacker", it could mean a ton of things

    axe chopper
    washed up writer
    computer expert
    some that plays nethack a lot

    Come on, lets get somthing new. What is (("hacker" in binary) x (3.16 in binary), multiped by 42) then converted back to ascii and translated to russian? We use that word, and put it under the GPL.
  • Worse. Much worse. Especially if it was as virulent as his original worm (ie: if similar security holes were available today).
    Unlike the speed of ILOVEYOU (which spread mostly due to user stupidity, yet still managed to make front page news the world over in less than 24 hours and cause lots of damage), morris worm would have taken much less time, and been much harder to get rid of.

    Although, the morris worm couldn't have been written by a 12 year old.. it was actually REALLY COOL.
  • I agree. If I were to go to my parents today and announce "I am a hacker!", they would call the cops immediately.

    -Elendale (Of course, my parents are about as computer literate as my cat...)

  • I'm pleased that the referenced, and even quoted, The New Hacker's Dictionary/Jargon File. The only point I think they missed is that there is a perception among the hacker community that the word had its positive connotations first. The negative association with what we call "crackers" appeared later. We have been struggling against the careless aggregation of hackers and crackers lest we, the hackers, be mistaken for them, the crackers, in the public's mind.

    We might have better luck teaching the press the term script kiddies and the reasons why we use it. I think even some of the crackers out there hold the script kiddies in contempt.
  • I have been contemplating marketing a new line of crackers. I would name them Hackers(tm). All of my commercial spots would revolve around the obvious misnaming of the snack food.

    Jim: Want some Hackers(tm)?
    John: Wait! These are crackers!
    Jim: No, look, the box says Hackers(tm)!
    John: It's obviously wrong, these are crackers!

    Hehehe. Even if you guys don't think it's funny, I laugh quite a bit at my ideas. Hehehe.

    Bad Mojo [rps.net]
  • by Spud Zeppelin ( 13403 ) on Monday May 08, 2000 @08:19AM (#1085464)
    Actually, to take your political analogy a bit farther though, English isn't a "democracy" at all... if anything, it resembles one of the anarcho-oligarchies of modern Latin America. You have a few families (dictionary publishers) laying down their version of "central authority", but at a lower level, no real governance exists beyond the local constabulary (local usage).

    Case in point: "Sacratomato" -- you certainly won't find California's capitol spelled/pronounced that way in any dictionary, but there are literally millions of people (anyone who listened to Bay Area radio in the '70s) for whom that word both denotes AND connotes meaning.

    Conversely: "Bubbler" -- the Merriam-Webster has adopted the Wisconsin-specific definition of the word (drinking fountain), but I'm quite confident the vast majority of the world's English speakers are completely unaware of that usage.

    So there you have it -- a thin veil of central authority over what is really anarchy at any scale larger than the provincial. Which, not surprisingly, is much the same way that Mark Twain characterized our language a century ago....

    My opinion only, IANAL.
  • Who says we have to wait for the public to start using our term? Let me be the first to propose that we form a coalition of l33t cr@x0rs and break into Oxford's dictionary archives and change the terms to the correct usage.
  • If that's the only definition of computer that your dictionary gives, the it's a bad dictionary.

    Dictionaries are point in time snapshots of word meaning - or at least the closest we can get. That makes them very useful. No photograph ever taken has ever depicted the world as it is - only the world as it was some time in the past. That does not make photos obsolete or useless.

    Likewise dictionaries.

    Some hackers feel that their definition of hacker is somehow more valid than a newspaper's definition of hacker, simply because they belong to the group described. This is obvious nonsense. Language is and always will be defined by those who use it, not those described or refered to by it. Thus, journalists and writers will always be the ones in the strongest position to change language. Deal with it.

    I get fed up with people who think 'enormity' is the same as 'enormousness'. 'enormity' used to mean 'great wickness' but, hell, now it just plain doesn't any more. 99% of people use it to mean 'enormousness' and that's the way it goes.

    We'll never win the hacker / cracker thing, but we will sure make ourselves look stupid trying.
  • Perl programmers aside, I think the problem is that programmers and computer techies have never liked context sensitivity.

    'Hacker' is context sensitive. It means different things at different times to different people. Most English words are like. This makes it easier to express yourself accurately, not harder.

    In the UK, hacker has long meant someone who hacks into computer systems. Because of the (more US based) meaning of 'skilled, unorthodox programmer' it has _two_ meanings. Wow.

    'I was up all night rebuilding the mail server after some hacker trashed it' - can you guess what meaning is in use here?

    'It was a fun company to work for, they had some pretty smart hackers there' - how about now?

    Is it really so difficult that we must must must have a special word?

    Yes, the phrase ' I think of myself as a hacker ' on its own might be ambiguous. But, in real life you simply would never get that phrase on its own. A live conversation would allow an unsure listener to ask what meaning the speaker intended. A written email or letter would never simply be that phrase all on it's own.

  • You make some good points.

    I am aware the dictionary authors, including the OED, go to great lengths to justify any word inclusion or definition change. I do not question for a minute the dictionary author's ability to find those 12 references in 5 years! I am confident one could find many more than that, even.

    Your argument for linguistic evolution is certainly well-founded and I am hard pressed to disagree with it. However, being the curmudgeon I am (and I'm only 23. Ugh!), I for some reason feel the need to bitch and complain about something I find dear to my heart.

    Even saying that, I would agree that language does and will change to fit the current times, no matter now strange and obnoxious they may seem. I look forward to helping define that new language, in whatever seemingly insignificant way I can.
  • "This is wrong. For the term to show up in a large general purpose dictionary, the meaning must already be (or have been) in mainstream use."

    Exactly. The point here is that "hacker" can be considered mainstream english (since it is often used in the media) whereas cracker is a word used exclusively by techies and therefore should be considered jargon.

    The fact that a small group chooses to use specific other meanings for the words hacker and cracker is not relevant to document in a dictionary. Should cracker ever become mainstream english, a good dictionary will provide two definitions for hacker: the current, generic one and the one distinguishing itself from the term cracker. Both would be correct to use for any mainstream media although they had better stick to the second definition if they also use the word cracker.

    Hacker/cracker are only one example of ill defined terminology in computer jargon. Try to get people to agree on terms like software architecture or object orientation and you'll find that there exist widely different definitions for these terms. That doesn't stop anyone from using them. Even if respected dictionaries would provide concise definitions for these terms, many people would choose to ignore them.

  • >If that's the only definition of computer that
    >your dictionary gives, the it's a bad dictionary.

    It's not a BAD dictionary by any means, it's an edition of the Oxford dictionary of the English Language. But it's an OLD dictionary, given to me by my grandfather and dating from the '30s as I recall.

    >Some hackers feel that their definition of hacker
    >is somehow more valid than a newspaper's
    >definition of hacker, simply because they belong
    >to the group described

    No, the journalist's definition is wrong because they display a complete ignorance of the meaning and history of the word. They don't bother to check the jargon file OR the history of the word.

    Have you ever read Stephen Levy's "Hackers"? If you had, you'd know that the word originally didn't apply to computer work AT ALL. It came in to use at MIT's model railroading club. And even when it DID move into the computer field, it still only had positive connotations.

    It wasn't until some idiot in the mass media who had no comprehension of the culture he was describing needed a buzzword to scare the unwashed masses that hacker was equated to cracker. The negative connotations of hacker are a completely manuefactured fiction of tabloid-level journalism.

    If you HAVEN'T read Levy's book, I suggest you do. He did quite a good job of chronicleing the hacker culture, and the entemology of the word "hacker". And beyond it's value as a history text, it's a fascinating chronicle in of itself.


  • Who here remembers when a cracker was someone who broke copy protection? That's what i think of whenever i see a reference to "crackers." Well, either that or the round salty snacks.
  • You were doing fine with the stupidness of 'semiautomatic pistol', which is some completely silly terminalogy, and the over reporting of '9 millimeter' and 'armor-piercing', both of which are nowhere near the worst type of guns you can have, just the scariest sounding. But then you got:

    Accidental Shooting -- No such thing. You put your finger on the trigger, you pull it, the gun goes off. See also: "The gun just went off!" and "Shot himself in the head while cleaning the gun" -- better known as "Suicide, but we can't tell the insurance company that."

    Car Accident -- No such thing. You drive the car into something, it hits it, you die. See also: "He fell asleep at the wheel!" and "The brakes failed." -- better known as "Suicide, but we can't tell the insurance company that."

    Hey, get over yourself. Accidently shooting happen all the time. I've been accidently shot. (With a B-B gun, luckily.) And 'assault weapon' has a legal defination. You cannot call a shotgun an assault weapon, or a handgun. It has to be at least a semiautomatic (Not sure if they count, or it has to be a fully-automatic).

    -David T. C.

  • If the media insists on calling them hackers, and the mainstream culture thinks of hackers as crackers, why not just make a new word to describe all smart computer geek types, and let them have hacker denote cracker?

    I do have to admit, when I think of hacker, the first thing that comes to mind is the cracker/phreaker/skript kiddie type. THEN I think of all my friends, the ethical crackers, the linux geeks, etc. And I've been online as a computer geek for 8 years. It's a perception that is carved in stone.

    Incidentally, there is some romanticism to the hacker idea. Hackers (as we call them crackers) are like pirates... and old west outlaws. And vampires. Pirates were bad people. They killed, raped, maimed, stole. But people like that image. They secretly wish they could have been a pirate. It was bad, evil, and romanticised as being exciting and fun. The hacker is the modern pirate, and I suspect 200 years from now, the hacker genre will be the same as the pirate or old west outlaw genre is today. The romanticised bad guy that people want to be but don't want to admit to wanting it.

    Likewise, there isn't much in the pirate genre that's realistic or historically accurate. Do you think "Arrr, Matey! Walk the plank!" does any justice to who pirates really were? It's the same with the Hacker paradigm. It's unrealistic, but people want it that way. There's nothing to fantisize about when you know that most hackers do nothing but sit around staring at driver source codes to get their new USB mouse to work. There's nothing exciting about that. The public wants to think about kids with funny hair-dos and camo laptops bouncing signals off of satalites and breaking into the Pentagon.
  • I asked an acquaintance of mine his opinion on this matter, and he was kind enough to write a response for the general public.

    2 h00m iT m4y K0n5iRn:

    i hUmB4133 5uBmYt 4 uR k0n5YdUr45hUn: d4 m3dYa k41z u5 h4X0rZ bEk4uZ w3 k411 R53lVz h4X0rZ. iPh U wY5h u5 2 k411 R531Vz "kR4kRz", U 4Wt rE411Y 5pe1 iT pR0p3r1Y. n0 531pH r35p3KtInG 5kRyPt KyDdI3 wY11 eVuR k411 hYm431pH 4 "cracker".

    y0rZ tR001Y -


  • It really strikes my irony bone when the propeller heads of the world (esp here on /.) get bent out of shape about the way the public use words like hacker to describe "the wrong thing." Face it, language is the biggest open source project undertaken by man. Words come and go, if you like a word, you use it. If everyone uses it and finds it useful, it becomes a part of the next kernel recompile. If you're still using a old version and don't keep up with the updates, you end up like an old Eskimo, floating off on an iceberg. There's a delicious irony when would be hackers here of all places, complain about the public hijacking "our" word. In desperately trying to control the word, the hangers on of the world are unknowingly becoming what they despise the most. The language code is free.
  • MAFIAdot: "News for Murderers, Assorted Felons, and Internet Attorneys, Stuff that doesn't involve you, bub!"

    Guido the Clueless writes "The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those of you not from The Great White North) has an article on why the media use the term 'criminal' versus 'community-minded businessman with strong family values'." Well, at least it's an understanding of why they use the term incorrectly...

    Now why are we so sure that we know the "correct" meanings of the word, and the proper use of the term?

    1) 99% of the world certainly doesn't agree
    2) It's irrelevant that "we" feel "we" are the people they are talking about. Would we let pedophiles decide what *they* should correctly be called? Sorry, if we have our preferred term and it doesn't catch on, tough luck.
    3) even 'hacker' *was* used at MIT in the 70's to
    describe computer cracking. There was a variety of distinctions and terms usd, none universal (white hat, evil, chaotic neutral, underground, etc.) And it wasn't that the issue didn't arise. There were countless discussions of how outsiders (and even many apparent cognoscienti) 'didn't understand hacking'

    Sorry guys. I would've loved to have won this one -- and I suspect that someday we will (when society recognizes the need for these distinctions and adopts terms -- of it's choosing -- to reflect them.

    Right now, were just militant whining PC advocates (Political Correctness -- the *other* PC)


  • This is great!

    It tells us why the media remain resistant to our attempt to correct their misusage, and also where to hack the problem:

    Newsies are resistant because the dictionaries are giving them support for their misuse. So it isn't enough just to tell them how ignorant they sound, and how much it reduces their credibility, when they perpetuate the misuse. Instead the place to fix it is with the publishers of dictionaries.

    Dictionary publishers are research organizations. The dictionaries are distilled from their (heavily documented) databases of historical usages. (Much of that is news articles, so it's somewhat circular. But they also include lots of other sources - letters, diaries, published books, etc.)

    They also put in a few bogus words (just as mapmakers put in phantom roads and small towns) to check that their competition is doing its own research rather than plagarising their work.

    The way to get them to modify an entry or include your definition is to give them documentation of the usage, with dates and references so they can check. The earlier the better for origins - some of them list words in order of first common use rather than current prevalence.


    By the way: The misuse of hacker for security breaker apparently came from a presentation by an early self-proclaimed "security expert" to early IT department managers and other upper management types. (One of the hackers in the audience was puzzled by the misuse, though he did not question the presenter about it.) It was the managers' first exposure both to many of the computer break-in threats and to the term "hacker", so the misuse apparently got going in the pointy-haired boss circles.

    Of course, PHBs listen to each other - especially those one or two levels above them - a LOT more than they listen to their employees. So once it got started in management it tended to stick.

    In those days the set "crackers" was nearly a strict subset of the (much larger) set "hackers", in the same way that "rustler" was nearly a strict subset of "cowboy" or "(sea) pirate" a strict subset of "sailor". There wasn't public access to an internet or a set of widely-distributed penetration tools - crackers had to roll their own. Even the basics - like a terminal or a modem - were mostly accessable only to people in the business.

    Of course now it's a much different story. Powerful computers are readily available to all for cheap, as are modems and network access. Penetration tools are traded around freely. So a would-be computer cracker doesn't need to develop the skills of a hacker, or even of a programming duffer, to start breaking into systems.

    So the set "crackers" now has about as much overlap with the set "hackers" as the set "taggers" has with the set "fine-art painters".

    (And in case you're wondering why I told you a lot of stuff you already knew - it's because this might be read by some news editor or dictionary author who didn't already know it. B-) )

    And in case any are listening:

    - Someone who is an exceptionally skilled programmer is a "hacker" or "computer hacker".

    - Someone who breaks system security is a "cracker" or "computer cracker". By analogy with "safe cracker".

    - Someone who makes a profit from stolen computer programs or data (or otherwise distributes it without the permission of its proper owner) is a "pirate".

    - Someone who damages data, programs, or system function or availability, is a "vandal". (This includes the computer equivalents of everything from graffiti through arson to germ warfare.)

    A person may be a member of any or all of the above sets: For instance: Someone might steal and sell or use credit card info from a site he broke into using tools he wrote himself, and damage the site in the process (for instance - to cover his tracks). He might be all four:

    - A pirate, for his use of the credit card info.
    - A cracker, for obtaining it by breaking system security.
    - A vandal, for damaging the database.
    - A hacker, for being skillful enough to write de-novo a tool capable of penetrating the system's security.

    But these days little psycopaths usually skip "hacker" - because they can get the tools to do what they want without spending years becoming skilled enough at programming to write them for themselves. Why work so hard - and probably get caught during the learning process - when it's easy to get tools from others?

    Meanwhile, the people who DO spend the time to become hackers have better, and more lucrative, things to do with their skills than steal credit cards and trash web sites.
  • 20 years ago I used to drive a hack. Then I became somewhat of a computer hacker. Now I am a hack writer.

    Hacking has always been my life.

  • The point needed to be made, so we can argue with it. 8-) I sent and email reply to the author which may help answer your objection. I've included it below.

    ------------------------------------------------ --

    Date: Mon, 08 May 2000 17:22:55 -0500
    From: L. Adrian Griffis <agriffis@dstsystems.com>
    To: shewchukb@toronto.cbc.ca
    Cc: adrian@nerds.org
    Subject: Good start on explaining misuse of the term "Hacker"


    I'm glad to see you respond to the criticism of the media's common use of the
    word "hacker". I couple of points come to mind.

    You note that a few dictionaries agree with the common usage (i.e. a hacker
    is someone who breaks into systems). I'm sure that you, as someone who writes
    for a living, have flinched more than once at the kinds of word misuse that have
    been immortalized in all these dictionaries that you site. I fear, myself, that
    these dictionaries will begin to validate the common sports caster's use of the
    word "literally" to add emphasis rather than to differentiate literal and
    figurative uses of other words. In the event of such an appalling development,
    I vow to fight on in defense of the word "literally", and I can only hope that
    you would do the same. There is no word to replace "literally", and in the same
    sense, there is no word to replace "hacker".

    The word "schizophrenic" is often misunderstood to mean someone who has
    Multiple Personality Disorder. It may even be that some dictionaries are
    legitimizing this misunderstanding. This usage is wrong, and even harmful.
    There are times when we NEED words to have exact meanings that are beyond what
    we can expect from the layman. When a complex profession develops a jargon to
    help it communicate concisely within the profession, we must give that jargon a
    kind of protected status, or we risk letting the confusion about words amoung
    laymen intrude into its proper, more technical usage. It doesn't matter that
    the number of people who think schizophrenic means MLP is much larger than the
    number of people who understand its meaning; The majority is wrong when it is
    applied to psychology, and the dictionary would be wrong to legitimize this
    incorrect usage. The fact that the average layman thinks the word hacker refers
    to someone who breaks into computers is equally wrong, regardless of the extent
    to which these confused people outnumber those of us in the computer business.
    The fact that someone of these confused people make dictionaries is unfortunate,
    but we in the computer business are entitied to our jargon, and those people on
    the outside are only making communications difficult by attempting to pollute
    our jargon with their misunderstanding.

    A more subtle point, perhaps, comes from how this misuse came to be so
    common. The word "hacker" in the MIT sense came to be vested with a kind of
    prestige. As a result, a growing crowd of kids began to covet this term and
    simply usurped it, without actually gaining the skills required.

    Before I go on, it is important to note that some full fledged hackers really
    are the kinds of people that break into systems without authorization. This is
    unfortunate, and is not something that many hackers like to talk about. We
    sometimes call them "Dark Side Hackers". But these hackers are, by far,
    outnumbered by a group of people that we call "Script Kiddies", who simply use
    canned tools that they couldn't have written themselves to break into systems.
    In many cases (but not all) it is dark side hackers that originally wrote the
    tools, but most security incidents are probably perpetrated by script kiddies.

    Anyway, back to the second point. At first, and to some extent even today,
    many journalists lack the technical sophistication required to tell the
    different between people that really qualify as hackers and people who claim,
    falsely, to be hackers. Those of us who understand the term simply see
    journalists as gullible.

    But suppose we decided we've fought this battle long enough. Suppose we
    surrendered this term to the layman. Would this really improve communications?
    Would we have a way to talk to you journalists to help you understand the
    difference between the person who understands the system well enough to create a
    really impressive utility and the person who simply uses the utility in some
    pathetic act of vandalism? If I can't convince you that I have some
    authoritative right to correct your use of the word, can I at least convince you
    that surrendering this distinction will make clear communications more

    Further, suppose we surrender this word and pick another one. How long will
    it be before the script kiddies covet this new word, as well. How long will it
    be before they claim this new word as their own. And how long will it be before
    all these dictionaries begin to parrot their claims. If we decide on this new
    word, can we count on you jounalists to do a better job of examining these false
    claims than you did with the word hacker? From the first misuse of the word
    hacker, we've challenged it, and you journalists have ignored us. Now that we
    finally shout loudly enough that we are not so easy to ignore, you journalists
    have made excuses.

    Suppose we surrender this word. Are you promising to take better care of the
    next one? Shall we count on jounalistic integrity to safeguard this next word
    where it did nothing to protect the first? If you won't admit that you are
    wrong now that the dictionary backs you up, will you at least admit that you
    would have wrong before the dictionaries validated this misuse of the word
    hacker? Are you honestly working towards better communications and a better
    understanding or is it just tough, sometimes, to admit that you are wrong.

    Regardless of what words we use, it is important to understand that there are
    two different groups here and we needs ways to talk about them without getting
    confused. There are people who love working with the intricate details of
    computer programming. We call them "hackers". There are people who use tools
    that they are not bright enough to develop themselves to commit pathetic acts of
    vandalism. We call them "script kiddies", but you want to call them hackers.
    Do you plan to confuse your public about the difference between these two
    groups? Is there some other word that you would like us to use to describe the
    first group? Have you really thought this through?

    This message is public domain. You may reprint it without any other kind of
    permission, but I hope you will let me know, and I hope your journalistic
    integrity will guide you in quoting sections of it. I will be posting it to

    Thanks for getting the discussion going.

    L. Adrian Griffis

  • Cracker = someone who removes copy protection from games..

    Hacker = someone who enters other peoples computers via a modem (not necessarily damaging the system, but doing it in an un-authorised manner...)

    only occasionally is a hacker someone who `really likes coding`...

    I'm actually from the US, and it was more or less the same for me back in the 80's. "Cracker" always meant somebody who disabled copy protection code. Even on the old Apple II's, bootleg games would proudly display "cracked by..." with the cracker's handle on the title screen.

    "Hacker" typically meant a code guru who could program for the "big iron" mainframes, *NIX servers, etc. who got their knowledge through (ahem) informal means. That oftem meant "trashing" (raiding dumpters for manuals & stuff), "preaking" (exploiting stolen phone time so you were harder to trace), and "hacking" around in systems that did not belong to you.

    Hackers are responsible for a lot of the success of the computer revolution of today. For example, a Jobs & Woz once perloined a 3-ring binder from Bell that got them started as phone phreaks. They went on to do quite well.

    If you go back far enough, the term "hack" was once generally applied as a negative term pointing out sloppy work. This could well be the origin on the programming cuture's use of the word; appropriated for situations when one would hack a quick-fix to an application with a few lines of code. Like "geek", a derisive term was adopted and turned into a cheerful self-reference. Personally, I think both uses are fine.

    I'm sure that people will continue to call people like Bernie S. and Kevin Mitnick "hackers", as painful as that may be for some /. regulars to swallow.

  • Dictionaries do more than just document usage as if it were nothing but a historical record. The provide a basis for generic and institutional uses of language, such as media, government, business, and education. By acting as a stabilizing influence on language, they ensure that we are more likely to understand a 17th century English document than a 17th century reader would be likely to understand the Canterbury Tales, and by contributing to the fiction of a 'standard' English which can be taught, actually gives people from communities that use a non-Standard English a chance to escape the 'class marking' of their dialects.

    Your definition of the identity of 'crackers' is a bit presumptious. Another way to look at it is that some hackers wished to call other hackers 'crackers' because they don't like to be associated with them. As the article notes, the use of 'cracker' by the computer-savvy community postdates the use of 'hacker' in the media to describe computer intruders. It's actually an old version of the "True Scotsman" trick, a popular trick among religious people who want to disassociate themselves from the negative actions of other religious people. ("Oh, the people who led the Inquisition weren't True Christians, becaue True Christians wouldn't lead the Inquisition.")

  • If a driver sees the stop sign coming and steps on the accelerator, yes we call that an accident. It is, however, an accident which results from a deliberate act of either negligence or maliciousness on the part of the driver.

    There is another alternative:
    The driver noticed the stop sign too late, panicked and pressed the wrong pedal. Not too uncommon with newbie drivers.

    The gun analogy would be "I was just loading my gun during shooting exercises, when my friend surprised me from behind. Unfortunately I automatically did the same turn-around-and-fire movement as I had been practicing..."

  • If you're still using a old version and don't keep up with the updates, you end up like an old Eskimo, floating off on an iceberg.

    Or indeed, a Finn, refusing to join in with the dominant Indo-European system, and trying to cling to an antiquated Ural-Altaic language . . . . .

    • ...You can't deny that if you asked a bunch of strangers off the street what a hacker was, you'd hear things like "making viruses" or "breaking into computers".

    Let's face it. Most people think that people who stay up all hours writing code are "making viruses" and "breaking into computers".

    Part of the problem here is that the general populace just doesn't see computer programming as an engrossing craft. They think only in terms of what they could understand as being exciting. It's sad, but people really can't see much that's exciting about computers, apart from pr0n and other web browsing, which requires no special expertise (they can do that), except using them to break laws and hurt people, or perhaps to counter those who do evil things.

    To most of the general populace, a real computer expert is someone who can break into systems or create viruses. The distinctions between hacker and cracker to them, even if carefully explained, would seem trivial. They'd think that a hacker is just a cracker who uses his skill for "good".

    Look at the "good guy" computer geek characters in any television show. We're supposed to believe that they really know computers, but pretty much all we ever see them doing with this expertise is break into systems.

    -Jordan Henderson

One can't proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.