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[P]
Hacker vs. Cracker, and why the media doesn't get the difference

By Precious Roy in Media
Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 01:51:59 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

A real-life story of the media's take on the world of computer (in)security, and how it twists the term "hacker," generally thought of as a broad category including many different subcultures, to add a connotation of evil.


Something happened yesterday that got me thinking about an age-old distinction: hacker vs. cracker.

I work as a copy editor at an afternoon metro paper (circulation under 50K). The bulk of my work is checking stories and writing headlines. I open up a story to write a headline, and it's about a computer system at Epcot getting hacked. (It's an AP wire story, and our paper's site doesn't post AP stuff, so I don't have a link.)

Anyway, I deliberately write the headline in passive tense: Computer system at Epcot hacked. I was avoiding saying "hacker" in the headline because I know how the media tends to lump so many different groups under one name and villify them.

At the time, there was no way of knowing exactly why the system was hacked: whether the person was hoping to get information, just to see if they could do it, etc.

Unfortunately, I am not the last word on what headlines actually get into the paper, and somewhere down the line the headline was rewritten to use the word "hacker."

One concept in sociology class I learned is that of the "master status." This is defined as a characteristic which "overpowers" all the other characteristics of a person's identity... examples would be wheelchair-bound people (even Stephen Hawking), the elderly (notice how old people are almost always called "old people?") and the like.

This all leads to the $64,000 question(s):

  • How much of a significant difference is there between the two most commonly used labels, "hacker" and "cracker?"
  • Why does the media, even people we'd certainly like to think know better, insist on applying the generic term "hacker" when many different subcultures exist within such a categorization?
  • Is "hacker" a master class, in the sense that once a person gains unauthorized access to a system, the rest of their identity is overshadowed by it?

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Hacker vs. Cracker, and why the media doesn't get the difference | 92 comments (88 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
hacker is the accepted word, sorry. (3.45 / 20) (#1)
by mihalis on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 09:46:19 AM EST

I work in programming for a company that has a news channel. One time we had a headline on our system about unauthorised access, and since the word hacker was used I wrote to the guy pointing out that cracker was preferred. His point was that hacker is now the accepted word because the man in the street connects it instantly to what "we" (real hackers) think of as cracking. I'm afraid the genie is out of the bottle.

In fact he was aware of the distinction, but in a short sequence of words, such as a headline or story summary, hacker is the cheapest way to give the reader a handle on the topic.

As I remember, his idea of the distinction was something like "cracking is hacking with malice" or something like that (my paraphrase).

Certainly in the media definition of hacker (i.e. cracker) it's one word that's enough to convey a whole host of implications.
-- Chris Morgan <see em at mihalis dot net>

Re: hacker is the accepted word, sorry. (2.45 / 11) (#2)
by edderly on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 09:55:29 AM EST

Absolutely - live with it.

Besides cracker has another connotation.....

You got cracker farmboy Luke Skywalker, Nazi poster boy blond hair blue eyes. Then you got Darth Vader, blackest brother in the galaxy. Nubian god!
Hooper X, Chasing Amy

[ Parent ]
Re: hacker is the accepted word, sorry. (3.16 / 12) (#10)
by Rand Race on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:43:55 AM EST

Hell, given the racial makeup of us geeks and how most of us feel about those who use their skills for nefarious reasons, perhaps a word that also means 'white trash' is completely apropriate.

My local university actualy did suffer from a cracker attack; some hick down in Alabama took out a fibre line with a shotgun, cutting off their backbone for several hours.


"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson
[ Parent ]

Re: hacker is the accepted word, sorry. (2.36 / 11) (#8)
by Precious Roy on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:04:33 AM EST

I don't deny that "hack" has pretty much become the standard. I know there's virtually no way any mainstream media is going to avoid it on stories of that nature.

My objection was not so much over the use of "hack" as attaching the label of "hacker" to the person who did the deed, without any knowledge of that person's motives, etc.

While gramatically shunned for its passivity, wouldn't my original headline: "Computer system at Epcot hacked" have accurately conveyed the event while avoiding attaching the label of "hacker" to the person involved?

[ Parent ]

Re: hacker is the accepted word, sorry. (2.71 / 7) (#30)
by btlzu2 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 04:07:58 PM EST

I would think it would be best written "Crackers break into computer system at Epcot.", then you avoid using the wrong term, hacker, all together. Furthermore, in the passive sense: "Computer system at Epcot cracked." A hacker does not break into other systems, but a cracker does. When a cracker breaks into a system, he has "cracked" it.

That's my 2 cents on it.
"This machine will not communicate the thoughts and the strain I am under." --Radiohead/Street Spirit (Fade Out)
[ Parent ]
Re: hacker is the accepted word, sorry. (2.20 / 5) (#48)
by Perpetual Newbie on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 08:34:56 PM EST

I'd think "Epcot Computers Cracked", but that might not have enough letters for whatever the indended width of the headline was. Gets the point across in a minimum of words, though.

[ Parent ]
Re: hacker is the accepted word, sorry. (3.28 / 7) (#58)
by Captain Derivative on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 10:21:06 PM EST

But to the average joe, "Epcot Computers Cracked" would make them think they had a defective casing or something....

Ultimately, the meaning a word has is decided by how the majority of people use it. Like it or not, if most people use "hacker" as "we" use "cracker," then "hacker" takes on the meaning of "someone who breaks into computer systems." What may be the "wrong" meaning now will become "right" after some time because that's how the word will be used.

If you look at our language, you'll see that over time lots of words change connotations, gain new meanings, lose archaic meanings, etc. It's always changing one way or another.

There's a point where, if so many people violate a grammatical rule, the rule disappears and the "wrong" way becomes the norm, just because everyone does it. Something similar goes for words themselves. Purist or not, that's what happens. There's a point where you just have to deal with it. Maybe replace "our" "hacker" with some other term?


--
Hey! Why aren't you all dead yet?! Oh, that's right, it's only Tuesday. -- Zorak


[ Parent ]
Sheesh... Will it never die? (3.95 / 24) (#3)
by sakico on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 09:57:12 AM EST

The CBC has a webpage up which describes exactly why they use the word hacker over cracker here.

This link was given on Slashdot some months ago, many months after they had put it on their webpage.

When the public hears the word hacker, they know exactly what the source is talking about - as do you, whether you like it or not. If the general public heard or read the headline "Teenage Cracker Arrested in Montreal", they would usually not know that it has anything whatsoever to do with computers. I wouldn't associate the headline with computers until I give it thought, despite the time I spend following sites where some people live or die on the difference.

If I and many others can deal with the ubiquitous mixups of homonyms in writing, I'm sure you can deal with the occasional usage of hacker. Especially when you take into account that the use of hacker to refer to a computer criminal is correct usage, even if somewhat depreciated.

hacker, n.

  1. Computer Science.
    • One who is proficient at using or programming a computer; a computer buff.
    • One who illegally gains access to or enters another's electronic system to obtain secret information or steal money.
  2. Sports. One who enthusiastically pursues a game or sport: a weekend tennis hacker.

And, for reference,

cracker, n.

  1. A thin, crisp wafer or biscuit, usually made of unsweetened dough.
  2. One that cracks, especially:
    • A firecracker.
    • A small cardboard cylinder covered with decorative paper that holds candy or a party favor and pops when a paper strip is pulled at one or both ends and torn.
    • The apparatus used in the cracking of petroleum.
    • One who makes unauthorized use of a computer, especially to tamper with data or programs.
  3. Offensive Used as a disparaging term for a poor white person of the rural, especially southeast United States.

Re: Sheesh... Will it never die? (2.90 / 10) (#19)
by fuchikoma on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 01:51:19 PM EST

The CBC has a webpage up which describes exactly why they use the word hacker over cracker

True, but there's a flaw in their reasoning. By their logic "The Dictionary is a dictionary so it must know more about a phrase than the people who coined it!"

Or, in a simpler form, saying something doesn't make it true. Hackers are hackers. Crackers are vandals who work with intangible tools.

[ Parent ]
Re: Sheesh... Will it never die? (4.36 / 11) (#37)
by Rainy on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 06:41:28 PM EST

The flaw in your reasoning is that you think people who coined the phrase have some sort of control over it. That's plainly not true. Once it's out, it's the mass of people who decide what some word means, and dictionaries take the meanings from the mass and print it.

A word means whatever most people think it means. If 60% of population decides to call rockets 'rainbows', this is what they will be called. Notice the subtle but present difference with factual information: even if most people think that earth is flat doesn't make it so - that's cause people are making factual misjudgement; this is completely different from *definitions* of words, which are simply matters that are agreed upon, they're simply conventions.

To get closer to the issue, most people heard the term hacker and know what it means, but if you tell them 'cracker', they'll think cracker jack or firecracker. I suppose, the distinction is not important enough for general population to warrant remembering two words. Whatever the case may be, the people have spoken and nobody can change that. Nobody has singular control over english language; it's a matter of social interaction and about as easy to change as moving a mountain or an ocean.

Well, anyway, my point is that if people want to associate 'computer criminal' and 'hacker', let them. What's the big deal? It's just a label, a description. If you are used to thinking of yourself as 'hacker', translate it to 'computer professional' (well, that does sound kind of corny). Consider that if you mention that you're a hacker to a non-computer person, and then say 'well, not a malicious one..', they'll be perplexed. That's like telling them that you're a murderer but you don't break laws. Yeah sure you can spend a few minutes explaining them the difference but that's ridiculous. Words are meant to describe something quickly, not *need* 5 minute description themselves!

To answer the poster of the story: communicate with people. Your task is to give them the information, easily and concisely, and making sure they understand what exactly happened. If you say 'hacker broke in computer systems and stole CC numbers' they'll know what happened, if you substitute 'hacker' with 'cracker', you'll confuse them and waste time explaining - for what? To make them think you're a weirdo? Careful choice of clothes can accomplish that far easier :-)
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]

Re: Sheesh... Will it never die? (2.85 / 7) (#61)
by Colonol_Panic on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:27:13 PM EST

So what? The mainstream has refused to get a clue, but I don't see how that makes a difference. It's our word, dammit, what are we supposed to do? Concede our loss and use another word?

Ah, but that doesn't solve the problem! Think about why the media has misinterpreted "hacker" so badly. Here's a brief history of the word hacker, as I understand it: hacker was originally coined to describe an enthusiast. Eventually, once personal computers become popular enough, there grows a subculture of hackers, and a subsequent helping of newbies. Some newbies get a clue, and become hackers. But others are lured into the sub-sub-culture of criminal activity (i.e., "cracking"). They like to build up their egos, calling themselves "hackers" even though they do not deserve the title. Unfortunately, to the casual observer, the crackers are louder and more noticeable than the true hackers. Hackers generally shun traditional media attention, but crackers thrive on it. So, the media only sees the crackers and accepts their use of the word "hacker" at face value.

So what would happen if we use another word to describe ourselves? The same thing would eventually happen all over again. Instead, I believe we need to educate as many people as possible. Yes, most people misunderstand the word--so educate them.
Here's my DeCSS mirror. Where's Yours?
[ Parent ]

Re: Sheesh... Will it never die? (4.80 / 5) (#74)
by Cariset on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 03:44:00 PM EST

So what would happen if we use another word to describe ourselves? The same thing would eventually happen all over again.

This is absolutely right. For a similar example, take a look at the following series of terms: Negro/colored/black/African-American. In each case, the existing term became laden with negative connotations, due to prejudice and ignorance. But unlike the "hacker" community, the affected group had enough clout to change the term used, which superficially eliminated the negative connotations. But the real, underlying problems weren't fixed, so the new term eventually succumbed just like the old one. (I hope that American society has improved to the point where this won't need to happen again...)

The real obstacle for us is that the media will (given some time) call "electronic intruders" whatever they call themselves. Script kiddies don't call themselves "script kiddies", and crackers don't call themselves "crackers". Justified or not, they take the more respectable term "hacker" for themselves, so that's what the media calls them. If we somehow transferred our meaning of hacker to some other word ("sourceror" was tossed about), then crackers and script kiddies will start using it, to claim legitimacy for themselves and their actions. And we'll be right back where we started, minus the term "hacker". Repeat ad infinitum.

<RANT>And a few choice words for those who quote dictionaries and the Jargon File: those things mean precisely nothing. When I use the word "hacker", its real meaning lies in how I intended it to be used, and how those who listen to me think I used it. There exists a chance of miscommunication, given that we all have slightly different internal definitions. The natural process of language acquisition takes care of most of these problems, but for those occasions when it's not good enough, we developed dictionaries as a tool. They describe the current mainstream/prestige usages, not dialects, jargon, or non-prestigious usages. So although they help mainstream communication, they also reinforce the mistaken notion that non-mainstream usages are wrong, ignorant etc. Which is absolutely not the case.

People's usage of a term reflects how they learned to use it, nothing more. If it's different than yours, that just means they learned to use it somewhere different than where you learned to use it. And so attacking a person's use of language is IMPLICITLY an attack on their entire culture, because their culture determines how they use words. If that's what you mean to do, go right ahead (although I'd prefer direct attacks), but otherwise, saying that someone is "wrong" is an unproductive thing to do. Because unless someone's consciously trying to learn a particular dialect (like that of hackers), it's probably going to be taken badly.</RANT>

Sorry if that went overboard, but sociolinguistics facinates me, partially because it encompasses almost all human interactions, and yet most people have no clue about it...



[ Parent ]
Re: Sheesh... Will it never die? (3.00 / 1) (#83)
by RadiantMatrix on Fri Sep 29, 2000 at 12:59:19 PM EST

ustified or not, they take the more respectable term "hacker" for themselves, so that's what the media calls them.
I've always seen, in harmony with the Jargon file, a "hacker" as anyone with a reasonable amount of computer skill (beyond use, i.e. programming, unique configurations, etc.)

I guess this means that, to me, crackers are a subset of hackers, and so if the media is guilty of anything, it's being too vague.
--
I'm not going out with a "meh". I plan to live, dammit. [ZorbaTHut]

[ Parent ]

Re: Sheesh... Will it never die? (3.80 / 5) (#65)
by Beorn on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 05:34:01 AM EST

A word means whatever most people think it means. If 60% of population decides to call rockets 'rainbows', this is what they will be called.

This is very true, but it doesn't mean nerds should stop using their own definition of the words, (only that they might want to stop whining about it.) All subcultures have their own language. This is particularly obvious in non-english speaking countries, where nerd language is heavily influenced by english.

Personally, I've started my own crusade to norwegify the expression 'to make sense', which doesn't have an equivalent in norwegian. :) (Ex: make (meike) sense. Det der maker ikke sense.)

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]

Time for a new word (1.92 / 13) (#4)
by twl on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 10:00:00 AM EST

Any suggestions? Is 'wizard' too childish? I imagine there's a set of requirements for a coined word 'making it.'

I imagine that some would say that this is giving in, but I think that already too much breath has been wasted trying to undo the undoable.

Wizard? (2.50 / 4) (#55)
by simmons75 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 09:08:27 PM EST

You mean as in "Whiz Kids"?

I realize this is WAAAAAAAAAY offtopic, but do any people from the U.S. of A. even remember that show? Is it in syndication? Gawd, that was a dumb show :^)

By using Wizard (or I suppose whiz :^) I suppose you're meaning the people who want the term hacker and want "the other people" to be called inbred crackers. Yeah, I'll bite; I'm a real whiz at hacking up other people's code, I guess...as long as you don't want anything that works...at least, not well. But I don't hack. All that much. :^)

Again, a bit offtopic: if any of you reading this are the hacker type, I hope you find ample work in the workplace. By visiting LUGs and whatnot, I've noticed that there's actually, even among those with certifications :^) a lot of questions directed at the "hacker" types. While "the people in the suits" may not like it if you break in and mess stuff up, they may appreciate it if you just tell them what the problem is. Then again, some people don't...I knew a kid who did this sort of thing, and all it ever got him was in trouble. :^( Geez, guys, you'd rather spend several thousand$ on a security audit then to have some kid do it for free? Whatta crock; I'll take my business elsewhere, thank you, if you're just going to waste my money.
poot!
So there.

[ Parent ]
Hacker is not the only one (3.42 / 19) (#5)
by dabadab on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 10:12:26 AM EST

Hacker is not the only "victim" of the general public's ignorance to nuances.
For example, newspapers tend to call everything a "virus" (BTW should we start a discussion about the plural of virus?) regardless whether it is a worm, a trojan horse or whatever.
But we do not need to go this far. Even hackers tend to use "swapping" instead of "paging" event though they should know how big is the difference.
I think we should live with it, natural languages are highly redundant, so the context should make it clear what do you mean by "hacker".
Educate, but do not whine continously :)
--
Real life is overrated.
Re: Hacker is not the only one (2.71 / 7) (#29)
by ksandstr on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 03:55:12 PM EST

(BTW should we start a discussion about the plural of virus?)

Oh please dear god no. That's even worse than beating the memory of a grease stain.



Fin.
[ Parent ]
Need replacement for "hacker" (3.64 / 25) (#6)
by Paul Johnson on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 10:15:49 AM EST

OK, so we've lost the battle on "hacker". The media won't use "cracker" because then they need to add a side bar saying "cracker means hacker cos hacker don't mean what you think it means". And that just won't happen. Arguing against it is about like arguing that "gay" really means "happy and carefree".

Instead of fighting a lost cause we need to start pushing where the door is open: we need a new word to mean what hacker used to mean, along with back formations to replace "hack" in its noun and verb forms. The media doesn't have a vocabulary to describe what we do and what we are (apart from "geek"), so we can hope to push something and get it accepted. The new word needs conotations of skill and creativity combined with getting the job done. If we can come up with a new word that captures these qualities then we can also score a major PR coup by redefining what it means to be a computer geek (yes, this is Geek Branding).

How about sourcerer? Pratchett fans will recognise the origin of the word: on the diskworld a Sourcerer is a kind of uber-wizard. It has the right connotations of wizardliness and creativity, and it also ties directly in with Open Source Software. It lends itself to constructions such as "source something up" and "neat sourcery". The obvious "sauce" pun also adds flavour and taste.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (2.66 / 9) (#22)
by Elendale on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 02:20:57 PM EST

Sounds good to me. Lots of room for amusing humor, plus it actually makes sense. Problem is, can we change the culture? If we all here at k5 started using 'sourcerer' instead of 'hacker' would it catch on eventually? Maybe its worth a shot, but more likely the change will be slow.

-Elendale (better question may be: will it catch on with the press, and will the same corruption that happened to hacker happen to sourcerer?)
---

When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.


[ Parent ]
Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (2.33 / 6) (#45)
by Notromda on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 07:52:11 PM EST

So how does this become a verb? "I just {hacked,sourced,conjoured} this program together, but I don't know how it works..."

[ Parent ]
Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (2.66 / 6) (#47)
by Elendale on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 08:11:19 PM EST

I was thinking 'sourced' but i suppose conjured would work too... In any case, it wasn't my idea- see the parent to the parent of the parent of this post :)

-Elendale (and this is all theoretical too...)
---

When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.


[ Parent ]
Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (2.60 / 5) (#62)
by Paul Johnson on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 03:25:40 AM EST

Someone elsewhere in this thread suggested "ensourceled". Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]
Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (2.50 / 2) (#80)
by titus-g on Fri Sep 29, 2000 at 02:10:50 AM EST

ahh and then we'll have closed and open ensourceled software :)

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

Gayness (2.62 / 8) (#23)
by drac on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 02:47:13 PM EST

With all due respect to those currently denoted by the term, I personally resent being unable to call myself a "Gay blade" without people thinking I'm making some sort of comment about the sexual orientation of my anatomy.

Oh, too long gone are the days when the term meant "carefree bachelor"!

[ Parent ]
Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (4.25 / 8) (#43)
by Spinoza on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 07:28:22 PM EST

I think "sourceror" might come up against some fairly strong resistance from the journalistic profession. For one thing it has two too many syllables.

In any case, why do we need to waste so much effort on labelling ourselves? For the most part, labels are a convenience for those who apply them, and a burden for those to whom they are applied. I fail to see how self-applying a new label will change this. On the other hand, if we must find a replacement for hacker, why not "nerd"? It has the advantage that it's already well understood by journalists, it's easy to type, and is richer in its depth of meaning. It implies not only the interest and understanding of computers that "hackers" share, but also a wider range of sub-cultural aspects of the "hacker/nerd" community, i.e. propensity to play "Dungeons & Dragons", enjoyment of sci-fi movies, massive junk-food addictions, etc.

The only obvious drawback is that the word is frequently used in a derogatory fashion. I feel that this could be overcome, in much the same way that gay people reclaimed the word "queer". This may also be a blessing in disguise, as the h4x0rs would most likely refuse to be called "nerds", thereby providing seperation of the law-abiding and skilled "nerd" community and the irritating "h4x0r underground" with which we are too often lumped.

[ Parent ]

Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (3.71 / 7) (#56)
by eric.t.f.bat on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 09:51:43 PM EST

I get the impression that geek and nerd both mean the same thing, near as dammit, in the US. They both have the derogatory connotation (a good example is Jonathan in Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and their respectful, slightly awed, slightly amazed connotation (Stephen Hawking, or maybe Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters). In Australia, however, nerd is almost entirely derogatory, whereas geek is more respectful, and is well on the way to being reclaimed as a badge of honour (like "queer" and "dyke" in some parts of the world).

To put it another way: regardless of how it might be elsewhere, everyone I know (FWIW) seems to define nerd as "social outcast with poor hygiene and an irritating laugh" and geek as "master of an arcane and complicated subject, optionally with poor hygiene and an irritating laugh". Jonathan is a nerd, not a geek. Egon is a geek, tho he may have been a nerd when he was growing up.

Therefore, all else being equal (and the recent /. discussion suggests all else is), if you want to reclaim one of these words, I nominate geek.

Meanwhile, I like the use of "sourcerer". The verb is "ensourcel"; the substantive noun is "sourcery"; the adjective is "sourcerous"; the collective noun for a group of sourcerers is, of course, "a mickey of sourcerers".

: Fruitbat :

[ Parent ]

Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (3.00 / 2) (#75)
by kamakazi on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 04:12:39 PM EST

I have to respond to this one. Wizard? let's see, I am a wizard because i whizzed on my computer?!? Robert Heinlen used a word "grok" I'm not sure if he invented it or not, but the implications of the word include understand, or even become, as in "I grok what you are saying/doing/being/thinking". a master haccker must grok, so if we have to replace hack(er) we could try for grok(ker). I dare you to get a newspaper to use that in a headline :-)

Basically, we the computer elite, in our all powerful and all knowing state of exaltedness are just going to have to admit that we can not sway public usage of existing words.

On a similar subject, look up the history of the word "quiz". As far as I know it is the only word ever intentionally created without a meaning, and it seemed to develop one quite quickly on it's own

kamakazi

Proximity to wonder has blunted our perception and appreciation of it.
-Tim Hartnell in _Exploring_Artificial_Intelligence_on_your_Commodore_64_-
Proximity to wonder has blunted our perception and appreciation of it. -Tim Hartnell in _Exploring_Artificial_Intelligence_on_your_Commodore_64_-
[ Parent ]
Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (none / 0) (#88)
by arafel on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 07:54:24 AM EST

Are you sure that was Heinlein? I thought it was Adams, in HHGTTG.
Paul
[ Parent ]
Re: Need replacement for "hacker" (none / 0) (#90)
by Matthew Bafford on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 09:16:40 AM EST

Are you sure that [grok] was Heinlein? I thought it was Adams, in HHGTTG.

Heinlein: _Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land_

42 was Adams. :P

--Matthew


--ydant


[ Parent ]
the hacker v. cracker debate is misguided. (3.00 / 14) (#7)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 10:56:49 AM EST

English is a often vague language. In many instances there is a single English term for concepts that are fairly complicated and have many different nuances of meaning. The words 'hacker' and 'cracker' are two and both have a myriad of meanings, some of which overlap. English speaking hackers and crackers of all types should just get used to the vaguaries of the English language and accept it.

The bottom line: I'm tired of hearing hackers who are convinced that there is only one true defition whine about the misuse of the word when there is more than one type of hacker....

Re: the hacker v. cracker debate is misguided. (3.60 / 5) (#53)
by simmons75 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 09:01:42 PM EST

yeah, but there's one problem here: even those who speak English often get it wrong. I've been asked by non-tech people before: "Are you a hacker?" I say, "Yeah, sure" and I get a wary look. I get asked if I did something when something goes wrong on a network. "Are you hacking?" I'm asked. Oops....guess I forgot which "hacker" I'm supposed to be. I was supposed to say HELL NO I'M NOT A HAX0R I AM A HACKER.
poot!
So there.

[ Parent ]
Crackers call themselves 'hackers'. (4.00 / 24) (#9)
by mahlen on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:13:20 AM EST

And therein lies how the word changed meaning.

People who broke into systems not their own, when discovered as a group by law enforcement and the media, called themselves 'hackers'. Not, i suspect, for any malicious or intentionally confusing reason, but just that this was how they refered to themselves. Having no other word to use, the media, law enforcement, and the public used the term with that meaning. "Hackers", as a term for people unusually interested in the inner workings of computers or systems they do own, already had names as far as the public was concerned; 'nerds' or 'geeks' or (shudder) "the computer guy". So, by virtue of being first in the widespread public view to use the term, the 'unlawful' users win. So be it.

mahlen

"I quite agree with you," said the Duchess; "and the moral of that is -- 'Be
what you would seem to be' -- or, if you'd like it put more simply -- 'Never
imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that
what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been
would have appeared to them to be otherwise.'"
--Lewis Carroll, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"





What the... (3.28 / 14) (#12)
by wholen1 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:48:16 AM EST

I don't quite understand the irritation with being called a hacker if you are a cracker. If you go in for a job interview and they ask you what it is that you can do for them, you don't tell them, "I will setup NAT on the BSD running the AMD 750, in conjunction with the TCP/IP assigned by the NT.. " - that would be confusing to someone that is not as well 'versed' as you are in those acronyms.

Let's assume that the majority of the public does not differeniate between a hacker and cracker (I just did an office survey 5 out of 5 did not) and the media is not that concerned with the difference. We all know what the difference is, but does it really matter? I mean, a hacker can mean a couple of things, but really the use is somewhat limited. In other words, you know what they mean when they use the word.

On a seperate note, the whole 'evil' mystique surrounding hackers, crackers and the sub-culture is mainly self-induced. All of the script kiddies get off on being rude, obnoxious, and all-powerful (at least in their own minds). The sub-culture has a certain lure for people that may be total nerds IRL, but can be heroes on-line. As long as we have people that are willing to buy into that persona, the hackers will always be associated with the evil sub-culture.

And finally, why do newspapers and television even run stories at all? To sell ads, to increase the audience, and to make money. So, as long as these stories continue to be popular, and hold that element of the 'unknown lurking evils' - they will continue to be written, published, and aired.

out....E

Re: What the... (4.25 / 8) (#41)
by fluffy grue on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 06:58:51 PM EST

It's not the crackers being irritated with being called hackers. It's hackers being irritated with being lumped together with crackers.

For what it's worth, I've personally given up on trying to educate people on the difference. I refer to skript kiddies as, well, skript kiddies (or 31337 5kr1p7 k1dd13z when I'm feeling especially bitter), and I refer to hackers as, well... I guess I don't, really. I say someone's great at programming.

And IMO, the meaning of the term 'crackers' has been horribly polluted by skript kiddies being referred to as such as well. The original crackers were actually quite intelligent, and could easily be considered to be hackers as well. I mean, some of what they did (finding workarounds for various copy-protection mechanisms and figuring out how to modify other peoples' program code through hand-written binary patches) isn't exactly a simple task.

Crackers (in the pure sense) are hackers (in the pure sense). Skript kiddies are neither. And 99% of the time it's skript kiddies who the media is calling "hackers" these days.

As far as the media is concerned, I don't even give a rat's ass anymore.

BTW, that technobullshit pile of acronyms you spouted helps nobody.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

... its easy. (2.00 / 17) (#13)
by porovaara on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:51:35 AM EST

Cracker is a lame word. When most people think of a cracker the first thing they
think of is something you put cheese on. Then maybe a poor white southerner...
then finally a computer person.

Hacker though, that sounds like a computer word.

I'm afraid its really that simple.


Re: ... its easy. (3.25 / 4) (#52)
by Perpetual Newbie on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 08:58:46 PM EST

Hacker though, that sounds like a computer word.

Hacker sounds like someone with a really bad cold. Or an axe-murderer or something. People didn't think of "hacker" as meaning a computer criminal until the media created that specific definition.

Though I agree that the "cracker" whitewash sounds bad and won't work. Besides, it pisses off a lot of crackers(skilled crypto and copy-protection breakers) to get lumped in with script kiddies and web page vandals, there just aren't enough of them to be heard above the din of angry hackers.

[ Parent ]

"Hacker" is a complex, ambiguous term (4.39 / 23) (#15)
by Simon Kinahan on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 12:45:08 PM EST

It seems to me, from reading the hacker's dictionary and other such sources that the ambiguity in the word "hacker" was there at its inception. It can mean both a particularly wizardly master of technological (and general) systems, but can also mean a disasterously shambolic and dangerous programmer, who you'd never want to work with, and, of course, it also means someone who breaks into computer systems.

The ambiguity goes back to the personalities of the people who made up the word to describe themselves, and those who'd adopted it since. Those guys, RMS and co, did have a strong tendency towards defiance of authority, which resulted in their breaking security systems when they got in their way. They also were especially wizardly programmers, and, by the standards of the DEC-heads and IBM suits and besuited data processing managers of their day, were the sort of people you'd never want to work with, as they were independent minded to the point of being unreliable.

The trouble is that while those three attributes once fitted together as a coherent set of traits where if you found one you tended to find the others, the range of people involved with software has grown, and all three things now tend to be done by more people who don't do the other two than who do. There are more script kiddies - who know next to nothing about the systems they use and break - than there are security gurus, there are plenty of good (though probably not truly wizardly) programmers who go home at 5.30pm and don't give their job another thought until 9am the next day, and there are more bad programmers who just aren't team players than there are genuinely independent minded geniuses.

Its not surprising that the press and the public are confused, as they never knew the culture that spawned this complex piece of jargon (which is a classic piece of high-context hacker-speak in itself). Most of us, indeed, only know that world by reputation, not by personal contact, and that, perhaps, is why we're clinging to the term hacker in its positive sense against the common usage. While the "hacker ethic", and probably the personality type, is still there at the heart of the open source movement, and its various fellow travellers (most notably the free music types), its no longer as concentrated as it once was, and at core its probably no longer a "master class".

In short: Forget it. Things change. Let it go. Do we need a new term ? Maybe, but if so one will emerge over time.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
Keep kicking... (2.33 / 12) (#17)
by dgay on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 01:10:21 PM EST

This has been a dead horse for a long time now. I will never understand why we keep trying to pull ourselves into the politically correct world. Who cares? Just like people always use the word anxious when they should use the word eager we simply need to move along. Silly, really.

Why it's an important (4.20 / 5) (#59)
by Pseudonym on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:06:29 PM EST

If only it were that simple. In reality, this issue comes up and causes real problems.

For example, every time we correctly describe the creators of DeCSS or LiViD as "hackers", this injects into the zeitgeist the idea that DeCSS and LiViD have no respect for the law. All we mean by it is that they're a talented and creative bunch of programmers. The danger is that by leaving the issue alone, we can't fight the dangerous memes.


sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Oh, come on... (3.54 / 22) (#20)
by trhurler on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 01:56:27 PM EST

This is NOT an "age old question." The fact is, "hacker" encompassed BOTH meanings for anyone who knew what it meant until about five years ago when certain chumps went berserk claiming that no hacker would ever do such an evil thing blah blah blah bullshit lies etc etc etc. They invented the term cracker out of thin air, or rather stole it from people who wanted to make fun of white people or describe a tasty snack. Notice that the verb form of "penetrate a system" is almost always "hacked." There's a reason for that. The only reason for the term "cracker" is that certain "open source" developers feel uncomfortable with the idea that computer expertise is not in and of itself an implication of integrity or honesty, and are afraid that someone will confuse their noble cause with the Melissa virus. They ought to have the courage to say publicly, "Hacking is about expertise; morality is a different issue. I am a moral hacker, but there are those who aren't." Instead, they're a bunch of "pragmatic" cowards who lie about their own history and convictions for PR purposes. Much like politicians, only with less excuse, because they apparently have functioning frontal lobes.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

not quite true (4.15 / 13) (#21)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 02:03:19 PM EST

They invented the term cracker out of thin air, or rather stole it from people who wanted to make fun of white people or describe a tasty snack.

The cracker scene was alive and well before hackers started using the term cracker to describe destructive hackers. The cracker scene was predominantly a bbs scene and consisted of folks that liked to crack binary programs with hex editors and assemblers. Folks wanting a cracked program were invariably looking for one of three things (1) a commercial program for free, (2) a commercial program that had been hecked in a humorous manner such as the infamous Castle Barneystein, or (3) a smaller, tighter, faster, or otherwise improved version of a commercial program.

In the days of very expensive disk drives with small capacities, #3 was actually the more prevelant.

[ Parent ]

Re: not quite true (3.40 / 10) (#26)
by trhurler on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 03:12:10 PM EST

The cracker scene was alive and well before hackers started using the term cracker to describe destructive hackers. The cracker scene was predominantly a bbs scene . . .
True enough, and since I was there, I should have pointed this out. However, this is a completely different usage from what is meant by cracker when someone like esr uses the term to differentiate himself from "those people." If he had balls, he'd just admit that the difference between him and them is moral, and not technical, and also admit that "hacker" describes technical prowess rather than moral character. Instead, he carries on as though "his culture" has always recognized this terminological distinction that he and a few friends made up one day.

Bullshit, I say.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Re: not quite true (2.77 / 9) (#28)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 03:31:33 PM EST

trhurler on RMS on criminal hackers:

If he had balls, he'd just admit that the difference between him and them is moral, and not technical, and also admit that "hacker" describes technical prowess rather than moral character.

Exactly right! People that so hung up on their culture that they object to another culture using the same terms do a disservice to themselves and to others.

[ Parent ]

Re: not quite true (2.14 / 7) (#39)
by trhurler on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 06:42:01 PM EST

Not rms, but rather esr. I have no idea what rms says about the subject, and I don't give a damn, either:)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Re: not quite true (3.57 / 7) (#40)
by mattdm on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 06:50:29 PM EST

Of course, most people who break into computer systems these days aren't hackers at all; rather, they're script kiddies. I hope the media picks up on that one...

[ Parent ]
Re: not quite true (3.66 / 3) (#70)
by Quirk on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 10:38:07 AM EST

> he'd just admit that the difference between him and them is moral, and not technical, and
> also admit that "hacker" describes technical prowess rather than moral character.

Actually, I'd argue it is most strongly technical; there is a distinction between script kiddies,
crackers and hackers technically. 'Script kiddies' are generally thought of as technically inept,
using scripts and code written by others to exploit system holes. 'Crackers' is often used
both to describe script kiddies and those 'black hat hackers' who can write such code to
breach security i.e. using buffer overflows etc. 'Hackers' covers a wide range of programming
areas, and while an expert in network security coding is seen as a 'hacker' as much as
someone capable of creating a really cool 3D engine. The set of crackers and set of hackers
actually overlaps, but ESR's technical prowess, which is not solely network based though he
was responsible for fetchmail, marks him as a hacker; the l0pht crew would probably belong
to the overlap of the groups technically, and Bl4cK N1nJ4 the 31337 h4XoR and his ilk are
well and truly technically inferior to the group we call hackers, while people still refer to them
as crackers as well as script kiddies. If we used cracker consistently only to refer to the
technically competent, the 'grey/black hat hackers', your comment would be spot on. In
practice, this is unlikely ever to happen. In any case, ESR's definition does not mention
technical differences (see the Jargon File) but rather social ones.

Quirk

[ Parent ]
Re: Oh, come on... (2.66 / 3) (#69)
by Ricdude on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 09:43:02 AM EST

They invented the term cracker out of thin air, or rather stole it from people who wanted to make fun of white people

Or, maybe they borrowed the meaning from people who break into locked things in the physical world (aka, safecrackers). I seriously doubt there was any racial motivation behind the term.

Personally, I'd like to be able to walk into a crowd of people (over the age of 20) and be able to proclaim myself to be a hacker without people thinking I already have their credit card numbers and complete online surfing histories. I'd also like to do this without having to go into the varying shades from "creative hacking" through "malicious hacking". I don't expect to be able to do this in my lifetime, but I can dream.

[ Parent ]

Re: Oh, come on... (1.50 / 2) (#72)
by trhurler on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 01:42:06 PM EST

Well, you got two things wrong. One, my reference to the origin of cracker was a joke, and you missed it. And two, if you walk around calling yourself a hacker, you're probably mistaken.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Hacker vs Cracker (3.05 / 18) (#24)
by BinerDog on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 03:06:34 PM EST

Hacker is the much older term, as has been pointed out by trhurler and Simon Kinahan. Hacker was around back in the old cpm, commodore 64, Apple //, BBS days. It was a term, usually used in a respectful way, for someone who could hack into systems (dial-up at that point). It came ot mean, after that, someone who could write brilliant code, but it started as breaking and entering.

The term however became attached to the brilliant coding done by people outside of established development houses. Someone who wrote great freeware or even shareware came ot be known as a hacker. The term still aplaied to the computer criminal, and there was an implication of the great coder having the abilities, if not desire, to be able to break into anyone's system. The two ideas were synonymous (spelling?) in the lore.

The term hacker became a sign of ability and respect within the computer culture, and more people wanted to be able to adopt it. However, these same people did not want to be associated with illegal activities an the term has grown ot mean anyone who can write particularly elegant code and knows his/her system inside and out (ie, C hacker etc).

As hacker became a legitimatized title, a new term within the culture emerged to represent the illegal side, crackers. Again, as others have pointed out this is a very new term. You woul dnot have heard the term, though you oculd recognize the subculture, over five years ago.

In terms of where this is going, that is subject to the vagueries involved in linguistic drift. Interestingly enough, one of our favorite four letter words, f*&$, is a parallel case of hte legitimiation of a word for an illegal activity. Van Halen got it exactly right with For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. OUr favorite f#$^ is a middle / early modern English acronym for those four words, the official title of rape. Over time it has drifted into merely being anothe term for intercourse (with its own connotations).

Probably the best source to figure out the derived meanings of this word would be the Oxford English Dictionary, their etymologists tend to be very good at rooting out exactly where and when words have changed, even jargon such as hacker. I know the current print version won't have it down well, but the next iteration of the print version should (and the online version might now, but I don't have a subscription).


-- The Entity Formerly Known as Frums (Cuz someone nabbed my name on K5) (I want it back :)

Re: Hacker vs Cracker (3.37 / 8) (#31)
by topeka on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 04:41:32 PM EST

From the New Hacker's Dictionary:

hacker n.

1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary...

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

cracker n.

One who breaks security on a system. Coined ca. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of hacker (q.v., sense 8). An earlier attempt to establish `worm' in this sense around 1981-82 on Usenet was largely a failure.

Use of both these neologisms reflects a strong revulsion against the theft and vandalism perpetrated by cracking rings. While it is expected that any real hacker will have done some playful cracking and knows many of the basic techniques, anyone past larval stage is expected to have outgrown the desire to do so except for immediate, benign, practical reasons (for example, if it's necessary to get around some security in order to get some work done).

If you want a better background of where htese terms come from read Steven Levy's "Hackers."

[ Parent ]
Re: Hacker vs Cracker (4.60 / 10) (#42)
by analog on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 07:04:11 PM EST

We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

And here you start getting close to what is probably the actual origination of the term. Way back when, electronic circuits weren't built on pc boards; it was all done with point to point wiring. Said wiring was not flexible; it was stiff, and often it basically looked like a big bowl of spaghetti frozen in space.

Modifying equipment was a huge hobby, and was often done by cutting sections out of the circuit and replacing them with your own; in other words, you hacked it up. I know various 'authorities' and online dictionary writers claim to know the origination of this term, and always attribute it to computer types, but I think they're engaging in the same coopting of the term they're accusing the press of.

I used to work for a guy who started working in the electronics industy in the '30's, and hacker was already a term used to describe someone who liked to modify equipment then. It's not much of a stretch to see how the term began to be applied to people who liked to play with computer systems, especially considering that in the early days when this probably happened there wasn't the nearly complete separation of hardware and software that we have today.

[ Parent ]

Re: Hacker vs Cracker (4.66 / 9) (#33)
by puzzlingevidence on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 05:20:14 PM EST

In terms of where this is going, that is subject to the vagueries involved in linguistic drift. Interestingly enough, one of our favorite four letter words, f*&$, is a parallel case of hte legitimiation of a word for an illegal activity. Van Halen got it exactly right with For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. OUr favorite f#$^ is a middle / early modern English acronym for those four words, the official title of rape. Over time it has drifted into merely being anothe term for intercourse (with its own connotations).

It sounds nice, but that's a myth. The word is similar to the Middle Dutch word fokken (to thrust) and the Old High German word focka (to copulate) and the old German ficka (to strike), as well as the Old English fuken. While Oxford refuses to cite specific sources for the word, there is enough basis in similar, earlier Germanic words to dispel the myth.

---
A man may build a throne of bayonets, but he can not sit on it. --Inge
[ Parent ]

Re: Hacker vs Cracker (2.50 / 2) (#73)
by cypherpunks on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 02:26:10 PM EST

It sounds nice, but that's a myth.

I've heard both. The Germanic origins sound more reasonable (especially considering English's strong Germanic ties). However the "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" tale become popular when Sammy Hagar was explaining the origins of the album's name. He claimed that the band's lawyer gave them this interpretation of FUCK, as that's what they wanted to call the album. There may very well be a separate legalese origin of the word that coincidentally provides the same sort of meaning.

[ Parent ]

Re: Hacker vs Cracker (3.66 / 3) (#76)
by puzzlingevidence on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 04:24:14 PM EST

I've heard both. The Germanic origins sound more reasonable (especially considering English's strong Germanic ties). However the "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" tale become popular when Sammy Hagar was explaining the origins of the album's name. He claimed that the band's lawyer gave them this interpretation of FUCK, as that's what they wanted to call the album. There may very well be a separate legalese origin of the word that coincidentally provides the same sort of meaning.
That you've heard both doesn't mean that it's not a myth. It is. I'd pull out the essay I wrote for one of my Linguistics classes some years back, but a quicker source is the alt.usage.english FAQ, which you can find here.

I shouldn't even need to say "IMHO" to tell you that Sammy Hagar is scarcely an expert on English etymology. On the other hand, I am.

---
A man may build a throne of bayonets, but he can not sit on it. --Inge
[ Parent ]

Re: Hacker vs Cracker (2.00 / 2) (#85)
by cypherpunks on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 03:23:25 PM EST

That you've heard both doesn't mean that it's not a myth.

Uh...where did I claim that it clearly is not a myth? I don't pretend to be an expert on these things, and have made no attempts to make such claims.

I shouldn't even need to say "IMHO" to tell you that Sammy Hagar is scarcely an expert on English etymology. On the other hand, I am.

Re-read my post. I never suggested that Sammy Hagar is an expert on etymology. I only offered up one source of the popularity of the "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" origins. He was only passing on information the band's lawyer passed on to him. The lawyer may very well have been misinformed or just playing a joke on him. But no one offered up a counter-opinion to him, so he went with what he had heard.

And, based on passed experiences, I'm inclined to ignore online claims of expertise unless they're backed up by reputation and/or evidence. We're both effectively anonymous here, with no real way to verify each others identities. Why should you buy any claim of expertise on my part or I do the same on your part without backing evidence?

[ Parent ]

online oed says (3.66 / 6) (#38)
by mattdm on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 06:41:57 PM EST

OED online says:

hacker: 3b.. A person who uses his skill with computers to try to gain unauthorized access to computer files or networks. colloq.

(Oh, and:

fuck fAk, v. Also 6 century fuk, 7- century f-k, etc. Early mod.E fuck, fuk, answering to a ME. type *fuken (wk. vb.) not found; ulterior etym. unknown. Synonymous G. ficken cannot be shown to be related.For centuries, and still by the great majority, regarded as a taboo-word; until recent times not often recorded in print but frequent in coarse speech.

I'm a bit skeptical of your etymology.)

[ Parent ]
Re: Hacker vs Cracker (3.66 / 3) (#68)
by Matrix on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 07:51:12 AM EST

Check out the Jargon File for the correct origin. The word seems to have originated either at the MIT computer labs in the 60s or among ham/amature radio operators in the 50s.


Matrix
"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

Doh! (2.36 / 11) (#25)
by BinerDog on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 03:09:46 PM EST

As we don't have the ability to edit posted comments, let me make an addendum:

Hacker is someone with the ability to muck round with in very precise and neat ways, the inner workings of a complex system. The definition has been broadened in modern computer culture to being able to hack anything sufficiently complex and usually technological


-- The Entity Formerly Known as Frums (Cuz someone nabbed my name on K5) (I want it back :)

Re: Doh! (3.00 / 4) (#67)
by Matrix on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 07:48:58 AM EST

Best definition I've seen yet. In my mind, a hacker is someone who tinkers. Whether leagally or not, that's another matter.


Matrix
"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

The media is stubborn. (3.28 / 14) (#27)
by psicE on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 03:21:00 PM EST

They've fixated on hackers, and it's too late for them to change. What we have to do is change our name. For now, call it xyzzy.

Media: Hacker breaks into CNN website.
Script Kiddie: No, we're xyzzys!
Media: Hacker sentenced to 30 year death sentence.
Script Kiddie: Stop calling us hackers! Call us xyzzys!
Media: Hacker insulted the media.

Anyway, the media has already adopted their own terms for this: white hat and grey/black hat. The white hats (obviously) are the l0pht guys, etc. and the grey hats are the "evil" hackers. Go make them change *that*.

The world according to altavista (2.12 / 8) (#32)
by CrazyJub on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 05:13:44 PM EST

hacker -- 443,310 pages found
cracker -- 121,770 pages found



Re: The world according to altavista (2.20 / 5) (#35)
by mattdm on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 06:36:51 PM EST

um, let's see. which one of those words has several other widely accepted meanings?

[ Parent ]
Re: The world according to altavista (none / 0) (#89)
by GreatUnknown on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 08:38:25 AM EST

um, let's see. both.

[ Parent ]
Ugh. (2.00 / 13) (#34)
by pastorangryshanez on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 05:32:38 PM EST

The term hacker has obviously taken on a whole new meaning. It's too late now. Words change meaning over time, what can you do? Deal with it. The next time I see a "D00D HACKERS ARE JuST REALLY GOOD WITH COMPUTERS, CRACKERS ARE BAD." I will hit someone, and kill them. I think we're all smart enough to figure out what hacker means by the context of the sentence and paragraph.


THANK YOU.

"Hacker" has always been the word (3.41 / 12) (#44)
by Dacta on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 07:31:31 PM EST

As far back as I can remember - back to the BBS days, anyway, someone who breaks into computer systems has always been called a hacker. Someone who writes cool code ("hacks") has also been called a hacker. I have never read or seen anyone described as a cracker, except after the fact by a lot of self-important digati who think they can make the English langage mean what they want it to mean by decree.

I conceed that people say "I cracked that system", but mostly people "hack into a system". It was just as comman to say "I cracked that copy protection system". To me, that shoudl make them a "cracker", but no! If the copy protection scheme was DeCSS, for instance, the digiti would instantly confer "master hacker" status on the person who cracked it.

As someone else pointed out, though, it is mostly Script Kiddies doing the "hacking" these days. It would be good if the media could pick up on that distinction.



Re: "Hacker" has always been the word (4.00 / 3) (#64)
by ContactClean on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 04:33:51 AM EST

I remember seeing "cracked by..." on demo screens of cracked wares back in the C-64 days. But no one ever seemed to refer to themself as a cracker. The term hacker has been around for quite a while now, but when and where did cracker appear?

[ Parent ]
I don't believe any of this hacker/cracker stuff. (3.62 / 16) (#46)
by SIGFPE on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 08:05:50 PM EST

'Cracker' is a shibboleth. (http://www.merriam-webster.com). It's a way for a cliquey bunch of guys to differentiate themselves from other people and deride them for not knowing the difference between 'hacker' and 'cracker'. Judging from slashdot and here there's nothing hackers seem to like more than bitching about others from their supposed moral high ground.
SIGFPE
Re: I don't believe any of this hacker/cracker stu (2.50 / 6) (#51)
by simmons75 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 08:55:39 PM EST

Hacker originally applied to those who programmed; some of us have come to think of it as an indictment for poorly-written code ;^)

That in mind, don't call me a hacker. Ever. I cannot and will not be counted among the skript kiddiz d00dz who get a thrill from running a prewritten script to launch a DOS attack. I do believe, however, that a "hacker" with good skills can do the world a lot of good...if they're taken seriously...which often they're not. Sad, really.
poot!
So there.

[ Parent ]
Re: I don't believe any of this hacker/cracker stu (2.83 / 6) (#54)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 09:03:12 PM EST

I agree, although they do have a valid point. Sometimes, and this is the effect of the media, IMO, someone will be described as a hacker, and people assume the person is a criminal.

I've experienced this personally, but at the same time, I've been accused of malicious operation of a computer simply because I was smart with them. I explained to them (politely, it was difficult) that a two-year-old could remove icons from a windows desktop.


farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Re: I don't believe any of this hacker/cracker stu (1.14 / 7) (#66)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 05:53:49 AM EST

Shibboleth. Exactly. I wish I'd remembered that. Incidentally, here is much better than That Other Site, no ?

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
ask and ye shall recive.. (1.62 / 8) (#49)
by sleeper on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 08:40:28 PM EST

Cracker = cracks software, makes the patches that make "nag" software free, finds serial numbers, etc. Hackers = find entry points, DoS attacks, etc. acctual "phyical" changing of systems / systems connectivity..etc..

Re: ask and ye shall recive.. (3.16 / 6) (#50)
by simmons75 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 08:51:02 PM EST

I hack, and if you *dare* try to say I look for weak points of systems, or even *suggest* I do something as pathetic as a DOS attack (pointless) I will tear you a hole you didn't have before.

I hack code.

To me, "cracker" rings like an insult, e.g. Chef on South Park saying, "How's my little crackers doing?" I think that the term cracker is a bit lame, sure, but I don't want to share the title "hacker" with people hacking into systems and generally helping incite lawmakers into restricting my freedom.
poot!
So there.

[ Parent ]
well then... (none / 0) (#91)
by sleeper on Tue Oct 17, 2000 at 07:11:43 PM EST

when you get good at "code hacking" then go ask around, try #ucf2000, #phrozencrew on ef, ask them if there "code hackers" or crackers, unless your doing something really weird, your changing someone elses code, and your cracking, look up info on +ORC, (no doubt set ahead as the worlds best cracker, (he can crack any software you could think of- invented zen cracking- invented +) ne ways, look up the info mr.hacker, and opening a file in hex editor, changing a few bites from 75 to 74 or some newbish junk isn't real cracking, and far from hacking..

[ Parent ]
My favorite definition (4.16 / 12) (#57)
by pac4854 on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 10:05:31 PM EST

In my copy of Webster's, the first definition of "hack" is "to cut with repeated irregular and unskillful blows". That describes, better than anything else I have ever seen, the way that I taught myself UNIX programming. It conjures up an image in my mind of somebody trying to cut down an oak tree with a butterknife.

The first time I ever heard the term was in an AT&T UNIX systems programming class fifteen years ago. I was having a difficult time with one of the labs and the instructor told me "just keep hacking away at it, you'll eventually figure it out." Irregular and unskillful my attempts, but stubborn was I and repeated I did. The oak eventually yielded to the butterknife.

My favorite hack happened just a year later. Our company bought a high-end UNIX box whose distribution surprisingly didn't include a common but necessary software component. I got on one of the AT&T boxen and set out to reverse engineer what we needed. Between "nm" and "strings" and "dbx" and "od" I somehow managed to create a copy on the new system that perfectly imitated AT&T's original (it even had the same bugs in it). Another tree stump.

Anyway, that's my definition of hacking. And as for the media's use of the term, what's wrong with calling people who commit electronic crimes "criminals"? Or calling those who vandalize websites "vandals"? And if done for political reasons, then call them "terrorists".

I'd love to see a headline some morning in the Wall Street Journal that read "Website defaced by Assholes".
-- Microsoft is to the internet what Jerry Springer is to television.
Re: My favorite definition (2.00 / 4) (#60)
by Funakoshi on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:17:10 PM EST

good point Pac here is dictionary.com's definition hack1 (hk) v. hacked, hacking, hacks v. tr. 1.To cut or chop with repeated and irregular blows: hacked down the saplings. 2.To break up the surface of (soil). 3. a.Informal. To alter (a computer program): hacked her text editor to read HTML. b.To gain access to (a computer file or network) illegally or without authorization: hacked the firm's personnel database. 4.Slang. To cut or mutilate as if by hacking: hacked millions off the budget. 5.Slang. To cope with successfully; manage: couldn't hack a second job. v. intr. 1.To chop or cut something by hacking. 2.Informal. a.To write or refine computer programs skillfully. b.To use one's skill in computer programming to gain illegal or unauthorized access to a file or network: hacked into the company's intranet. 3.To cough roughly or harshly. n. 1.A rough, irregular cut made by hacking. 2.A tool, such as a hoe, used for hacking. 3.A blow made by hacking. 4.A rough, dry cough sounds good to me

[ Parent ]
Re: My favorite definition (3.50 / 4) (#81)
by Precious Roy on Fri Sep 29, 2000 at 08:51:28 AM EST

Note: Some of the below comments are derived from American laws. If you're not American, these comments could be worthless. As always, YMMV.

And as for the media's use of the term, what's wrong with calling people who commit electronic crimes "criminals"?

Nothing, as long as said people have been duly convicted in a court of law. If the media calls them criminals before such a time, and they're found not guilty, then they can be slapped with one hell of a libel suit. In the case I discussed in the article, calling the person a hacker is within the limits of civil law. Calling the same person a criminal isn't. (Yet.)

Or calling those who vandalize websites "vandals"?

As before, techinically correct if it can be proven... my objection was to identifying a person on the basis of one act irrelevant of anything else that person may have done.

And if done for political reasons, then call them "terrorists".

I remember something one of my instructors once told me: "The only difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist is what side you're on."

Do with that quote what you will.

[ Parent ]

It's the public, not the media (3.71 / 14) (#63)
by kapital on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 04:23:14 AM EST

The reason the media doesn't differentiate between "hacker" and "cracker" is becuase the general public doesn't know or care about the difference. For the most part, the only people who even make a distinction between the terms are people who are heavily involved in the computer industry.

As far as the general public is concerned:

  • Hacker - Someone who breaks into computer systems (what we'd call a 'cracker').
  • Programmer - Someone who does all the fancy, complicated stuff with computers (what we'd call a 'hacker').
  • Cracker - Something you put cheese on.
  • Script Kiddie - Huh?


Geek culture vs. the rest of the world (2.00 / 1) (#79)
by Wolfrider on Fri Sep 29, 2000 at 01:52:16 AM EST

--Yep, I've been into computers since I was 13 (28 now) and I never even HEARD the term "cracker" until I started reading /. back in '98.
Run Linux and FreeBSD. Linus is not God. (But I think God likes him.)
[ Parent ]
Re: Geek culture vs. the rest of the world (3.50 / 2) (#82)
by Maxxy on Fri Sep 29, 2000 at 12:06:04 PM EST

Living in the country with no anti-piracy laws and with no legal software distribution helps hearing this term ("cracker") a lot :) And since most of the people reading K5 and /. are running open-source OS'es, they were never exposed to 'warez scene', where this term was around at least from '85. I have to add that personally I never heard about *nix software piracy, so this word probably doesn't make much sense to K5 or /. audience anyway

[ Parent ]
"Cracker" just doesn't ... well... cut i (3.28 / 7) (#71)
by robl on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 12:47:42 PM EST

There's a good reason why most major media outlets won't use the word "cracker". Let me demonstrate it with a headline.

"French Crackers invade DoD" (Now, mind you, this is jsut a sample headline. Not that I have anything against the French -- It's just a headline.)

If this headline ran on the front page of the New York Times, I guarantee you that 99.5% of the people reading that headline will think, "What kind of crackers? Saltines or Club?"

BTW, you may be thinking that this debate is somewhat new, it's not. I remember in the early 80's when hackers (the original people) were complaining about how the media took a perfectly good name "hacker" and turned it bad. And that was over 15 years ago. At some point way, way back then the media's use of the term "hacker" jelled with the country's culture.

Besides, when a headline reads "someone hacks into somewhere", as they do most of the time. Who else would "hack", but a "HACKer"?


Re: "Cracker" just doesn't ... well... c (4.33 / 3) (#77)
by Maxxy on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 04:30:43 PM EST

>Besides, when a headline reads "someone hacks into
>somewhere", as they do most of the time. Who else
>would "hack", but a "HACKer"?

100% right, and "CRACKer" is the person who "cracks" something. And this "something" usually means protection scheme, which prevents some program from running/copying/etc. AFAIK term "cracker" was always used in pirate groups who were illegally copying and distributing programs to describe a person responsible for removing any means of protection. This term was born in the days of C64 and Amiga's, long before Internet and WWW became widespread (and before media starts ranting about it)
Later there was a division (as in "good" and "bad" hackers) in crackers ranks - "bad" crackers were still pirating software (and some of the groups are cracking programs by hundreds per month even now), and "good" ones, who call themselves reverse engineers and who's main goal is to learn, not to break (much like traditional hackers) and to have fun doing it (removing good protection schemes takes a LOT of skill and it's also enormous fun).

That's just my 2 cents :)

P.S.: One of the oldest cracking groups imho is FairLight, they can be found on http://www.fairlight.org
Also anyone curious may check out CORE, which produced over 4000 cracks and keygens since 1997 ( http://core.8bn.com/Main.html )
On the Light side the most famous are +fravia ( http://www.fravia.org ) and the rest of +HCU staff.


[ Parent ]
Re: "Cracker" just doesn't ... well... c (1.50 / 2) (#78)
by cetan on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 05:21:07 PM EST

"cracker" is also a slang (and derogatory) term for "whites" in the same way that "nigger" is a slag (and derogatory) term for "blacks."
===== cetan www.cetan.com =====
[ Parent ]
Not me (5.00 / 1) (#93)
by scgreen on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:54:53 AM EST

"French Crackers invade DoD" (Now, mind you, this is jsut a sample headline. Not that I have anything against the French -- It's just a headline.)

If this headline ran on the front page of the New York Times, I guarantee you that 99.5% of the people reading that headline will think, "What kind of crackers? Saltines or Club?"


If I saw that I'd think that they meant white racist guys, since where I'm from a cracker is either a type of food or a redneck sort of individual, and I would think that snacks cannot break into systems. (Hm, unless they are using genetically engineered wheat in the crackers?)

[ Parent ]
"I'll 'misuse of language' you..." (2.33 / 3) (#84)
by plastik55 on Fri Sep 29, 2000 at 10:42:53 PM EST

Perhaps the public's "misperception" has to do with other words that were in the English before there were computers.

Words like "Crackerjack" (a compliment, meaning someone who is proficient)...

And like "hack" (a derogatory term used to refer to authors of trashy novels for example--such a novel is "hackwork")

Perhaps the technological community got the English language backwards to begin with. It's worth considering.

I live at a small private college, where language patterns evolve rapidly. If we develop a turn of phrase which somehow leaks out into pop culture, I'm not going to go aroung criticizing it; rather I'm going to accept that that's the way things turned out.

Language happens. Get over it.
w00t!

Re: "I'll 'misuse of language' you..." (none / 0) (#87)
by karrde_dax on Sun Oct 08, 2000 at 03:13:57 PM EST

But, in English, you say "Crack a safe", not "Hack a safe".

Point for thought.



[ Parent ]

Why this is just such an absolute waste of time (2.00 / 1) (#86)
by tlloh on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 04:41:49 AM EST

Who does the mass media serve? Technical people like you, me, or the average couch potato?

We, almost by definition, aren't the masses. And the masses pretty much dictate how language develops. So it's really silly to believe that a small group of IT-savvy elite (elite, if you believe all the hype we try to build around ourselves) screaming about vernacular abuse of the word "cracker" is going to be able to do much against the John and Jane Does of the world, who don't understand the distinction, and <u>wouldn't</u>, even if you explained it to them.

Hmmmm, I just broke a core grammatical rule - never make long, run-off sentences. But just because my high school teacher taught me the right way (tm) to write things, doesn't mean I'm necessarily going to do it. Or understand why, for that matter.

The general public is only going to embrace the cracker-hacker distinction if it makes sense. And it doesn't.

Others have already pointed out ... you don't "crack into a system" - you "hack into one". What does that make you? A hacker, not some biscuit.

Do you really expect Joe Public to appreciate the origins of a word that arose from a narrow, almost counterculture?

What exactly, after all, is so important about this cracker-hacker distinction? Why is it so important that we should attempt (and fail miserably!) to draw a line in the sand?

Will our lives change irrevocably? Will we no longer be able to look ourselves in the mirror? Or are our lives just going to be the same whether we're called crackers, hackers or simply "those-computer-nerds"? Does life still go on? Will the sun still rise tomorrow?

Insisting on this fine distinction really does nothing except stroke our own vanity. That we know something those guys don't, and that somehow makes us part of something more exclusive (tm). But heck, don't we already know lots that they don't know already?

Even the French grammar nazi have given up. Why do we keep insisting on banging our heads against a brick wall?

Bah, this should probably have been posted as a rant. Or a rant against "cracker-is-not-hacker" rants. A meta-rant?

The reason that mainstream sources will not get it (none / 0) (#92)
by scgreen on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:50:41 AM EST

is because, frankly, it's about as important as the distinction between a "trekker" and a "trekkie." In other words, it isn't important at all, other than to a few people who seem *way* too uptight over the whole thing.

It's laughable, seriously. Here are people (the techno guys) who claim to laugh at mainstream media ("Heh, if it's in Time or Newsweek it's at least a year out of date.") and yet they find themselves putting a lot of serious thought and effort into how they are labeled.

What's even funnier is that this whole issue raises such ire in people that it would seem they're allowing mass media to defin themselves. If you allow mm to define you, that's the problem right there, *NOT* the label they use to do it.

Semi-off topic: Did anyone else want to bitch-slap that kid from "Trekkies" who had the mullet hair cut? That lady did him a favor, made that costume for him, and he's like "Well, that just isn't good enough for my lisping-anal-retentive-biznatch self!" like he's gonna go and wet himself because the collar was wrong or something. (And that's reason #20029 that I'll never go to a Trek convention)

Hacker vs. Cracker, and why the media doesn't get the difference | 92 comments (88 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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