Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The hacker .v. Cracker debate

If you don't know the word "hacker" is in dispute you are normal. Normal as in not a hint of geekiness, nerdiness, wierdness or any otherness . And you've been lucky. Not because you're normal but because you missed this debate.

Basically, there are two schools about this word.

Old school: A creative person that was able to hack together bits of technology or programming code to do something clever and creative.

Current use: Someone who breaks into computer systems. This is a meaning that became popular with the media and the public after movies like (the original) War Games in the 1980's. The old school types often refer to these people as crackers. As in breakers of things not loonies.

The debate over these words has filled volumes. Where to begin.

I understand the distinction. Unfortunately in the ears of the public the war on this was lost years ago. When dealing with the press you can’t afford the time to make the distinction and fight the fight. There are other simple words that work well and capture the essence/motive - like Vandals and Criminals. A clever criminal is still a criminal.

2. On dealing with the press about hackers as in the good kind. The heroes of the computer revolution kind. Perhaps we need another word. It really would avoid confusion.

On the crackers who insist on calling themselves hackers. You are so misguided, screwed up, and wrong. If all information should be free - please post your credit card, medical history, and personal details on the Internet. And if you feel some perverse ownership of the word hacker - get over it. The creative folks had it first. Come to think of it, golfers have prior 0wn3rship.

To the creative guys who want to explore other peoples systems. Careful of the line in the sand. Even forgetting that the laws have changed on this over the last 30+ years. Think of the person sitting on the other side of the keyboard defending. They don’t care about your motives. You are breaking into their system. You are their enemy and a quite possibly a criminal. There is a saying that bits have no motives you must defend against them equally.

When I’ve had to use the term hacker in the ambiguous sense, I put it in quotes “hacker”. It is alas, a disputed word.

There is an official Quebec French word for hacker. It’s an old word and roughly means gadgeteer. I wish I could remember.

Ethical hacker is confusing on many levels. The term is correct because these folks are creative and not criminals. They break security with permission. It’s wrong in that it strengthens the connection with hacker=criminal.

There is an unofficial Quebec phrase for ethical hacker that roughly translated means pirates with permission. It was coined in a La Pressse article about 10-11 years ago.

Having been hacker (good sense) and an ethical hacker, I think I know of what I write.

Hat tip to Gordo for inspiring this post which started out as subblogging.

BTW see Hackers vs. Crackers and do watch the video. Now that's old school!

To Lisa Binsse wherever you are, perhaps you still have the article with the happy face pirate you photoshopped hacked over my laptop screen in the article. I'd love to know those words/phrases again.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mouse Inflicted Injury

Anyone who has helped troubleshoot a personal computer operated by an impatient user will instinctively understand this term.

Some of the things I have learned from this experience are priceless. Others beg the question, why on Earth would they allow a program to do that anyway?