Hardware

Cybercrime terminology and the evolution of language


My last column inadvertently stirred up a small storm of dissent. I got email advising me that I had insulted or offended the entire TR membership (from someone who apparently felt comfortable speaking for that entire membership but didn't feel comfortable signing a name). Some people got a little nasty; others seemed hurt. What did I do that was so offensive? I used the word "hacker" in its current common context - to refer to people who break into computers or networks.

One of the more reasonable and less emotional responses came from Chad Perrin, who wrote a nice post as a "lesson in etymology and clear communication."

I understand Chad's point of view, but I disagree with his charge that the current popular usage is "hyped-up" and "sensationalistic." It's simply the term that the majority of people today use to describe someone who uses his or her technical skills to gain unauthorized access to computers and networks. No amount of explaining how the word first came into being or lamenting the loss of that original meaning will change that.

The evolution of language

Etymology is not just the study of the origins of words, but also the study of how they change over time. I'm well aware of the origins of the term "hacker," but whether we like it or not, language evolves. Personally, I hate the current accepted use of "they" as a singular pronoun - but it's used that way now by almost everyone.

Once upon a time, the word "gay" meant "cheerful, merry, happy or joyous" but now it means something very different. There were traditionalists who protested that the word had been "hijacked," but society adopted the new usage and the world moved on. Another word that has completed changed in meaning over time is the word "counterfeit." It originally meant "a perfect copy" and to say something was a counterfeit was a compliment. Today it's almost exclusively used to refer to a fake, often one of low quality.

The word "hack" when applied to writers is another that has evolved in meaning from a mere description to a pejorative term. In the 1700s, it just meant a writer who could produce content "to order" and came from the word hackney, which described a horse that was available for hire. Over the years, it came to mean a writer who writes sensationalistic, low quality "pulp fiction" type work and cares more about money than the quality of the writing.

I could provide many more examples, but the point is obvious: a word's meaning is determined by how it's used by most people at a given point in time.

Technology-related words don't get any special dispensation exempting them from this evolutionary process. When broadband came on the scene, many purists protested the use of the term "DSL modem," arguing that a modem modulates analog signals to encode them as digital and vice versa, and since DSL was already using a digital signal, it didn't use a modem; the device that connects a computer or network to DSL should be called a transceiver or an ATU-R (ADSL Terminal Unit - Remote). They lost that battle; "DSL modem" is now the standard name used for the device.

As for "hacker," Oxford Dictionaries online shows as its first definition: "1. a person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data," with the secondary definition of "an enthusiastic and skillful computer programmer or user" being designated as informal usage.

However, even that older definition wasn't the original one. At M.I.T., before the word evolved to mean someone who lives and breathes computers and programming, it was used to describe students who skipped classes, slept all day, and pursued their hobbies (which could be but weren't necessarily computer-related) at night.

And no, it's not just the mainstream media and non-technical people who use "hacker" in the way I used it. I did a quick, informal survey of a number of IT pros and found that most of those who didn't start out as programmers see the term with the same negative connotation. The use of "hacker" in this context has also become standard in tech-related publications. A search of CNET's web site for the word turns up such articles as:

A quick search of Computerworld.com reveals the following titles:

These are only a few of hundreds of examples. The usage is so common that, in the words of my favorite Star Trek bad guys, resistance is futile.

The need for specificity

In the law enforcement world, "hacker" is almost universally used to refer to criminal activity. Chad suggested that instead of using the word "hacker," we substitute "cybercriminal." The problem with that is that the latter term describes a much broader concept with a less specific meaning. A cybercriminal can be a pedophile who posts pictures of child porn on a website, a con man who sends out variations on the old Nigerian scam letter via email, a corporate employee who downloads sensitive company memos to a USB stick to sell them to a competitor, or an ex-spouse who uses the computer to stalk his or her former love via instant message.

The "cybercriminal" appellation is appropriate when referring to the whole body of persons who use a computer in the commission of illegal acts. But it doesn't tell us anything about how that person commits crimes with a computer, and it gives us no clue as to whether the person is using technical skills to do so.

I've also heard the suggestion that we use "cracker" in place of "hacker" - and those who call themselves hackers often do use that term. But again, the former word doesn't have the same precise meaning to the rest of the world, and to law enforcement personnel. They use it more specifically to describe a subset of hackers - those who crack passwords to get into systems or networks.

The big picture

Something that the staunch defenders of hackers as upstanding citizens seem to ignore is that even those early hackers at M.I.T. often (although not always) used their hacking skills to indulge in illegal or questionable activities. Hacking was often associated with phreaking - which referred to unauthorized access and use of the telephone network. One of the oldest and most revered hacker publications, 2600, was named after the 2600 hertz tone used by phreakers to gain unauthorized access to the telephone network. Another such publication, Phrack, derived its name from combining "phreak" and "hack." Groups that self-identified as hacker clubs, such as the Warelords and the 414s, were frequently involved with software piracy or breaking into systems belonging to government entities or other established institutions.

Let's get real: the majority of those who think of themselves as hackers do use their talents to do things that are either criminal offenses or at least breach civil contracts and Terms of Service agreements - or at least have done so, at some time in the past. Most "white hat hackers" originally developed their skills in that way and then crossed over to become security specialists and/or work with law enforcement.

It's all about attitude

The thing that so many of my readers seem to have taken offense to was the idea that hackers commit crimes. I'm going to go way out on a limb here, and say that yes, most of them do - and so do most of the rest of us who live and function in today's world. In the U.S. and most other countries, the legal system has become more bloated than the most feature laden software, with so many laws that even attorneys and cops can't keep up with them and with many of those laws so all-encompassing that it's impossible to keep from breaking them.

In addition, many who call themselves "hackers" have an attitude problem - they don't like authority, they believe "information wants to be free," even when it's the product of someone else's creation, and they don't respect the law. The last part may be understandable, given some of the laws that have been enacted over the last couple of decades by people who don't understand technology at all. And those who make and enforce the laws may have attitude problems of their own, exacerbating the adversarial nature of the relationship.

The hard truth is that calling yourself a hacker won't endear you to them, and will make you a target and a suspect. In a society where the average legislator, business person, and ordinary computer user is angry at those it perceives to be responsible for computer security breaches, viruses and the cost of protecting against malware, that doesn't seem like a good idea.

The bottom line

There are indeed ethical hackers - there's even a certification program for it, but let's face it: if you really want to be taken seriously in the corporate network security field, you'd do yourself a favor by calling yourself a security analyst, security specialist, security consultant - anything but a hacker (note that you might want to stay away from "security engineer," as well - since some states actually have laws forbidding anyone who doesn't hold an engineering license from calling him/herself an engineer). As I mentioned in the original column that started this discussion, Hiring Hackers, companies are now shying away from anyone who fits that description - even those with clean criminal records. They'll just figure you haven't been caught yet.

Words matter. A person who calls himself a "motorcycle enthusiast" creates a far different image from one who refers to himself as a "biker." If we care what others think about us, we have to be cognizant of what words mean to them, even if we believe those meanings are wrong. And those who don't care what others think won't bother to protest that they've been misrepresented.

Calling yourself a hacker doesn't mean you are a bad guy - but it does mean that you'll be perceived as one by almost everyone who isn't also a hacker. You don't have to use the word that way yourself, but at this point in its evolution, it's really pointless to make big deal of it when others do. For a long time, I protested each time I heard someone say something like "A person can call themself whatever they want." Now I just sigh and let it go. The grammatical Truth that I learned in elementary school and followed faithfully over decades as a writer is no longer relevant. The English language has moved on - and I have to do the same.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

84 comments
stalla
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hlhowell
hlhowell

Hacker is being used pejoratively. Those people who hack devices they own, who use systems in unusual ways, and who invent new ways of seeing technology's capabilities all contribute to society, like the Wright Brothers. Hacker is like Coke in a way, because it is a brand. In this case it is a brand of work ethic, and of technological revolution. Defending the definition of who you are is part and parcel of language. It is why ordering coke at a restaurant is not allowed, but why Coke (tm) is. Branding hacking with a pejorative label out of ignorance or intolerance is prejudice, and as neon Samurai pointed out, not ethical, and etymology arguments do NOT apply. The dictionary should rescind the definition. And they should acknowledge why in the nxt edition. Regards, Les Howell

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

This is like Star Trek fans debating furiously about whether they are "trekkies" or "trekkers". It's absurd, trivial, and absolutely no one cares other than the pinheads doing the arguing.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

and I'll vote for him or her in a heartbeat.

darije.djokic
darije.djokic

Another example of how the meaning of terms change: today (specially in the IT world) Business intelligence refers to the set of computer programs and skills used to mine one owns data for info on how to do better business; some time ago (and outside the IT world to the present day) the term means industrial espionage not set on the hard (technological) secrets but on the soft (financial, decisional etc) secrets of others. New phenomena do require new words to define them but the corruption (because that what it is) of words having other meanings is not the best way to go and we should not just ?get over it and go on? . Resistance is not futile, for if it were the Star Track universe would consist of only the Borgs. New terms require new words, preferably created by people that have good knowledge both the phenomenon and the world of words. If the evolution of the language, that is inevitable for language is a living thing, is left to the uncontrolled elements we will have communication confusion - until an old word acquires universal new significance, more confusion - if the root has a core meaning that is so deeply rooted in the mind of the people that the basic meaning is incompatible with the new one an ignorant few are trying to push, and an ever advancing social desensibilisation to informational content if ?hyped-up? and ?sensationalistic? words (as Chad rightly noted) are used - I would add: today if ?mass murderer? is used for multiple killings nobody will even blink, You have to use ?genocide? if an effect is to be created by the text. But, what will we do to distinguish mass murder from true genocide once we have to say something about one? None of that can be useful or good. And while we are in the crime zone another example: a cybercriminal is not a criminal that uses a computer to perpetuate any crime except the one involving the computer itself or against a system of computers; if it were, any criminal using a firearm would be a guncriminal and we know that is not so: a bank robber is a bank robber irrespective of the fact that he uses a gun or a knife. So, a pedophile using the Net is not a cybercriminal, he is just a pedophile using the Net as he would still be a pedophile if he were using printed material. To be correct and precise: if he is not using the Net for his and his alikes pleasure but is posting child-porn just for money, he is not even a pedophile but a pornographer. The unproper use of terms leads to all kind of unnecessary confusion; let us try not to add more. By the way: I do not think that the use of the term hacker should be offensive to ?the entire TR membership? - I am a TR member and I am not offended.

emarques
emarques

C'mon guys... you all know society in general, driven by the media - who misused the term, consider hacker as a criminal. Even some IT people consider it that way. Just to give you an example: I was once testing the security of my oracle db and created a script that auto inserted a user named "hacker" with admin powers. The next day the DBA called me worried that our system had been breached and asking if it was a criminal or if I was aware of what happened.

dogknees
dogknees

Etymology is the origin, linguistics is how it changes. As used by Linguists of course.

neilb
neilb

"The dictionary should rescind the definition". OK, I'll have a sharp word with Doctor Johnson, tomorrow. Have him remove his definition of "hacker".

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Clearly, you don't have a real understanding of Hacker culture. "Trekky" or "Trekker" would be more of a sci-fi fan genre. It's a group of people one self identifies with based on being a fan of a movie series. "Hacker" would be more of a subculture. It's a group of people that may or may not self identify with the community but that demonstrate a common set of ethics, learning process and and detailed interest in a given topic. A Trekky would want to have the outfit, show up at the conferences and know the trivia to geek out with the other Trekkies. They want to see a tricorder and name the series and episode it first turns up in. A Hacker would want to understand how a tricorder works and try to make it a reality. Being a Hacker is different from simply being a technology enthusiasts or a sci-fi setting enthusiast (as a Trekky would be). That's not to say that some Hackers are not also star trek enthusiasts. There is also not a constant stream of articles in the media talking about how the Eveeil Trekky's will be the end of civilization as we know it.

apotheon
apotheon

Why are you at a site that serves as a resource for information technology professionals and hobbyists (many of whom are essentially being called "criminals" by mainstream media and law enforcement "professionals")? Should you be on this site instead?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

SHUT UP! You're interfering with our argument! You also missed the point. The point is, do we accept a mindset that we're all criminals if we're not cops, or do we demand that police enforcement underwrite unconditionally our bill of rights before opening their mouthes "in uniform"?

apotheon
apotheon

It seems like everybody says they'll back a politician who'd oppose 50% or more of the legislation that crossed the table, but when election time rolls around they all vote for a mainstream Democrat or a mainstream Republican. Did you vote for either McCain or Obama in 2008? I didn't.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The spooky Hollywood connotation would be corporate espionage and that has happened in the past. I see Business Intelligence relating to that process in the same way that Open Intelligence relates to state sponsored espionage. Governments are discovering what can be done with openly available information and data analysis just as businesses are discovering what can be done with openly available information and data analysis. In business it has the two root's as it also includes the same old analyst that computers have been doing since originally included into business since the electromechanical hulking giant origins. "Business Intelligence" is also an accurate term for what is being done; providing information based on business relevant data analysis. There really is no excessively negative connotation imposed by mass media and the general population either. "I'm a business intelligence analysis".. and suddenly the company is interested in interviewing you. By contrast, there is an excessively biased negative connotation being imposed on the Hacker community and one that very narrow minded refers only to security related to computers. There are other more accurate terms for the intended meaning. They might now sound as buzzword cool but they are more accurate and don't unfairly brand a majority of people who happen to learn hands on to smallest detail and enjoy sharing what they've learned and building on others experience.

seanferd
seanferd

the article, at least, comes across as stating that the negative connotation is either the only correct connotation, or that usage of the negative connotation is in the preponderance. Certainly, "hacker" is frequently used with a negative connotation, but it is not the only valid connotation. I'm not sure whether or not Deb is suggesting that it is, but she does not seem to give any credit at all to the positive connotation. It may just be that Deb isn't addressing the positive, but is only focused on defending the negative at the moment. But I cannot tell. I'd rather give Deb the benefit of the doubt, but I'd agree that she isn't making it easy. I expand my benefit of the doubt, however, to cover the lack of participation in these discussions - I will assume that time does not permit.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Many people can't tell the difference between Cuba and Brazil, think the two are interchangeable and both full of nothing but drug related criminals and illegals that haven't yet found a way to cross the boarder and pollute US culture yet. Does mean you should accept the popular view, roll over and find no insult in it? There is clearly people who understand the positive and negative connotations along with out divorced from reality and overstated the purely negative connotations are. There are people who understand the history of computers and the beneficial impact these oddballs who valued learning over even eating or sleeping have made on it not to mention are making in ever increasing subjects of focus.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Or not :p Etymology is, as you say, simply a cataloguing of projected and/or documented development and documentation of past and parallel cognates and reconstructions. How words change falls under many aegides, grammaticalization theory being one of the most widely applied. Another thing is, however, that it is perfectly possible, indeed staggeringly common, for a word to have very different meanings in different fields, even in the same language macrovariant (like US-english). An obvious example is "discrete" in it's layman's and mathematical meanings, which are hardly comparable in meaning. Another is "programming" which in layman's terms means anything from writing code (actually not so commonly used, as it's not relevant to many), setting up a system/installing a device (including a DVD-player) or even that of entering a specific setting into a simple device like an alarm clock or a microwave oven. Does that mean that we're all programming regularly? Hardly. What we have here, as I see it, is a three-group field: The general public largely thinks of hackers in light of popular fiction and news writing, but hardly ever use the term, and don't think much about it either. That's a very extensive, but very shallow opinion on it's meaning. Then there are layman-operatives (law enforcement officers, security officers, security salesmen, those kinds of people), they hold a more strongly coded version of the negative opinion of "hacker", which applies to criminals engaging in system intrusion. That's what that should be called though, not "hacker" which can only serve to glorify it's perpetrators. That's a quite narrow segment of society, with a relatively common term use, and a strong opinion. Then there are the hackers (the ones who do not engage in systems intrusion, but rather live out a love for unconventional application of various skills), who have a high usage, and a strong opinion. Swaying the public opinion is just a matter of PR. So far "the Man" has had more money to do this with, but it's not a done deed yet. What we really see is operatives versus freeformers. I think the operatives are showing a lack of ingenuity and tactical sense in insisting on this term. It's not a good idea to use a term that also implies an effective methodology that's in common use (the hack). To the operatives (I include this Blog's Author) I say: "You're not doing yourselves any favors, you know."

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

That's what makes me think that she should really do some research and an article focusing on the positive connotations. It's a bit of a yin/yang thing, she needs to provide the balance. At worst, she has another 500 or so words to draw add viewing hits from. At best, she discovers the real world of hacking full of really great people that directly contrast the negative connotations of the minority.

emarques
emarques

...I think you're talking about two different things. I too didn't know what exactly Brazil was before I came here.. but I wouldn't talk about a subject I don't know, specially in a pejorative way, I think that's dumb. Although I'm not Brazillian, I grew found of this country and its culture, and like you said if someone was talking nonsense about it, I'd certainly speak out. Now, a country is not a word. In portuguese there is the word "Inform?tica" that means everything related to computers and technology... now this word has now been replaced by the words "Tecnologia da Informa??o" by influence of the american term Information Technology. What do I think of it? Well I think it's better to use one word than more, but it's just words.. some get replaced, others get their meaning changed. I think people are making a big deal out of nothing... like we say in Portuguese, it's a "storm in a glass of water". Neon Samurai, note that I do understand your point of view, but I think it's a lost battle to try to convince people what the true meaning of hacker really is. You can't change the fact that outside I.T. that word is used for someone who breaks into systems illegaly.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

My country is viewed as a collection of prudish, gun-toting, war-mongering, self-serving, belligerent, unsophisticated xenophobic rubes who can't locate sections of their own country on a map and have no desire for or understanding of Culture. Is that true? Sometimes, but not mostly. Am I offended? Sometimes, but not mostly. Depending on what my mood for the day is, I can be hurt, angry, or adult about it. I can choose to let someone's poor (and very wrong) opinion of me or my country cripple me, or I can counteract that in a productive manner, know the truth of my own character and show them this. I try to be an ambassador for my country, to overturn the negatives and let people know that just maybe, there are people in this nation that are not selfish ignorati and that they should be more careful in throwing a blanket of judgment over an entire population courtesy of whoever else gave them the impression in the first place. Will I change the world? Probably not - but I can give the people I encounter some food for thought. Labels are never one size fits all. I understand concern over an instant negative connotation, as well as the correct usage of terminology within a given field, but approaching change with tact will always go further than "That's so unfair! You are evil for calling us evil!" and on and on. Honestly? I have never once participated in a conversation outside of IT people or computer-lovers who gave a whit or even a mention about hackers - good, bad, original connotation or otherwise. The average Jane just doesn't want her identity stolen and is concerned if her credit card number is being used by someone overseas, and once the problem is solved, they forget about it all. That's the extent of their mindset, really, and why should people who have nothing to do with your reality control YOUR mind? Sometimes a word is just a word. It is the power you give it to afflict you that makes it stronger.

apotheon
apotheon

It's behavior like this that actually tends to lead to those widenings of the rift between law enforcement and the general public that Deb laments so much. There seems to be a strong tendency toward self-satisfied feelings of unassailability in the realm of "right" (vs. "wrong") without any particular introspective analysis of their position on the matter. A sense of authority often leads to a sense of unquestionable right. Of course, police officers are in the right sometimes. How much is open to debate (unless you're a police officer, naturally). When they're in the right, though, it's usually more a matter of accident than design, since there's usually little or no consideration of what makes something right or wrong in those circles. I've had friends amongst police who were eminently reasonable people until the moment I questioned some policy of defending the law. Suddenly, the blinders came up, and there was no reasoning with them. It's an all too common problem.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

that they don't hack good security hacks by limiting the number of hack attempts... ;)

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I think that's well-applied. I often have to hack my way in, because I can never remember exactly the way I phrased my answer to the security questions that only pop up in my face when I change workstations. Did I spell out the month, abbreviate it, or use a number? For which grandfather did I answer this question? Finally I'll figure out the right combination, and get in. And there's nothing illegal about that.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I realized that there was 10k there that wasn't supposed to be. But then phone rang, and when I hacked it it was the bank, someone had sent the money to the wrong account. Seeing all that money had made me feel rich already though, so I went and hacked into a cafe to buy a cup of extra cream latte and a stuffed with chocolate croissant... just to vent. Feeling rich is a strange thing, has nothing to do with money :) *This fictional account showcasing weaponized jargon brought to you Bralbral Inc.* See: the illicit meaning of hacking/hacker is weak against tampering, as it has already been tampered with. There's no "original meaning" to refer to, as that would be playing into the hands of the non-illicit hacker community. The legit hacker/hacking has no such weakness, and can only be made stronger by this, as some people will be annoyed with the new change and go looking for the original meaning to weaponize that... only to find - not gideon's bible - but the legit hacker community. Salvation of a different kind :) Only way to make it even better would be to incorporate into the weaponized term some the original meanings. In the format of natural semantic metalanguage (to which I do not subscribe but which has been already tooled for describing semes in special terms) it should then be CAUSE TO FUNCTION or other. So, that would replace all kinds of uses of the word "use", amongst others. Or should I say: it would hack all kinds of hacks of the word "use", amongst others. Sorry if I'm getting carried away here, but information warfare is a dear hobby of mine...

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

A squirrel can hack into a walnut in 3 seconds... While a chimp can hack into a banana in 2 secs. This is actually a good angle of attack. Water out the illicit use of "hacker" completely, leaving the right one intact. Let's start using "hack into" for any and all meanings of "open"... :D ]:)

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

is just preposterous. So, hacking is supposed to mean "to access without permission"... Can you see it coming: "Damn squirrels! Been hacking my feed boxes again!!" :O

apotheon
apotheon

1. If you're just trying to say I come off as arrogant sometimes, I agree -- I do, especially when people are being hypersensitive and not reading very closely. Not solely at those times; just especially at those times (lest ye think I'm being arrogant again). 2. Tradition does not make theft or mugging any better, and in this case it really was pretty well analogous to a criminal act -- a criminal act that is still ongoing, because the culture from which the theft was to occur is still holding onto the object of theft.

neilb
neilb

And far from remarkable. Although I only stated that you "come over as", I'll withdraw the word "git" if it upsets you. Please feel free to substitute "chap" or "fellow" or other word of choice. The charge of arrogance, I don't withdraw. As for "hacker", a word was needed to describe something that was new to the general public and it was either steal something or brew up a neologism. But colloquial English always steals stuff from other languages - it is a linguistic mugger and in this case it stole from the hacker community. Because it could.

apotheon
apotheon

It was "fed" to the public at a critical juncture -- at a time when the original computer context meaning hadn't yet slipped out of narrower circles, but computers were beginning to get a little bit of pop-culture exposure. Yes, it was "fed" to the general public. That's what happens when someone in a position of influence starts using terms in a way calculated to slip those terms into the popular consciousness. As for plans to try to take over the world -- the basic tactical approach I described is sound, and it's only one of several approaches one could take. That doesn't mean I have meticulous plans for how to execute it, or that I will actually do so. My personal plan is to occasionally try to get people who know better to stop acting like they don't. That's all. As for the string of insults aimed at me -- I'll just leave that alone, except to say you're a remarkably poor sport.

neilb
neilb

You really do come over as a bit of an arrogant git, you know. Not just in this thread. The reason that the word "hacker" now means what it does is not because the general public were "fed" anything. It is because no word existed in the general language pre-1980 to describe those who would "break into" computers for whatever reason and one was required. "Hacker" was the word used - yes, stolen if you will - and it was a good one and it stuck. Good except, of course, to the those who believe that it belongs to them. Perhaps they should sue? Whatever. I really have wasted enough time on this. Feel free to set faction against faction in the media to your heart's content. I will watch with disinterest the process that you use to try to accomplish that (I'll be much more attentive, mind, if you succeed) whilst you slip your new word (do you have one?) into the public consciousness - you imply that the public is barely conscious so that bit, at least, should be easy. :|

apotheon
apotheon

There's nothing for the general public to relinquish. They just use whatever term has been fed to them. Feed another term to them with roughly the same level of a puffed-up sense of "authority" behind it, and they'll use that instead. The mainstream media on the other hand -- those people maintain a deathgrip on their terminology choices, because they generally cannot allow themselves to admit error to the hoi polloi. Rather than report the news, they prefer to control it. Changing the public perception would involve little more than setting one faction in the mainstream media against another, and slipping an alternative past the mainstream media when they aren't looking.

neilb
neilb

I just can't see the mechanism that will rehabilitate "hacker" in the vocabularies of the general public. There is no reason - no gain - for the media or the public at large to relinquish the word unless a significantly better one comes along to replace it and that is unlikely to happen. The promotion of "cracker" hasn't got anywhere - it's only marginally better - and cybercriminal has too many syllables for my Mum. :) Check out Dr Johnson's Dictionary for some wonderful words that are long gone and others whose meaning has changed beyond anything logical. Slubberdegullion...

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

"weak" is the default. "strong" opinion of meaning requires a passion. You will agree that the street man doesn't have a real passion about "hacking" either way. We *know* that smoking is bad for us. Sure, we *know* that now, but twenty years ago we only .knew. it, and twenty years before that we only ~knew~ it. To .know. something doesn't stop many, and ~knowing~ something stops hardly anyone. The truth, as negotiated by our discourse (which is way, way, way more than the media, and is an emergent system to boot - that cannot be fully controlled), is mutable in it's constancy, constant in it's mutability. It's a dynamic equilibrium, and you know - as a biochemist, what kind of beast those are. Add a catalyst - ...

neilb
neilb

Smoking is bad for you, bad for those around you. We know that. Misusing a word, where misuse is defined by a small clique, is hardly on the same scale as a million deaths from lung cancer and other diseases. SUVs - Chelsea Tractors - are still in wide use over here. The only way that they will be got off the road is by economic forces. I don't think that the current wider meaning of "hacker" is in any way weak. Try again.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Remember when smoking was cool? Not so long ago, hey? Remember when SUVs were the next have-to-have-one for the european market (that one lasted only for a couple of seasons, luckily, but some throwbacks still insist). A weak opinion about meaning is just a waiting to get a different option.

emarques
emarques

" "Look at me, I'm going to talk about eveeil haxors!! run, fetch your kids, hold them close.. we're talking about the boogieman!!" This added nothing of value to the original article. " Hehehe... so true lol... It's sensacionalism... it seems to happen a lot here at TR. :)

neilb
neilb

I'm interested in the process by which you think majority acceptance of the word "hacker" as ethical can be achieved.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

giving their condolences as they go. But, really, if all those people would just say "Ok, I don't care either way, so I'll withold judgement", it would be apparent that the only people strongly behind the "hackers are people who commit network intrusion" stance are a small but vocal community of Enforcers. And they are opposed by people who call themselves hackers and who do not commit network intrusion. And there aren't more enforcers than hackers. Nobody else really cares, as they don't live in a world where the word is very relevant. And yes, the opinion of people who don't much care can be changed, and it's easy too. So, it's not a lost battle, and please stop trying to bury people alive with your condolences. It's impolite :)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

That's kind of how most discover the real Hacker community though it can evolve to native integration since there is no central bureaucracy to gain citizenship though. I would argue that it is very much a culture on par with a nationality. The computer hackers are the original digital natives. The original Internet tribe. That's why I equate it to something like a nationality (though a subculture that crosses borders; like minded enthusiasts from all over the world). Trying to convince the general public; that takes Hollywood and mass media brainwashing so it may very well be a lost cause. But IT focused professionals who should know the difference and will have Hackers by the positive connotations among the readership. This, especially when there are more appropriate terms to use when what one really means is "criminal". Consider the author's first article; what clarity or value was provided by saying "hacker" instead of simply referring to criminals as criminals? You can search/replace the article and it reads just fine. The only value seems to be sensationalized mis-representation. "Look at me, I'm going to talk about eveeil haxors!! run, fetch your kids, hold them close.. we're talking about the boogieman!!" This added nothing of value to the original article.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Now imagine that the majority of non-American's believed the stereotype and felt it perfectly acceptable to promote that misrepresentation along with all but the very minority of media recognition referring only to the negative interpretation of "being American". Does being offended sometimes start to be more often? Consider it too the point that your friends and relatives start referring to themselves by other titles to avoid being branded "one of thems eveeil Americaners". The problem is still not that there is negative connotations associated with "hacker" but that the author can only seem to recognize the negative connotations and takes a defensive authoritarian stance to support there continued use without consideration of the positive connotations they disregard.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

In her eyes we're all criminals until proven innocent (she said herself "most of us", which to a Law Enforcer usually means "All of you that aren't Cops"). It's just like a classic caricature of a self-brainwashed cop, believing in that kind of Esprit de Corps baloney. It's related to the kind of attitude that makes them bully whistleblowers and good cops that stand up to bad cops. In a nutshell it's "It's us against them, so don't rock the boat!" Sickening.

apotheon
apotheon

Just like Deb Shinder, you seem incapable of noticing when someone mentions there are two sides to a story, as I did in the reference to police officers above. You just latch onto the part that bothers you and ignore the rest. Like Deb Shinder, again, you only address half the story by attacking one side and leaving the other untouched.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Admittedly, my own comments had the benefit/disadvantage of the two previous booster rocket discussions. Rather than coming into a fresh discussion, it was the third sitting of an ongoing discussion. Also, as has been said. The issue is only recognizing the negative connotations of the word and all but ignoring the possibility of positive connotations or reality beyond the general public stereotype. A balanced discussion that recognized both negative and positive connotations would result in less polar posts in the discussion. Generally, Hackers recognize the negative connotations. Like anyone, if you can only recognize the negative and keep waiving that at people who know better, you'll get there backs up about it.

ESchlangen
ESchlangen

At the risk of joining Deb as a flamee (probably not a word), I have no strong opinion one way or the other regarding the word in question. But what I see when reading this comment chain is a few, no more than six, people that seem to have really taken offense and are just as unreasonable as the police in this post when it come to defending their viewpoint. It seems to me that the only solution here is to agree to disagree as I strongly doubt that posts on Techrepublic will be seen by the population at large or that they would have any chance of changing that population's perception should they be seen. Just my two cents.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

ANYONE who is afraid of rethinking or logically dissecting their position on anything when a potential logical argument appears is in danger of mentally snapping and going on the offensive. Unfortunately I tend to just say nothing instead of provoking them further. I have enough topics that I debate vigorously, I let the ones that aren't blatantly moronic slide because they sap my energy over time, and I don't like to create ill will.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

My brother a former county deputy has that same "might/authority makes right" switch. He often tries to turn a discussion on its head by personal attack (e.g. questioning what is wrong with me when I question authority, nuance of law, or behavior of law enforcement.) In-so far as to whether a police officer is right or wrong he would argue it is irrelevant. Civilians are required by law to obey law enforcement requests. Of course I'm painted as discontent when I mutter "REASONABLE requests, brother."

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