Hacker: The ‘Correct Meaning’ – And Why its Wrong

Ever been to a LUG meeting where a member uses the term ‘Hacker’ when they should have said ‘Cracker’? The others crucify the poor soul within seconds. In programming circles, a hacker is a rather good programmer. “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.” (Jargon File). In the popular media, the term hacker refers to a person who breaks security on a system. Programmers call them Crackers.

Before 1985, there was no word for ‘Crackers’ – both good an bad hackers were know as, well, hackers. Soon the good hackers got tired of being lumped together with the bad guys. So they created a term for the baddies – the Crackers. And they got very upset when the media did not use the new word.

What I don’t get is why people cannot understand that the word ‘hacker’ has two(or more) different but equally valid meanings. I believe that the term ‘hacker’ can be used in the place of ‘cracker’ – as long as the understood that the word has two meanings.

The term hacker comes from the word hack – and the most valid meaning for the term is to circumvent the security of a system. As in “I can hack into your computer within minutes.” So people who ‘hack’ are called hackers.


In short, don’t get upset when others use the term hackers in the ‘wrong way’. If you want you can continue using the term cracker – that will solve the issue of ambiguity of the term ‘hacker’. Just don’t try to enforce your meaning upon others.

I am sure many of you would disagree, but you are all Schizophrenics – why should I care what you have to say? 😉

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  1. well there are also different types of hacker red ,blue, white~~~also a hacker is a person who identifies the flaw and then tells everyone that~~~ so hackers are good~~and COOL~~~thats what i learned at clubhack

  2. Yep, the hacker/cracker distinction is misleading in my opinion. And to add that they forget their was already another use for the term “cracker” in the computer world, that one of the software crackers (breaking copy protection schemes in commercial software, etc). So using the term “cracker” to denote the bad guys is deteriorating for the software cracking scene.

    What means a “good” hacker and a “bad” hacker anyway? Some people used the hacker/cracker distinction to actually say: hackers = hobbyist programmers and computer pioneers (that have nothing to do with security breaking), crackers = security breakers. While others understand: hackers = “good” security breakers, crackers = “bad” security breakers. Misleading. Some people break into servers and do silly pranks to feel like leet, supposedly for the “good” reasons (which is subjective) and when you confront them they tell you they are hackers not crackers. Misleading and stupid.

    Afteralls nobody ever says “Someone just cracked into my account” and when you use the word “hacker” in 99% of the cases you mean the popular notion and not that of a computer programmer. The creative computer programmers don’t call hackers themselves anymore.

    The H-word has died for me.

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