A Hacker is a bad guy—someone trying to break into computers with the intent of causing harm. Don’t argue with it, and stop fighting it. It’s time for those in the security community to stop with the stubborn romantization of the word and start accepting what it means today.
[ NOTE: I don’t believe this argument anymore in 2015, but I am keeping it to show my state of mind at the time. ]
We all know about the hacker vs. cracker debate; it’s a particularly lively one that leaves its droppings all over the Internet. There are two main sides: those that use hacker in a popular, negative light, and those that demand the use of the term “cracker” instead of hacker when referring to a criminal. Those on this side offer an argument that goes something like this:
A hacker is not a criminal. A hacker is someone who seeks to understand their trade (usually computers). Through this understanding they are able to change how certain things work. They face obstacles by “hacking” solutions rather than accepting limitations. They are simply creative people using their understanding of a given system to solve problems. Unfortunately, the media are trying to hijack the term and turn it into something malicious. We mustn’t let them.
I know this argument well. I know it because I’ve made it dozens of times, both online and in real-world conversation. I was one of those who went out of his way to correct those who misused the Holy term. I gave the speech whenever it was needed, like a knight protecting his maiden’s name. But no more.
Words and definitions are not as well-defined or unchanging as most believe. A cursory glance at any dictionary will reveal hundreds of words that used to mean something else. This is what’s currently happening to the word hacker.
Words actually mean what people think they mean, not what they’re “supposed” to mean. In fact, the very concept of “supposed to mean” is a silly one. A dictionary is little more than a time-sensitive collection of the way words are currently being used.
That being said, we in the geek world have lost the war for the word hacker. It already means something else, i.e. a computer criminal. Hacker means criminal because that’s what most people think it means. It really is that simple.
It’s Time To Let It Go
So I implore you, fellow geeks of the world who know and love what hacker used to mean: Let it go. Just let it go.
Remember, it doesn’t mean hacker completely lost its original, pure meaning. We in the community can still use it the “real” way amongst ourselves. But when a muggle uses it the
wrong new way, resist the temptation to go into the speech. You know what he meant, and everyone else listening did too. So the word did its job.
If you absolutely must say something, offer them some advice on how to secure their home network, or maybe explain why they should use Firefox instead of IE. Believe me, it’ll do more good.: