back to article So it appears some of you really don't want us to use the word 'hacker' when we really mean 'criminal'

Last week, we argued over whether or not the media, including El Reg, should stop using the word hacker as a pejorative. This debate came about after infosec pro Alyssa Miller and a few others from the Hacking Is Not A Crime movement politely asked Register vultures on Twitter to quit using the h-word as a lazy shorthand for …

  1. Magani

    Hacking is honourable

    Mainstream media, on the other hand, generally has honour, accuracy and ethics a fair way down the ladder and these seem to be totally overwhelmed when a lurid story involving celebrities or politicians (or, dare I say, The Royals) is at stake. If the media can coin an expression that is simple and easy to remember, they'll use it regardless of its accuracy. <see 'drone'> The average reporter's copy about aviation (my old stomping ground) is enough to make you want to stay at home.

    <see “Boeing 777 will struggle to maintain altitude once the fuel tanks are empty.”>

    I agree that English is a living language and meanings change over time <see decimate> but with the rise of the 24/7 news cycle and the slow demise of decent journalism thanks to the likes of Murdick and co, I expect this will only get worse.

    Must away to read the Apostrophe Police's latest missive.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Hacking is honourable

      "I agree that English is a living language and meanings change over time <see decimate>"

      Bad example. When the Latin decimatus (past participle of decimare) was imported into the English Language in the 1660s as the cognate decimate, it had pretty much the same meaning as it has today.

      Journalism died with Herb Caen and Stan Delaplane.

      1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

        Re: Hacking is honourable

        Well once I was full of awe, but now it's just awful.

        1. JassMan

          Re: Hacking is honourable

          I guess it's too late for "quantum leap" to have its original meaning restored. Especially when journalists think that the massive supercooling plumbing surrounding a qubit is actually the computer. They'll think "That computer is enormous, compared to my phone" so they'll reassure themselves that a quantum leap is must be a big jump.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Hacking is honourable

            The phrase "a quantum leap" means a dramatic advance in <something>, or a sudden surge in <something> (or sometimes an abrupt change in <something>). That's the way it has always been used.

            Not to be confused by a quantum jump, which is a discrete change in the energy state of a particle.

            1. Ken Y-N

              Quantum Leaps

              But, a quantum leap in sub-atomic physics is the smallest jump an (err, should Google this) electron can make moving from one orbit to another or something.

              Back in my PFY days, I read a book on the story behind the Sinclair QL (Quantum Leap) and they said that they nicked the term from the Japanese who were using it to describe their efforts to move to 5GL and AI.

              1. bombastic bob Silver badge

                Re: Quantum Leaps

                I was thinking more of a TV series from the 80's with Scott Bakula

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: Quantum Leaps

                  I thought we were trying to be intellectual for once.

                2. SImon Hobson

                  Re: Quantum Leaps

                  Oh boy !

            2. Radio Wales

              Re: Hacking is honourable

              Stop splitting hair particles.

      2. Alter Hase

        Re: Hacking is honourable

        "Journalism died with Herb Caen and Stan Delaplane."

        Spoken like an old-time San Franciscan, before the techies moved in.....

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Hacking is honourable

          I lived there for a couple wonderful years before it became yuppified and holier than thou. The techno-brats are a new addition to the blight.

    2. FlamingDeath Silver badge

      Re: Hacking is honourable

      Watching the news is like watching childrens TV

      I see very little distinction between them

      With any luck a lot of these media cunts will be replaced

      By deepfake representations, IMO they’re fucking overpaid wankstains constantly trying to manage my perceptions

      Its fucking terrifying that the majority of Earths muppets (mostly low IQ) masses, hang off of their every word as if any of it has a semblance to reality

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Hacking is honourable

        Watching the news is like watching childrens TV

        That's pretty much why I listen to talk radio to stay informed, though Tucker, Hannity, Ingraham, Watters, Pirro, Levin, and Guttfeld get my TV viewing time.

        (and I think they all still say 'hackers' to describe criminals that hack)

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Hacking is honourable

          But they are all just talking heads (even the headless ones on the radio), selling razorblades, tampons, cheese and beer. They don't give a rat's ass what they say, as long as they are entertaining the masses enough to sell lots of advertising. None of the so-called "news" broadcasts is anything more than entertainment catering to a specific segment of the population when you look at it with a critical eye.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Hacking is honourable

      well, certain newsgroups on USENET came to this conclusion a long time ago (back in the 90's), that in particular, white-hat hacking is what most hackers do, and that grey hat is also somewhat common, but black hat is what criminals do, and it's pretty UNcommon. The idea was that 'hacking' was generally not evil, nor hackers. But I think most people 'get it' nowadays so there's no actual image problem associated with the word 'hacker'.

      That being said I don't take offense at anyone calling certain kinds of criminals "hackers", or calling what they do 'hacking', even though I am a hacker of the white-hat (with a touch of grey) variety.

      Too many people are too easily offended by too many insignificant things, almost to the extent of GOING OUT OF YOUR WAY to *FIND* a way to be offended, then getting all CANCEL CULTURE about it.

      And I _REALLY_ _HATE_ political correctness and cancel culture anyway. And so I choose not to participate.

      Or you can just say 'crackers' to differentiate hackers from the criminal types, if you want. Whatever.

      1. TomG

        Re: Hacking is honourable

        crackers for the criminal types will get my vote.

      2. tel130y

        Re: Hacking is honourable

        Three times I have read your posting to try to find why three people down-voted you. .Going to try again because there must be something sinister in there that I really can't see.......... ..........Nope, still can't see anything

    4. Toni the terrible Bronze badge

      Re: Hacking is honourable and the Print Media

      Misuse of words, misuse of information and the conflation of gossip and entertainment with news is the main reason why I ceased buying physical Newspapers some 10 or more years ago. However, it is not any better these days on electronic media. So where am I to find News not corrupted by lazy journalism?

      1. TomG

        Re: Hacking is honourable and the Print Media


      2. Radio Wales

        Re: Hacking is honourable and the Print Media

        Please tell me if you discover a reliable, accurate and trustworthy news feed (in English) anywhere

  2. Peter Prof Fox


    Boffin is a plus-karma word. Can't we find something like techo-whizz or uber-boffin for the white hats (white-boffin?).

    The best I can invent for a 'black-boffin' is Techneredowell.. Maybe 'shark' has the right sound to be mixed in.

    The trouble with labelling people is that it leaves the verb 'to hack' in the wild. Fix and build versus Break or Steal? (Also a 'bungler' for well-meaning hackers.)

    More work needed.

    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: ...-boffin

      Someone noted my detailed, close and personal approach to weeding. Wondering if I would be amenable to 'consulting' on their lawn. Sure I said, I'm a lawn proctologist. Whaa? said they.

      I replied that I dig down deep looking for the roots of problems, bringing things to light that you never want to know about, applying powders and ointments as required, patching over the spots that need it, fix things up right, and I won't tell you about all the nasty bits if you don't want me to. Just pay me.

      So... how about we call ourselves computer proctologists? In general, confess a medical approach to problems. The public never want to practice good hygiene or lifestyle with PCs but start begging for help and life when things go wrong. We can start to tell them the details of the state of their innards but they just want to know when the pain will go away. Just like with doctors.

      Computer proctologists. Think about it. People already get the strange ideas when we talk about code smell and use unknown jargon for the various organs.

      Have fun, walk in and announce "I'll have to pop the cover off and reach deep inside to find this problem. Do you want to be awake for the procedure?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ...-boffin

        I'm not a Gynaecologist... but I'll have a look.

        (sorry, any excuse. :-)

      2. TomG

        Re: ...-boffin

        interesting proposition, but NO.

    2. Loyal Commenter

      Re: ...-boffin

      The problem with the verb to hack is that it can be used in different senses, to hack together generally indicates something positive and creative, to hack apart tends to feature more heavily in true crime magazines.

      1. Martin

        Re: ...-boffin

        " hack together generally indicates something positive and creative..."

        Not to me it doesn't. You hack something together to see if it works ok. It might, possibly, be creative. But it's a hack, and has a definite transitory feel about it - it's going to be a prototype, or used just once, or just by me. It's not properly debugged or tested, it's certainly not a finished article.

        It's a hack.

        1. Drew Scriver

          Re: ...-boffin

          One man's hack is another man's release code...

          Iterative design. Agile development. Nimble coding.

          Unfortunately, those terms are often redefined to function as justification for poor coding, lack of planning, avoidance of testing, and a general disdain for user-focused design. In short - a hack.

          An anecdote along the same lines. A number of years ago I found myself having to come up with all kinds of "workarounds" and "creative hosting solutions" to fix poorly coded applications. This lasted for years, until I started calling my 'creative solutions' and 'workarounds' by the happy name of "kludges".

          Calling a spade a spade was quite satisfactory, especially in the titles of Change Requests. Oh, the fun I had defending my solutions in CAB-meetings! What do you mean by "Implement kludge to ensure data integrity"?

          As expected, it caused quite a bit of consternation among management - especially on the development side of the house. Although I was pressured to refrain from calling my hacks "kludges" in the end it resulted in a focus on quality among the developers.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: ...-boffin

            "One man's hack is another man's release code..."

            Indeed. For example, if you are reading this, you're probably using the hack that I put together in 4.1BSD (now called 4.1aBSD) for part of the TCP/IP stack to be included in 4.2BSD[0]. It was supposed to be one of those "just get us through the demo, dammit" hacks. I got 'er done over Christmas/NewYears break in 1981. Virtually every version of TCP/IP since has used it. Not too bad for a quick hack ...

            [0] Just to cut the usual pack of idiots putting words into my mouth off at the socks, no, I didn't write the whole stack. That's why I said "part of". It was only about 120 lines of C in total.

        2. Kibble 2

          Kludge vs hack

          @ Martin

          I recall my mother using the term kludge as I was growing up. I think I'll go with that for the one time or transitory fixes. I prefer the term hack for more permanent solutions or dev creations / apps whether for good or evil.

          Mum was trained as nurse, btw.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Kludge vs hack

            A kludge is an object. The noun was later verbed. And as the great Bill Watterson taught us, verbing weirds language. Weirding is not a bad thing, especially in informal writing/speech. Unless you lack the humo(u)r gene, of course, in which case I feel very, very sorry for you.

            Generic "you", not you personally, Kibble 2. Have a cold one.

            1. NeilPost Silver badge

              Re: Kludge vs hack

              .... you must not have watched David Lynch’s Dune where weirding modules were introduced as a combat/attack tool.

              BTW I’d be happy if Hacking died, as long as the loathsome ‘life hacks’ is pushed over the cliff first.

              It’s been corrupted like the previously honourable art of Trolling. That’s what happens when you open it up to the great unwashed on FB and Twitter.

        3. Radio Wales
          Thumb Up

          Re: ...-boffin

          In my neck of the woods, hackers are seen as either criminals or destroyers.

          However, when they want you to salvage your computer after it collapsed they want a Techie.

      2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        Re: ...-boffin

        What's wrong with BODGER? A word used freely in my young days in Yorkshire when I use to bodge up motorbikes/

        1. Giles C Silver badge

          Re: ...-boffin

          A bodger is someone who builds chairs (mostly chair legs) whilst working in a forest or wood.

          Old profession that was somehow subverted into meaning a poor quality job or quick fix.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: ...-boffin

            We've been through this recently ... A bodger (noun) was a maker of chair parts, especially the turned bits (legs and stretchers), local dialect from the woods around High Wycombe. Possibly from the German Böttcher, which means cooper (similar root in "water butt").

            To bodge (verb) is an Australian variation on botch, probably brought back to Blighty with military slang in the WWII era.

            Same word, completely different etymologies. Don't you just love English?

            1. Daniel Pfeiffer

              Re: ...-boffin

              Since English doesn't derive from German (the language of middle and south Germany), but rather from low-German (the older, now endangered language of north Germany) aka Anglo-Saxon, that would be the softer Böttjer.

          2. Martin

            Re: ...-boffin

            I thought a bodger was a black and white furry creature?

          3. The Rope

            Re: ...-boffin

            Without them we wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

    3. Combat Epistomologist

      Re: ...-boffin

      Hackers make things, fix things, invent things. Hackers create.

      Crackers break into things, sometimes to steal, sometimes "for the lulz".

      I don't know what we call the people whose only motivation is to smash anything they can reach.

      1. tel130y

        Re: ...-boffin


  3. Cronus


    I can't speak to all the other votes but I cast a 'for' ballot on the second article thinking I was voting in favour of the article's viewpoint rather than the previous article. Maybe I was just being thick. Also, how many people voted before the second article was even published? Doesn't really make sense to allow voting before both sides have been presented imho.

  4. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    NEXT WEEK: why we shouldn't tarnish the noble art of trolling by labelling flamers as "trolls".

    Yes, my coat it is the asbestos-lined, troll skin one.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Moot. I haven't seen a good flame in probably 20 years. It's a lost art. Seem they don't teach tactical syntax in schools anymore ... It would probably upset the little dears.

      Besides, most folks labeled as "trolls" today are actually just baiters. Some are particularly good at it, one might even say they are master baiters.

      (That's not to say there aren't still a few decent trolls around ... you know who you are. Have a beer.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Have they mastered the art of baiting? What are they?

        1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

          Tossed out.

      2. veti Silver badge

        Nobody taught us flaming in school, either. I don't recall my teachers ever once recounting a good insult. I had to learn that on the 'groups.

        As for trolling, that's far from a lost art. Just look at - well, just about anything by ex-president Trump for a masterclass.

        1. jake Silver badge

          "Nobody taught us flaming in school, either."

          You didn't study the Greek & Roman classic orators? Or even the modern-day Shakespeare? Poor deprived thing.

          Trump's no master troll. He's just a natural born bumbling buffoon.

  5. Matthew 3

    'If 'lifehack' isn't pejorative, 'hack' shouldn't be either.

    But as long as you keep 'mobe' from returning we're good.

    1. Franco

      Re: 'If 'lifehack' isn't pejorative, 'hack' shouldn't be either.

      The only trouble with that is I think thoughts that could definitely be classed as pejorative about people who use phrases like lifehacks. Mind you I have similar thoughts about headlines that begin with "So" so the problem is likely me in this case.

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      Re: 'If 'lifehack' isn't pejorative, 'hack' shouldn't be either.

      "Lifehack" isn't pejorative? All those smarmy, holisticker-than-thou, practitioners of the "art" are only interested in separating the gullible from their money. And yet referring to them and thier "art" is not pejorative?

      Guess you learn something new every day....

      1. Keven E

        Re: 'If 'lifehack' isn't pejorative, 'hack' shouldn't be either.

        Even inside "little bunny rabbit ears", using the word art there is a quite *revelating reflection of the issue we attempting to hack into here.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: 'If 'lifehack' isn't pejorative, 'hack' shouldn't be either.

      Dare I use the word moot twice in one comments section?

      We are talking about using the word hack(er) in a technical context, in a technical publication.

      Last time I checked, so-called "lifehacks" aren't technical, and I rather suspect that your favorite RedTop wouldn't be caught dead publishing them.

      Context matters.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: 'If 'lifehack' isn't pejorative, 'hack' shouldn't be either.

        "Dare I use the word moot twice in one comments section?"

        Go ahead. It's a good word, and we all know what it means. Or do we? Moot is an exemplar, because it's a word that has come to mean the *opposite* of it's original. Moot originally meant "subject to debate", i.e. debatable, and mooted meant "decided in debate". But now people use moot to mean decided, i.e. *not* debatable. Language is fun.

    4. Lucy in the Sky (with Diamonds)

      Re: 'If 'lifehack' isn't pejorative, 'hack' shouldn't be either.

      Well, I have always thought that a "lifehack" was when you break into the national citizenship database, create a few hundred fake identities and gain an unemployment benefit or pension under each one. Proper hacking in action. Just to prove a point. A "lifehack" is not "if I eat my persihables while they are still fresh, they will not perish".

  6. Alan J. Wylie

    I was a volunteer at the library

    Did they had a copy of The New Hacker's Dictionary on their shelves?

    1. Naselus

      "8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker', `network hacker'. The correct term is {cracker}."

      Sigh, better times.

      1. Skiron

        I think that book is all on-line:

        1. jake Silver badge

          Sort of. The Jargon File is the document that Guy Steele sold as "The Hacker's Dictionary"l Eric Raymond later revised it and sold it as "The New HAcker;s Dictionary". I've given some thought to selling another version called (provisionally) "The Latest New Hackers Dictionary", in two bundled together volumes: One that is a continuation of the series, and another that is sanitized for the social justice and cancel culture sets. Somehow I doubt they'd get the joke.

        2. Mike_R

          See the item defining HACKER

          There is what purports to be an updated version

          The Newer Hacker's Dictionary

          #======= THIS IS THE JARGON FILE, VERSION 5.0.1, 5 JAN 2012 =======#

          signed by Yash Tulsyan

          copied at

          If anyone has a pointer to a newer version, enquiring minds would like to know.

          1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

            Re: See the item defining HACKER

            Look for the one with -FINAL in the name.

    2. Dr Scrum Master

      I've never rated librarians particularly highly since one who was nattering away to her colleague asked me to be quiet when I was whispering.

  7. Chris Evans

    In an ideal world...

    In an ideal world people won't use the term pejoratively, but in my world that ship has sailed:-(

  8. Loyal Commenter

    Tablet, catfish, and cloud were given as examples of words with meanings that have changed over time, too.

    Notwithstanding abuse of the English language by marketroids, I'd suggest that:

    - Tablet, as used to refer to touch-screen computers isn't really a new use of the word, as it's very similar to the original use (cf stone tablet, wax tablet). Arguably use of it to refer to it as a capsule or pill is a neologism, but not exactly a recent one.

    - I think the modern usage of "catfish" is likely transient, like referring to something as being "wicked" or "ace" in the '90s. The word has not lost its original meaning. The plecos in my fish tank are still catfish, none of them are pretending to be someone else on social media.

    - "cloud" might be used to refer to "someone else's computer" at the moment, but I get the sense that this usage is already declining, as fashions in computing also change. A couple of years ago, every random marketing droid was trying to sell you SaaS on "the cloud", but these days they're likely to be more specifically trying to sell it to you on AWS or Azure, or talking about Kubernetes. Give it five years, and on-prem computing will be back in fashion. Meanwhile, to the average Joe in the street, a cloud is, and remains a fluffy white thing in the sky.

    1. 45RPM Silver badge

      I remember someone seriously asking me of the risks of dataloss when it starts raining. I had to explain, as patiently as I could, that when we speak of storing data in the cloud we are talking figuratively. We aren’t literally uploading into the big white fluffy wet things.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        the risks of dataloss when it starts raining.

        I dunno. Were they trying to upload their data via a microwave link?

      2. Martin Summers Silver badge

        "We aren’t literally uploading into the big white fluffy wet things."

        Some would say of cloud computing, that we may as well be.

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          "it's not data-loss, it's precipitation"

      3. jake Silver badge

        Well, they are fairly nebulous, always changing, blow in and out on the winds of change, and tend to leak unpredictably. I'd say your friend had a good point.

      4. CRConrad

        Honestly, that sounds... you just didn't get that they were kidding.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Wishful thinking....

    I don't want to be called "coder" either, but guess what happens?

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Wishful thinking....

      "Coder", those who live at Cape Cod?...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Wishful thinking....

        That's a "Codder", almost never used without the preceding "Cape".

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Wishful thinking....

          Yes, Caped Codders are superheroes.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker

      I've just hacked your post to create a simple link (it's the same link and it's good).

      1. Kane Silver badge

        Re: a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker

        "I've just hacked your post to create a simple link (it's the same link and it's good)."

        I've just hacked your hacked post to re-update the link in two positions within the context of your original comment.

        Also, permalinked.

        1. Loyal Commenter

          Re: a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker

          "I've just hacked your post to create a simple link (it's the same link and it's good)."

          I've just hacked your hacked post to re-update the link in two positions within the context of your original comment.

          Also, permalinked.

          I just "hacked" your post to correct all those links for you.

          1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

            Re: a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker

            LOL, rickrolled!

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker


            There's one in every crowd, isn't there.

            1. Loyal Commenter

              Re: a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker

              It's a stone cold classic, and you know it.

              Anyway, the whole point of hacking is to produce something unexpected or novel using the tools you have. OK, so Rickrolling isn't exactly novel, but I bet it was unexpected!

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker

      Most of the kiddies downloading Kali are skiddies, at best. (Do you think we should tell them how easy it is to fingerprint their distro?)

      1. Loyal Commenter

        Re: a warning sign that your child is turning into a naughty hacker

        Well, I'd start off by guessing that they're not even doing anything to hide their MAC address.

  11. heyrick Silver badge

    It's a landslide because we're nerds and we understand the difference.

    I voted against, however, because that fight was lost decades ago. Trying to reclaim the word "hacker" as a good thing will be about as effective as shouting at the moon. In mainstream media, hackers dress in black, like long coats, and do a lot of nasty shit using fancy graphical terminals, inch high text, and no hint of a command line anywhere...

    1. jake Silver badge

      OH NOES!

      ::wrings hands::

      We've LOST! ALL IS LOST! heyrick has proclaimed it, so it must be so!

      ::weeps uncontrollably::

      Sorry, mate. Real hackers don't have a defeatist attitude. I shall continue.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: OH NOES!

        What you mean is real hackers don't give a crap what other people think.

        Carry on, as you were...

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: OH NOES!

          You are quite correct, to a point. Most of us have a sense of ethics.

          Unfortunately, this whole subject is not binary, it's analog ... and there are many, many axis on the graph. Which is why the General Public, which has issues understanding the concepts individually, can have no chance of understanding the concepts as a cohesive whole.

          I think I'm getting somewhere ... join me in a cognitive beer?

    2. Wyrdness

      This debate has been around for decades. I remember it in the 80's but, back then, it was in the pages of computer magazines. Much as I'd like this to change, if we haven't won this after 4 decades then we're pissing in the wind.

  12. jonathan keith

    How about...

    ... when writing about wrong'uns who've done an IT naughty, rather than calling them 'hackers' you instead simply call them 'criminals'?

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: How about...

      "Criminals" are businessmen (and -women) who don't play by the rules, while a "hacker" was (till recently) somebody who would enter or damage a system just for the Lolz and the bragging rights.

      Now the businessmen (and -women) are recently taking over the scene, so your suggestion is quite valid. I would just specify "computer criminals", because they usually (still?) have little in common with the guys who peddle drugs, pick your pockets, or steal your car at gunpoint.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: How about...

        "peddle drugs, pick your pockets, or steal your car at gunpoint." a movie.

        Wow, the lines are getting really blurry nowadays.

        1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

          Re: How about...

          ...kill a policeman

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: How about...

      How about calling them Crackers? Because 99% of the time, that's what the media is talking about when they misuse the term "hackers".

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: How about...

        > How about calling them Crackers?

        Too alimentary.

        Also imagine one called "Jack": Instant trademark problem...

      2. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

        Re: How about...

        >How about calling them Crackers?

        Crumby name.

  13. HammerOn1024

    I knew this would happen...

    Everyone! Join Mr. Peabody and Sherman in their way back machine for the 1990's when this argument began!

    Back then we had two terms: Hackers and Crackers.

    Hackers were "white hats" looking for system vulnerabilities and trying for as many "See if they could" moments as possible. Not to do damage or theft, but because there was a mountain needing to be climbed.

    Crackers were "black hats" in it for the cash and mayhem.

    The hacking community didn't like the distinction and did everything they could to stamp out the differences based on some bizarre moral objections; they won. The Cracker community said nothing because this added a layer of free cloaking to their activities.

    So we're back to this again... wasting calories on a moot argument.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: I knew this would happen...

      Oh. horseshit. It was the mass media, in its vast ignorance and haste to get in a story, that started misusing the word "hacker" right around the beginning of the Eternal September ... which is why the Public today is even more clueless than they would have been otherwise.

      The so-called "controversy" in the hacker/cracker community wasn't over the use of the terms, it was over CORRECT use of the terms ... Some hackers are crackers, but most crackers aren't hackers. There is an overlap, and sometimes the fine line is rather blurry. Personally, I draw the line at permission ... As a pen-tester, if I don't have expressed written permission to crack into a system, I don't do it. It's an ethics thing. I still crack systems, though, which makes me a cracker. But the tools I use are often my own, which makes me a hacker (or so they tell me [whoever "they" is]). Regardless, what I do is perfectly legal ... unfortunately it doesn't fit into a 5 word, six syllable soundbite.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: I knew this would happen...

        Also the non-IT people would have a hard way understanding those subtle differences.

        Don't forget there are lots of people who don't live in the IT world, don't know it (and don't really care to either). For those people the good guys build/maintain/repair a system, while the baddies destroy/penetrate or steal from it, and those have been called "hackers" since the general public first heard about a contraption some call "computer". It might be the wrong term, but it's the one they're used to. Trying to tell them otherwise with a woolly and totally incomprehensible explanation is bound to fail...

  14. Julz


    Writer with hacking cough hacked off more than they could chew and so hacks together a story about the hacked code that allowing hackers to hack into a hacksaw factory.

    1. swm

      Re: Hack

      I thought a hack was a horse drawn carriage.

      1. Glenturret Single Malt

        Re: Hack

        Growing up in the west of Scotland, I learned the word hack as referring to those nasty, painful cracks in dry skin especially on your hands that appear in cold dry weather. Then there is the other meaning of using a knife or other sharp tool indiscriminately (e.g. hacking off overhanging branches of a tree). And also there is the old-fashioned rugby forwads tactic of booting a loose ball on the ground upfield. I am therefore still always taken slightly by surprise when I read an article and find that it is using the word hack to refer to something that is generally beneficial. I sometimes wonder what is wrong with "fix" or "repair".

        1. RayK

          Re: Hack

          And so on and so on...

  15. dajames

    It's all rather more nuanced ...

    Some cracks are achieved by hacking. Calling the cracker who perpetrates such a crack a "hacker" is not incorrect (it may be missing the point, but that's another story).

    Not all cracking is achieved by hacking, not all hacking results in cracking.

    Many activities described by the press as "hacking" are neither hacking nor cracking.

    It would be nice if something could be done to make the general public as aware of the word "cracker" as they are of the word "hacker", and to instill in them a sense of the distinction between a hack and a crack.

    1. RayK

      Re: It's all rather more nuanced ...

      And, so it is!!!! But, in more ways than you might have imagined! It is actually a basic language and word usage thing.

      Don't go down a rat hole with this, because this is a huge can of unsettled, wormy stuff. A taste follows.

      Meanwhile, the essence of this aspect is precise, appropriate, accurate... word usage, is it not? Yes!!!


      J. L. Austin was one of the more influential British philosophers of his time, due to his rigorous thought, extraordinary personality, and innovative philosophical method. According to John Searle, he was both passionately loved and hated by his contemporaries. Like Socrates, he seemed to destroy all philosophical orthodoxy without presenting an alternative, equally comforting, orthodoxy.

      Austin is best known for two major contributions to contemporary philosophy: first, his ‘linguistic phenomenology’, a peculiar method of philosophical analysis of the concepts and ways of expression of everyday language; and second, speech act theory, the idea that every use of language carries a performative dimension (in the well-known slogan, “to say something is to do something”). Speech act theory has had consequences and import in research fields as diverse as philosophy of language, ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of law, linguistics, artificial intelligence and feminist philosophy.

  16. Captain Hogwash

    Whatever El Reg decides...'ll eventually backtrack. Anyone else remember "mobe"?

    1. Down not across

      Re: Whatever El Reg decides...


      That word does not exist.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Whatever El Reg decides...

        Doesn't stop El Reg from using it.

        (Hat tip to site's search function...)

        1. RayK

          Re: Whatever El Reg decides...

          So it has been, so it is and so everyone will continue to count on being/doing just that!!!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More than words

    I have hacked my guitar, a couple amps, a Mr.Microphone into a wireless guitar system, my cars over the years, even 'hacked a drill press into a poor mans mill. It's a generic word for "modified beyond it's original purpose for the heck of it", which doesn't make for a good acronym.

    Like mentioned above, just because you have a skill set or a tool, does not mean you abuse said tools and skills for malice. Not that I care really, I will still use it both ways, but there are more accurate words to use where it's clearly criminal intent.

    1. JassMan

      Re: More than words

      "modified beyond it's original purpose for the heck of it", which doesn't make for a good acronym.

      OK, I give in what does "hack" stand for. If it doesn't stand for anything, it ain't an acronym at all. Calling it one is just sloppy misuse of english in the same way that caused this whole discussion.

      LASER Light Amplification by Stimulation of Emitted Radiation

      RADAR RAdio Direction And Ranging

      SCUBA Self Contained Breathing Apparatus

      etc. are all acroynyms, "hack" is not.

      Until now... Happy Accidental Coding Kludge

      1. RayK

        Re: More than words

        Thanks!!! Peeeerfect!

  18. Danny 2

    Piers Morgan is dead~ish

    Stormed off GMB, throwing away his bully-pulpit like the tantrum baby he is.

    He was sacked by the Daily Mirror for faking photographs of British Army abuse in Iraq. I used to post on a media analysis website that supported him because they knew that while the photos were faked the abuse was real. I was the only peace activist there and I still didn't support that stance ("But he is a dick, an absolute dick")

    41,000 press complaints today make my downvotes here look respectable. I think I'll find a new forum to spraff on. Good luck and courage to all the regulars here.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Piers Morgan is dead~ish

      At first I thought you b0rked my parser, but then I realized yours was just non sequitur.

      1. Danny 2

        Re: Piers Morgan is dead~ish

        I'll miss you most Jake. Actually I won't, as I'll still read here and upvote you until my account times out.

  19. scrubber

    Word choice is important

    When the government does it in their illegal mass surveillance programs the media never calls it hacking, illegal or any other negative term.

  20. tip pc Silver badge

    Clearly double standards at play.

    Don’t want hack to be associated with criminal behaviour but happy for other words with negative connotations to be used where they don’t need to.

    I’m alright jack etc etc.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Clearly double standards at play.

      It's not a matter of "need to", it's a matter of established meaning within a context.

  21. old_nic

    Hacking is the present perfect of the verb Hack. I think it is connected with the action of using a Hatchet, or axe, to chop down trees. So lets stop using it to talk about other things? Or lets be sensible and admit that languages change dynamically as they are simply noises or noises represented with symbols to enable animals to share information to the advantage of their species.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "I think it is connected with the action of using a Hatchet, or axe, to chop down trees"

      appropriate given that most of my hacking tends to be done with a soldering iron

      You hack ON something to make it work in ways it wasn't designed to ex-factory. Hotrodding is hacking, as one example

  22. 9Rune5


    I didn't get to vote!

    Somebody point me at the poll so I can ...hack the results.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Wait!

      "I didn't get to vote!"

      Don't worry, I did it for you. It's a perk of voting online :-)

  23. Ged T

    You were hacked - Ha!

    I didn’t vote in this poll - I just hacked the result! Haha!

  24. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Keep pushing water uphill with a sieve,...

    That's about how effective this whole "hacker does not mean criminal" campaign will be.

    I ride motorcycles for fun, so I am a Biker. How many of you now picture me as a dirty, greasy, long haired, bearded, tattooed, leather clad thug? I am in fact none of those but I still ride motorcycles and I'm still a Biker despite what the world at large thinks when they hear the term Biker. Some riders refer to themselves as "motorcyclists" to try to avoid that negative connotation, but the media love it when a criminal leaves the scene of the crime on a scooter or motorcycle, because they can then use their pet phrase Biker to imply that anyone who prefers 2 wheels to 4 is not in their tribe and therefore to be despised.

    1. Huw D

      Re: Keep pushing water uphill with a sieve,...

      Don't forget that anyone wearing any form of cut or patched jacket is "A Hells Angel".

  25. arachnoid2

    starnge considering

    Many make a good living either legally hacking to unlock systems or running red teams to discover system vulnerabilities. Mind there is a similar press mindset when mentioning lock picking, to some its a sport to others a nefarious outcome though less used when a battery powered cutting device or drill is available.

  26. Grumpy_Cyborg

    There can be no argument about what it means when you look it up in the oxford dixctionary.

    1. jake Silver badge

      I'm not usually prone to such things, but I guess I'll have to look into that particular organ in order to verify your assertion.

  27. TonyParker

    Hacking in the Physical World

    This subject can get a little semantic so I want to compare entering someone’s system to entering their property uninvited.

    How should we regard people who walk along a street trying to open doors and windows to see if they are open? If a window or door was open, they go into the house and walk around and:

    1. Just look

    2. Look and take photographs

    3. Look, take photographs and post them on the internet for free

    4. Look, take photographs and sell them to newspapers

    5. Look, take photographs and sell them to burglars

    Most people would not regard the above as being equally serious matters and in legal(ish) terms we have:

    1. Trespass, entering the property

    2. Burglary, entering a property and stealing or with the intent to steal

    3. Housebreaking, breaking into a property and stealing or with the intent to steal

    I see parallels between entering someone’s system (hacking) and the law regarding property. The term hacking seems to equate to them all and I don’t regard this comparison as helpful.

    In my home I don’t want to meet someone claiming that they had a right to be there because they weren’t stealing anything and one of my household had left a door open.

    I live in England and gun ownership is very limited and shooting people if seriously frowned upon. I suspect that in many jurisdictions of the USA people would feel that shooting the intruder would be OK. I also suspect that the legal system would not look to harshly at this action.

    My opinion is that trespass is wrong as a matter of principal and housebreaking is wrong because of the consequential harm. I suspect the majority of others do not want other people walking around our houses either physically of via devices because someone left the door open.

    Hacking should be illegal and the seriousness of the legal consequences should escalate with the harm.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Hacking in the Physical World

      What you are talking about is called "breaking and entering" in the RealWorld. In computer terminology, it is called "cracking".

      Hacking is something else entirely.

    2. arachnoid2

      Re: Hacking in the Physical World

      Your making the same mistake as the press and using only one definition to suit your purpoises.

    3. Loyal Commenter

      Re: Hacking in the Physical World

      Whilst hacking, in the computer sense, originates from "steam hacking" at MIT, where students would attempt to gain physical access to steam tunnels and other restricted access places on the MIT campus, it is not now synonymous with intrusion.

      You are implying the very narrow usage of the word to gain unauthorised access to someone else's system. As pointed out by numerous others, this is more properly known as cracking and the misuse of the word hacking as a synonym is the entire point of this discussion.

      Other examples of hacking which are not the same as cracking:

      - finding a novel use for a piece of hardware or software to solve a problem other than the one originally intended, such as, for example, taking a wheelchair motor and using it to drive an autonomous vacuum-cleaner, or using Microsoft Excel for... well pretty much anything.

      - reverse engineering something to fix it using improvised parts, for example taking a washing machine apart and replacing a broken drive belt with one from a car.

      - taking something that is obsolete or no longer supported and patching it to get it working again, for example modifying some Win95 abandonware to get it running on Windows 10.

      Note that the word itself is neutral, there is no implication that hacking is good or bad, that judgement is made purely on the application. For example hacking together a multi-billion pound track-and-trace system using Microsoft Excel rather than pretty much any other interchange format (even CSV would be better) is undeniably a hack. It's not a good one. On the other hand, fitting a corrective lens to the Hubble Space Telescope to fix the aberration caused by incorrect polishing of the primary mirror is also hacking, and in this case, a very good hack.

  28. Ansuz

    A paradigm shift in journalistic reporting...

  29. Rob-G

    The term hacking was lost to the criminal sphere along time ago. To hack though - I would love to use the term, tweak - had that innocent ring to it, as if you're just trying to find another way to get that printer to work. Perhaps it's all semantiCS, but with the sophisticated tools folks have today the strains being put on securing corporate, govt, and service websites could soon be unbearable.

  30. my cats breath smells like cat food

    Forever never dies

    Just like this argument, from the jargon file (circa somewhere between 1975 and 1990),

  31. RLWatkins

    A car thief who called himself an "automotive engineer"...

    ... would be laughed at by all and sundry, with some justification.

    So I'm baffled that the typical script-kiddie who calls himself a "hacker" passes muster by that same press.

    Stoll, the guy who detected the first computer criminals, called them "crackers". Let's just stick with that.

  32. Must_I?

    Popular alternative

    Cyber criminal seems to be all the rage anyway. Why insist on perpetuating misuse?

    Words do change over time, but the professional community still uses the term as originally intended. Promoting a different definition to the layman merely promotes suspicion of expertise.

  33. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    I for one

    am glad to see the Reg digitally transforming its holistic brandwidth in this fashion.

    (In all seriousness, I voted for the motion. Sisyphean, perhaps, but using "hacker" pejoratively seems off-tone for the Register, which is often both more technical and more contrarian than its media peers. And while it's certainly true that language is constantly changing, that's no reason not to distinguish your prose by declining to follow every current vagary of popular usage. A descriptivist stance doesn't mean you can't exercise preferences.)

  34. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "skiddies" is one option

    Very few of these criminals are even clever. Just script kiddies with skid marks

  35. RobertFW

    Hacker or Hacker or Criminal

    Interesting read of the Hacker v Criminal and like the Library volunteer story.

    Why didn’t the volunteer just say they’d used some common sense and Fixed the issue?

    Because that is exactly what the did.

    The need for another word to say the simplest thing is why folk spend hours debating unnecessary issues

  36. major_paine

    Hacking is an verb

    ...and attaching a connotation to it is down to the individual that uses the word and the one who consumes it.

    If a bank is robbed by gunmen/woman and this is reported as such, one implies guns were used by people, not that guns are always/only used for evil or all gunmen are ill-intentioned. Now imagine a soldier complaining that the term demonises them bc they also wield guns. Silly right?

    If they don't like the word's history, be smart and invent a new one or attach a cool companion word to difference yourself from the vanilla 'hacker'. I reckon that'd be easier than trying to hack the word's etymology

  37. Colin Bain

    Too late

    There are all kinds of trite cliches to describe why it is never going to work. Main Stream media always gives the impression of a coherent professional approach. However MSM has degenerated into a ghastly barely reporting biased mess following whoever is giving them cash (El Reg and possibly Private Eye excluded)

    The cat is out of the bag, it is closing the stable door the horse has bolted, it is VHS versus beta, PC vs Mac.

    Nice to discuss, but pointless unless it has a topical hook like BLM, or Metoo, or even Arab spring (although not generally the best example given the long term outcome!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Too late

      Time was, I heard of newspaper journalists being described as hacks. I wonder how they'd like being described pejoratively?

      From much of the coverage I've seen of many things, I'd be delighted to see the hacks put in the same camp they've put all hackers into.

      Perhaps their white-hats would like to find some way to distinguish from their black-hats?

  38. AxelF

    Hackers for good

    Let's keep the word Hacker for the good guys and call the bad guys something else? Wackers!

    1. RayK

      Re: Hackers for good

      Tooooo late!!! That train left the station a very looooong tie ago. Centuries...

      The evolution of language is a constant...

  39. RayK

    And so it has gone, so it goes and so it will continue ad nauseam, ad infinitum....

    Sorry that I do not have the time just now to properly cite and reference this battle... My best, 10 min cut at this:

    "There is a battle for the words that proceed out of our mouths. Great marshals and experts of war can attest to the fact that wars do not start on the battlefield, it starts in the hearts of men. This is the main battle that leads to other battles. This is the battle..."

    Which is excerpted from a pastor's sermon. Therefore, goes on to take in spiritual terms which are not applicable here.

    More applicable:

    Correct Word Choice

    From the University of Minnesota Style Manual

    Use words carefully and precisely.

    How to Speak Proper English

    English takes many forms these days, and slang has become commonplace in day-to-day interactions and writing. While some informal language is generally accepted, if you're seeking to improve your mastery of the English language, you might find yourself on a quest to learn "proper English..."


  40. randon8154

    Don't use this word period.

    Nobody is a "hacker", this is not even a real word.

    Hack definition :

    a quick solution that solves a problem, but does not solve it particularly well, or in a particularly good way.

    Example :

    I had a problem last week with the front of my house, I couldn't lock it with my key, the lock wasn't cheap and was change less than 6 month ago so I decided to call a locksmith about it. The lock wasn't the problem, the screw of the door legs got some lose, enough to have make the door moved from where it was suppose to be. He recommanded to change those screw with new one, larger in size to go more deep in the wall.

    For the meantime, he did a hack the "fix" the problem.

    Example 2 :

    I made hundred of hack on my system, to fit to my need or to "fix" a bug.


    Doing a hack for anything is pretty common for almost everything. Either we consider doing a hack make you a hacker like smoking make you a smoker or biking make you a biker and in this case, probably half the world population is a hacker or we stop using it period.

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