Did you know that the original meaning of hacker, as far as computers, was that of a person who built codes into computers? In fact, the bad guy was called a “cracker.” Somehow, “cracker” didn’t catch on. But the mainstream folk out there hears “hacker,” and right away, they think of a digital thief, often someone who breaks into governmental computer systems or Russian “hacking rings” that steal credit card numbers.
An article at motherboard.vice.com mentions that Richard Stallman gets the credit for cracker. Stallman, creator of the GNU operating system, is quoted as saying, “I coined the term ‘cracker’ in the early ‘80s when I saw journalists were equating ‘hacker’ with ‘security breaker.’”
The news media began noticing hackers around 1980. Some hackers were security breakers. Security breaking is one thin slice of the pie, but the media jumped on this, creating the impression that hackers were bad guys.
The article also notes something that Biella Coleman explains. She’s a hacker expert and is quoted as stating that the American government “has tended to criminalize hacking under all circumstances, unwilling to differentiate between criminal activities, playful pursuits, and political causes.”
The reality is, is that a security breaker is no more a hacker than a home burglar is an architect.
In the 1990s were movies that portrayed hackers as cyber villains, and all along, the real hackers were trying to get the word out that “crackers” was the term of choice. But it just didn’t take.
Maybe one reason is because the word “hacker” has more of a novel sound to it. When you hear “cracker,” several possible things come to mind, including a detective who cracks a case, and something you put in your soup. But “hacker”? Wow – it has more punch. It conveys more action.
But how did innocent code writers get to be called “hackers” in the first place? Perhaps it’s because writing code is such an imperfect science—more of an art, full of bugs and crimps. Code writers must hack their way through muddle to get it right.
At this point, however, hacker is here to stay to refer to the bad guy, whether a teenager with too much time on his hands breaking into some company’s network, or an intricate Chinese cyber criminal organization that cracks into the U.S. government’s system.