Hackers are NOT Crackers

by Berry F. Phillips, Member of the Computer Club of Oklahoma City
From the April, 2005 issue of the I/O Port Newsletter

The media loves to publish stories about so-called hackers breaking into computer systems and causing destruction. It is time to set the record straight, based on historical truth.

The hacker culture actually started in the 1950s when computers were huge to say the least, and programming then meant connecting wires to electrodes. While they did not call themselves hackers then, that for the most part explains what a hacker is. A hacker may be defined as a person who enjoys exploring the details of programming systems and how to stretch their capabilities as opposed to most computer users who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.

Hacker as a term was first adopted as badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) and the MIT AI Lab. All computer systems that we use today are based on early hacker research. Much of this research was done out of love for the subject and the fame within the hacker community. One must be recognized as a hacker by the hacker community, which is a certain ego satisfaction. Several famous hackers from the first computer club, the Home Brew Club, were instrumental in founding major computer companies.

Around 1980, a new breed of computer-fed kids evolved, due to easy access to the Internet in the United States and Europe. They soon learned that they could break into other people's systems. Unfortunately, the media called them hackers and the name sort of stuck, when in fact hackers do not consider such illegal security breakers to be hackers, but crackers. Hackers build things; crackers break them!

Much of the freeware on the Internet comes from hackers. It would seem that hackers have been given unjustly a bad name by the media and deserve an apology at the least. While crackers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for their illegal actions.

While it is true that many hackers possess the skills for cracking, they outgrew any desire to do so except for immediate, benign, practical reasons. Contrary to non-hacker belief, there is no thin line between being a hacker and being a cracker.

Hackers built the Internet, maintain Usenet, work in IT computer security, and all Internet related businesses owe their origin to hackers. We can demonstrate our respect for their considerable IT achievements by making sure we do not use the term, hacker, when we mean cracker, who is involved in illegal cybercrime.

My thanks to Philip Tellis who did considerable research that was the basis for this article to correctly inform the public.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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Tulsa Computer Society 4/01/2005
Don Singleton, President