'Cracker' term gains acceptance by media

The debate has existed for 13 years. When someone breaks into your computer system, is he or she a "hacker" or "cracker?

The debate has existed for 13 years. When someone breaks into your computer system, is he or she a "hacker" or "cracker?" Journalists have been calling these cyber intruders "hackers" for years. But the techno-savvy argue they've got it wrong.

With all of the attention given to computer security breaches lately, a resurgence in recognizing the distinction between hackers and crackers may be developing.

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"Crackers Set Sights on Submarines," read the April 24, 1998, headline on a story by James Glave, Wired News' senior technology writer.

Glave said he has always known the distinction and frequently makes it but, in some cases, his sources insist on the term "hacker." In other cases, he explained, comments require reference to "hackers," not "crackers," for clarity purposes.

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"No matter what we write, we always get comments," he said.

'Hacker' is common ... but incorrect
"The public's general perception of people who break into computers use the term hackers. That is its common use in the vernacular, but that is incorrect -- cracker is the correct term.

'I prefer to call them cyberpunks.'
-- Kevin Poulsen

"Hackers, in the technical community, cut code. They are proficient at writing software code for a particular system, platform, or network."

A hacker is a not a person who performs unauthorized access to a system without any real skill or governing ideology, said Kevin Poulsen, reformed hacker turned "ZDTV CyberCrime" columnist. "I [also] stay away from the term cracker; it has sort of a pejorative ring to it.

" I prefer to call them cyberpunks," he said.

"Aside from a dictionary, I don't see the distinction being made between hackers and crackers," said John Vranesevich, founder of "AntiOnline" "I use 'computer security enthusiast' to describe myself when asked whether I am 'hacker' or 'cracker.' "

Confusion with racist term
"Your person on the street will know the word 'hacker,' but if they hear the word 'cracker,' they may think you're a racist."

And some language arbiters agree. According to both Webster's Dictionary and WebWords Online Dictionary, the terms "hacker" and "cracker" can be used interchangeably. For example, a hacker "may enjoy the challenge of breaking into other computers," according to Webster's Dictionary.

Two years ago, Bob Woods of NewsBytes asked the journalism community to re-educate society. The correct term is "cracker," he said. "If more people in the 'general public' and the 'mainstream media' read this news service and saw this article, some headway might be made."

Glave intends to continue to make the distinction. Some writers with new-media networks such as MSNBC and ZDTV are also following suit.


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