What does 'hack' mean?

Summary:When I received an invitation to attend the 'Yahoo Open Hack Day', I wondered what it was all about. Will they show us how to hack into Web sites?

When I received an invitation to attend the 'Yahoo Open Hack Day', I wondered what it was all about. Will they show us how to hack into Web sites? Or is it a day when programmers look for bugs in Yahoo's applications?

You can't blame me for both these thoughts. My good old Oxford dictionary tells me that the word 'hack', as a verb, refers to "the use of a computer to gain unauthorized access to data". And when used as a noun, it refers to "a writing producing dull, unoriginal work". Or to a "horse for ordinary riding"!

Obviously, these dictionaries are way behind time. So I did a Google (and not a Yahoo) search to find out more. According to Wikipedia, in the computer science parlance, hack refers to "a clever or quick fix to a computer program problem; a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem; or a modification of a program or device to give the user access to features that were otherwise unavailable to them".

Interestingly, the CEO of a midsize software company here in Gurgaon, whom I met yesterday afternoon, had similar thoughts on the Open Hack Day. He mistook it to be a day when developers gather to look for bugs in Yahoo's applications. That surely shored up my confidence. If an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) grad could think that way, I ain't doing too badly!

Freshly back from Bangalore, after attending Yahoo's first Open Hack Day in Asia, I explained to him what the event was all about: The day was all about modifying Yahoo's APIs to innovate user-friendly applications. He smiled and said, "the next time such an event takes place, I'll sponsor a team from our company to go there and participate".

Coincidentally, there was a news report on Saturday, Oct. 6 (right smack in the middle of Yahoo's 24-hour long hack day) in a leading newspaper here, on Yahoo's biggest competitor--Google. It talked about how Indian politicians found Gmail to be unsecured. The news item talked about three categories of hackers--the white hackers (the good ones, or developers who improvise programs), the black hackers (people with malicious intent), and the grey hackers (you never know what their intent is). Ironically, it took a competitor to educate us, quite comprehensively, on hacks! Is that what they call healthy competition?

Topics: Security

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