When is a hack not a hack?

Question: when is a hack not a hack? Answer: it depends.

Question: when is a hack not a hack? Answer: it depends. Initially, I would blog here about ethical hacking. You know the kind of thing; big corporations like IBM like to talk about these guys. Reformed script kiddies who have seen the light and now drive M-series BMWs as a result of their nicely paid gig inside one or other corporate shell where they act as 'consultants'.

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But I won't talk about ethical hacking, because I've done that before. The term does seem to be undergoing some kind of long-term metamorphosis though for sure. I attended the Yahoo! Hack Day event in India a while back and the term "hack" was used very much in the positive. In this case to signal the hacking up of Yahoo!'s APIs into new web 2.0 style mashups.

Carrying this forward, O'Reilly's 25th anniversary edition of Steven Levy's book "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution" positively champions the term as the author profiles the 'visionaries' who found intelligent and/or unorthodox solutions to computer engineering problems.

As this short teaser extract is compelling, I'm going to just include it here: "This [book] traces the exploits of the computer revolution's original hackers. Those brilliant and eccentric nerds from the late 1950s through the early '80s who took risks, bent the rules and pushed the world in a radical new direction. With updated material from noteworthy hackers such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Stallman and Steve Wozniak."

So it seems that the term hacker in a negative context has all but gone. Anti-Virus companies are now so adept at hammering home terms such as malware, vulnerabilities, rouge code, illicit installation and perhaps even polymorphic code – that before you know it there will be degree courses in hacking available. Oops, I spoke too soon.

So when is a hack not a hack? Pretty much all the time now it seems.