Thursday, October 14, 2010

i am a hacker...

... but i am not a crook.

i have previously touched on the fact that the word hacker gets used inappropriately to mean criminal, and i've objected to it on semantic (pedantic?) 'that is not what it originally meant' grounds. that's only one dimension, however.

while i do object on semantic grounds and take that objection seriously in it's own right, the fact is that because i self-identify as a hacker (among a variety of other things) i also happen to find the characterization of hackers as criminals to be rather insulting. not that i expect the people using that characterization to bend over backwards for little old me, of course, but guess what - i'm not the only non-criminal who self-identifies as a hacker.

in fact there are so many of them, especially in the security domain, that a conference that (among other things) fosters the spirit of hacking in children was held for the first time this year (called hackid). i can't help but think that a lot of those parents/infosec professionals would be less than enthusiastic about the idea of imparting the spirit of hacking onto their little tykes if they were willing to accept a world where the term has taken on such a pejorative meaning. it's not just me who is insulted by the 'criminal' insinuation, it's all these people and their kids too.

really there's only two reasons to misuse the term hacker this way: stupidity or laziness. stupidity requires no explanation, but by laziness i mean too lazy to find a better term - and there are better terms, such as criminal or computer criminal or online criminal or even (gasp!) cybercriminal. these were what was being implied by using the term hacker anyways, so why not cut out the middleman?

well because apparently the unwashed masses are more familiar with the term hacker ({ahem} who's fault is that, exactly?) and it's too much work (laziness rears it's head again) to dispel that misconception and actually educate them properly. and this at a time when we're actually winning the war against the misuse of the term virus as an umbrella term (the media is increasingly and correctly using the term malware as the catch-all term for bad software and as a result malware is becoming the term the public uses as well). would you believe some of the same lazy bums who use that 'too much work' line of reasoning actually fancy themselves educators? i'm sorry but if you can't be arsed to dispel misconceptions and educate about the social dimension of the security space, why should anyone believe you'll do your due diligence with respect to dispelling misconceptions and educating about the technical dimensions? uh huh, yeah, i thought so - there is no good reason for anyone to believe that.

stupid media uses the term everybody else uses because they don't know any better. lazy media uses the term everybody else uses because it's easier to just go with what the experts say, and lazy experts use the term everybody else uses because it's too much work to change the tide. but the tide changed with virus - no doubt in part because viruses stopped being the primary issue and experts for the most part couldn't bring themselves to call a non-viral piece of malware a virus, so the proper umbrella term for malicious software started to trickle down.

that same trickle-down effect could work for the term hacker too, but only if the lazy bums out there (and you know who you are) actually start taking their supposed roles as educators seriously and start doing their job properly instead of half-assed.


Anonymous said...

I think you are going to have to concede this one. Hackers and hacking are portrayed in popular culture in pejorative terms. Fifty years ago, if you were a happy and carefree fellow, you'd have no problem being called "gay." Face it: language changes, and you can't control it.

kurt wismer said...

while that may be true of the word gay 50 years ago, hackers as criminals has far less time behind it. timescale-wise it's much more comparable to virus as an umbrella term, which i already covered in my post.