posted on May, 5 2013 @ 06:22 AM
The over-application of the word hacker really annoys me. It is like the computer equivalent calling someone a witch. Just as any sufficiently
advanced technology is considered magic by people who do not understand the mechanisms that make it possible, we now call any sufficiently advanced
manipulation of computer data the work of a hacker if that action goes against the interests of a business or government.
Witch was a label once used to demonize people who defied church authority, and after it was applied to someone the mob was happy to burn them. Hacker
is now similarly used to demonize anyone who defies governmental or business authorities. Because nearly all government and business is computerized
people tend to label any method of data manipulation that defies the authority of a business or government as the work of a hacker.
Someone guessed your poorly-chosen facebook password and defaced your page? HACKER! The pizza shop employee used the credit card number, which he
acquired because you GAVE IT TO HIM, to make an illegal purchase online? HACKER! It removes any blame from the facebook user for ignoring the password
guidelines provided, or the consumer who decided that the pizza guy was trustworthy enough to hold his credit card info.
The problem with this is that, while the examples I mentioned above are instances of people with malicious intent, the word is equally applied by the
media regardless of the intent or actions of the person. If an action goes against the interests of business or government and a computer was used at
any point in the process it is labeled as the work of a hacker.
An activist used free, easy to use disc forensic software to recover his files after they were deleted by a corrupt cop? HACKER!!! Has someone you
know removed an approved OS and installed a free, open source alternative? HACKER!!! You encrypted your data, and will not provide the key to law
enforcement? HACKER!!! An activist downloaded public information that was being sold at profit, and made it freely available? HACKER!!! A
whistleblower leaked incriminating information about their employer? HACKER!!! BURN THE HACKERS!!!
So the hacker label is given a negative connotation, then applied to anyone who does anything using a computer if that action is considered a threat
to a government or business. In contrast, the spy agencies are not referred to as hackers when they monitor the communications and movements of
citizens. Data mining is not referred to as hacking if it is done by a "reputable" business. An ISP that throttles certain types of data, or
specific users, are not said to be hacking. A government backdoor built into a device or its software is not a called hacking. A small network of
powerful banking interests fixing the world's markets is not called hacking. A business that uses its government connections to secure no-bid
contracts is not hacking.
I'm not talking about the old white hat vs black hat distinction, but the way that the word has entered the lexicon to transcend that. The meaning of
a word can change over time, and the potential rate of transformation has surely been accelerated by technology. The original definition (these are my
own informal definitions) of "hacker" was something like "slang for MIT student who tinkers with model trains". Over time, it came to mean
"person who has a tendency to deconstruct systems in an effort understand their functions so they may alter those functions". Later, when the
systems in question were being used to control everything from banking to military logistics it morphed into "A person who is knowledgeable enough
about computers to be considered a potential threat if they are feeling mischievous or motivated by greed".
My hypothesis is that this word has, in recent years, been purposely redefined by the media to mean "anyone who does anything even peripherally
related to technology that we don't want them to do".