Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

It's Time To Cut Back On 'hack'


Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

It's time to re-examine how we use, or overuse, the words "hack" and "hacker." They're relied on far too often to describe all kinds of activities that don't qualify as hacks or hacking. They've become so common they've lost all cachet.

Did Rupert Murdoch's News of The World newspaper "hack" voicemails, or did they trick people into providing passwords and conjured up various low-tech methods for fooling the phone system? When some numb-nuts spammer takes over your Facebook or Twitter account, do you really mean to say he hacked it, or did he access your account without permission by using brute force techniques to guess or steal your password?

If what NoTW, spammers, and phishers have done is hacking, then you've probably been guilty of hacking at one time or another. The panhandler on the subway hacked you when his sob story convinced you to fork over a buck. The spammer that got you to click to an online pharmacy hacked you. A friend who borrows a student's log-in credentials to access a university library database to pull up a few articles is a hacker.

While ridiculous examples, they aren't that far afield from what NoTW minions did. Recently, I had a discussion over Twitter debating the use of the word "hack" to describe digital activist Aaron Swartz's activities. One report said Swartz was "accused of hacking into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer network and downloading almost 5 million academic documents." But nowhere in the criminal complaint do prosecutors use the word "hack."

From Fast Company
View Full Article



This article is very disappointing. A 'hacker' in a technology related sense of someone who improves upon something in an impromptu way ( a hack). The term 'hacker' should not be confused with the term 'cracker.'

Displaying 1 comment