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    (Wikipedia) - Hacker (term)
    This article may be in need of reorganization to comply with Wikipedia''s layout guidelines. Please help by editing the article to make improvements to the overall structure. (April 2008)

    Hacker is a term that has been used to mean a variety of different things in computing. Depending on the context although, the term could refer to a person in any one of several distinct (but not completely disjointed) communities and subcultures:

    • People committed to circumvention of computer security. This primarily concerns unauthorized remote computer break-ins via a communication networks such as the Internet (Black hats), but also includes those who debug or fix security problems (White hats), and the morally ambiguous Grey hats. See Hacker (computer security).
    • A community of enthusiast computer programmers and systems designers, originated in the 1960s around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology''s (MIT''s) Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) and MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. This community is notable for launching the free software movement. The World Wide Web and the Internet itself are also hacker artifacts. The Request for Comments RFC 1392 amplifies this meaning as " person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular." See Hacker (programmer subculture).
    • The hobbyist home computing community, focusing on hardware in the late 1970s (e.g. the Homebrew Computer Club) and on software (video games, software cracking, the demoscene) in the 1980s/1990s. The community included Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Paul Allen and created the personal computing industry. See Hacker (hobbyist).

    Today, mainstream usage of "hacker" mostly refers to computer criminals, due to the mass media usage of the word since the 1980s. This includes what hacker slang calls "script kiddies," people breaking into computers using programs written by others, with very little knowledge about the way they work. This usage has become so predominant that the general public is unaware that different meanings exist. While the self-designation of hobbyists as hackers is acknowledged by all three kinds of hackers, and the computer security hackers accept all uses of the word, people from the programmer subculture consider the computer intrusion related usage incorrect, and emphasize the difference between the two by calling security breakers "crackers" (analogous to a safecracker).

    • 1 Hacker definition controversy
    • 2 Computer security hackers
    • 3 Programmer subculture of hackers
    • 4 Home computer hackers
    • 5 Overlaps and differences
    • 6 Filmography
    • 7 See also
    • 8 References
    • 9 Further reading
      • 9.1 Computer security
      • 9.2 Free Software/Open Source

    Hacker definition controversy
    This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (October 2011)

    Currently, "hacker" is used in two main conflicting ways

  • as someone who is able to subvert computer security; if doing so for malicious purposes, the person can also be called a cracker.
  • an adherent of the technology and programming subculture.
  • The controversy is usually based on the assumption that the term originally meant someone messing about with something in a positive sense, that is, using playful cleverness to achieve a goal. But then, it is supposed, the meaning of the term shifted over the decades since it first came into use in a computer context and came to refer to computer criminals.

    As usage has spread more widely, the primary misunderstanding of newer users conflicts with the original primary emphasis. In popular usage and in the media, computer intruders or criminals is the exclusive meaning today, with associated pejorative connotations. (For example, "An Internet ''hacker'' broke through state government security systems in March.") In the computing community, the primary meaning is a complimentary description for a particularly brilliant programmer or technical expert. (For example, "Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, is considered by some to be a hacker.") A large segment of the technical community insist the latter is the "correct" usage of the word (see the Jargon File definition below).

    The mainstream media''s current usage of the term may be traced back to the early 1980s. When the term was introduced to wider society by the mainstream media in 1983, even those in the computer community referred to computer intrusion as "hacking", although not as the exclusive use of that word. In reaction to the increasing media use of the term exclusively with the criminal connotation, the computer community began to differentiate their terminology. Alternative terms such as "cracker" were coined in an effort to distinguish between those adhering to the historical use of the term "hack" within the programmer community and those performing computer break-ins. Further terms such as "black hat", "white hat" and "gray hat" developed when laws against breaking into computers came into effect, to distinguish criminal activities and those activities which were legal.

    However, since network news use of the term pertained primarily to the criminal activities despite this attempt by the technical community to preserve and distinguish the original meaning, the mainstream media and general public continue to describe computer criminals with all levels of technical sophistication as "hackers" and do not generally make use of the word in any of its non-criminal connotations. Members of the media sometimes seem unaware of the distinction, grouping legitimate "hackers" such as Linus Torvalds and Steve Wozniak along with criminal "crackers".

    As a result of this difference, the definition is the subject of heated controversy. The wider dominance of the pejorative connotation is resented by many who object to the term being taken from their cultural jargon and used negatively, including those who have historically preferred to self-identify as hackers. Many advocate using the more recent and nuanced alternate terms when describing criminals and others who negatively take advantage of security flaws in software and hardware. Others prefer to follow common popular usage, arguing that the positive form is confusing and unlikely to become widespread in the general public. A minority still use the term in both original senses despite the controversy, leaving context to clarify (or leave ambiguous) which meaning is intended.

    However, the positive definition of hacker was widely used as the predominant form for many years before the negative definition was popularized. "Hacker" can therefore be seen as a shibboleth, identifying those who use the technically oriented sense (as opposed to the exclusively intrusion-oriented sense) as members of the computing community.

    A possible middle ground position has been suggested, based on the observation that "hacking" describes a collection of skills which are used by hackers of both descriptions for differing reasons. The analogy is made to locksmithing, specifically picking locks, which—aside from its being a skill with a fairly high tropism to ''classic'' hacking—is a skill which can be used for good or evil. The primary weakness of this analogy is the inclusion of script kiddies in the popular usage of "hacker", despite the lack of an underlying skill and knowledge base. Sometimes, hacker also is simply used synonymous to geek: "A true hacker is not a group person. He''s a person who loves to stay up all night, he and the machine in a love-hate relationship... They''re kids who tended to be brilliant but not very interested in conventional goals It''s a term of derision and also the ultimate compliment."

    Fred Shapiro thinks that "the common theory that ''hacker'' originally was a benign term and the malicious connotations of the word were a later perversion is untrue." He found out that the malicious connotations were present at MIT in 1963 already (quoting The Tech, an MIT student newspaper) and then referred to unauthorized users of the telephone network, that is, the phreaker movement that developed into the computer security hacker subculture of today.

    Computer security hackers Main article: Hacker (computer security)Bruce Sterling, author of The Hacker Crackdown Computer hacking History Hacker ethic Computer crime Hacking tools Malware Computer security Groups
    This article is part of a series on
    • Phreaking
    • Cryptovirology
    • Hacker Manifesto
    • Black hat
    • Grey hat
    • White hat
    • Black Hat Briefings
    • DEF CON
    • Crimeware
    • List of computer criminals
    • Script kiddie
    • Vulnerability
    • Exploit
    • Payload
    • Rootkit
    • Backdoor
    • Trojan horse
    • Virus
    • Worm
    • Spyware
    • Botnet
    • Keystroke logging
    • Antivirus software
    • Firewall
    • HIDS
    • Computer insecurity
    • Application security
    • Network security
    • Hacker group
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    In computer security, a hacker is someone who focuses on security mechanisms of computer and network systems. While including those who endeavor to strengthen such mechanisms, it is more often used by the mass media and popular culture to refer to those who seek access despite these security measures. That is, the media portrays the ''hacker'' as a villain. Nevertheless, parts of the subculture see their aim in correcting security problems and use the word in a positive sense. White hat is the name given to ethical computer hackers, who utilize hacking in a helpful way. White hats are becoming a necessary part of the information security field. They operate under a code, which acknowledges that breaking into other people''s computers is bad, but that discovering and exploiting security mechanisms and breaking into computers is still an interesting activity that can be done ethically and legally. Accordingly, the term bears strong connotations that are favorable or pejorative, depending on the context.

    The subculture around such hackers is termed network hacker subculture, hacker scene or computer underground. It initially developed in the context of phreaking during the 1960s and the microcomputer BBS scene of the 1980s. It is implicated with 2600: The Hacker Quarterly and the alt.2600 newsgroup.

    In 1980, an article in the August issue of Psychology Today (with commentary by Philip Zimbardo) used the term "hacker" in its title: "The Hacker Papers". It was an excerpt from a Stanford Bulletin Board discussion on the addictive nature of computer use. In the 1982 film Tron, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) describes his intentions to break into ENCOM''s computer system, saying "I''ve been doing a little hacking here". CLU is the software he uses for this. By 1983, hacking in the sense of breaking computer security had already been in use as computer jargon, but there was no public awareness about such activities. However, the release of the film WarGames that year, featuring a computer intrusion into NORAD, raised the public belief that computer security hackers (especially teenagers) could be a threat to national security. This concern became real when, in the same year, a gang of teenage hackers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, known as The 414s, broke into computer systems throughout the United States and Canada, including those of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Security Pacific Bank. The case quickly grew media attention, and 17-year-old Neal Patrick emerged as the spokesman for the gang, including a cover story in Newsweek entitled "Beware: Hackers at play", with Patrick''s photograph on the cover. The Newsweek article appears to be the first use of the word hacker by the mainstream media in the pejorative sense.

    Pressured by media coverage, congressman Dan Glickman called for an investigation and began work on new laws against computer hacking. Neal Patrick testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on September 26, 1983, about the dangers of computer hacking, and six bills concerning computer crime were introduced in the House that year. As a result of these laws against computer criminality, white hat, grey hat and black hat hackers try to distinguish themselves from each other, depending on the legality of their activities. These moral conflicts are expressed in The Mentor''s "The Hacker Manifesto", published 1986 in Phrack.

    Use of the term hacker meaning computer criminal was also advanced by the title "Stalking the Wily Hacker", an article by Clifford Stoll in the May 1988 issue of the Communications of the ACM. Later that year, the release by Robert Tappan Morris, Jr. of the so-called Morris worm provoked the popular media to spread this usage. The popularity of Stoll''s book The Cuckoo''s Egg, published one year later, further entrenched the term in the public''s consciousness.

    Programmer subculture of hackers Main article: Hacker (programmer subculture)

    In the programmer subculture of hackers, a hacker is a person who follows a spirit of playful cleverness and loves programming. It is found in an originally academic movement unrelated to computer security and most visibly associated with free software and open source. It also has a hacker ethic, based on the idea that writing software and sharing the result on a voluntary basis is a good idea, and that information should be free, but that it''s not up to the hacker to make it free by breaking into private computer systems. This hacker ethic was publicized and perhaps originated in Steven Levy''s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984). It contains a codification of its principles.

    The programmer subculture of hackers disassociates from the mass media''s pejorative use of the word ''hacker'' referring to computer security, and usually prefer the term ''cracker'' for that meaning. Complaints about supposed mainstream misuse started as early as 1983, when media used "hacker" to refer to the computer criminals involved in the 414s case.

    In the programmer subculture of hackers, a computer hacker is a person who enjoys designing software and building programs with a sense for aesthetics and playful cleverness. The term hack in this sense can be traced back to "describe the elaborate college pranks that...students would regularly devise" (Levy, 1984 p. 10). To be considered a ''hack'' was an honor among like-minded peers as "to qualify as a hack, the feat must be imbued with innovation, style and technical virtuosity" (Levy, 1984 p. 10) The MIT Tech Model Railroad Club Dictionary defined hack in 1959 (not yet in a computer context) as "1) an article or project without constructive end; 2) a project undertaken on bad self-advice; 3) an entropy booster; 4) to produce, or attempt to produce, a hack(3)", and "hacker" was defined as "one who hacks, or makes them". Much of TMRC''s jargon was later imported into early computing culture, because the club started using a DEC PDP-1 and applied its local model railroad slang in this computing context. Initially incomprehensible to outsiders, the slang also became popular in MIT''s computing environments beyond the club. Other examples of jargon imported from the club are ''losing'' {"when a piece of equipment is not working") and ''munged'' ("when a piece of equipment is ruined").

    A Hacker Emblem proposed by Eric S. Raymond.

    According to Eric S. Raymond, the Open Source and Free Software hacker subculture developed in the 1960s among ''academic hackers'' working on early minicomputers in computer science environments in the United States.

    Hackers were influenced by and absorbed many ideas of key technological developments and the people associated with them. Most notable is the technical culture of the pioneers of the Arpanet, starting in 1969. The PDP-10 machine AI at MIT, which was running the ITS operating system and which was connected to the Arpanet, provided an early hacker meeting point. After 1980 the subculture coalesced with the culture of Unix. Since the mid-1990s, it has been largely coincident with what is now called the free software and open source movement.

    Many programmers have been labeled "great hackers", but the specifics of who that label applies to is a matter of opinion. Certainly major contributors to computer science such as Edsger Dijkstra and Donald Knuth, as well as the inventors of popular software such as Linus Torvalds (Linux), and Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson (the C programming language) are likely to be included in any such list; see also List of programmers. People primarily known for their contributions to the consciousness of the programmer subculture of hackers include Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement and the GNU project, president of the Free Software Foundation and author of the famous Emacs text editor as well as the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), and Eric S. Raymond, one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative and writer of the famous text The Cathedral and the Bazaar and many other essays, maintainer of the Jargon File (which was previously maintained by Guy L. Steele, Jr.).

    Within the computer programmer subculture of hackers, the term hacker is also used for a programmer who reaches a goal by employing a series of modifications to extend existing code or resources. In this sense, it can have a negative connotation of using inelegant kludges to accomplish programming tasks that are quick, but ugly, inelegant, difficult to extend, hard to maintain and inefficient. This derogatory form of the noun "hack" derives from the everyday English sense "to cut or shape by or as if by crude or ruthless strokes" and is even used among users of the positive sense of "hacker" who produces "cool" or "neat" hacks. In other words to "hack" at an original creation, as if with an axe, is to force-fit it into being usable for a task not intended by the original creator, and a "hacker" would be someone who does this habitually. (The original creator and the hacker may be the same person.) This usage is common in both programming, engineering and building. In programming, hacking in this sense appears to be tolerated and seen as a necessary compromise in many situations. Some argue that it should not be, due to this negative meaning; others argue that some kludges can, for all their ugliness and imperfection, still have "hack value".

    In non-software engineering, the culture is less tolerant of unmaintainable solutions, even when intended to be temporary, and describing someone as a "hacker" might imply that they lack professionalism. In this sense, the term has no real positive connotations, except for the idea that the hacker is capable of doing modifications that allow a system to work in the short term, and so has some sort of marketable skills. However, there is always the understanding that a more skillful or technical logician could have produced successful modifications that would not be considered a "hack-job". The definition is similar to other, non-computer based uses of the term "hack-job". For instance, a professional modification of a production sports car into a racing machine would not be considered a hack-job, but a cobbled together backyard mechanic''s result could be. Even though the outcome of a race of the two machines could not be assumed, a quick inspection would instantly reveal the difference in the level of professionalism of the designers. The adjective associated with hacker is "hackish" (see the Jargon file).

    In a very universal sense, hacker also means someone who makes things work beyond perceived limits in a clever way in general, without necessarily referring to computers, especially at MIT. That is, people who apply the creative attitude of software hackers in fields other than computing. This includes even activities that predate computer hacking, for example reality hackers or urban spelunkers (exploring undocumented or unauthorized areas in buildings). One specific example is clever pranks traditionally perpetrated by MIT students, with the perpetrator being called hacker. For example, when MIT students surreptitiously put a fake police car atop the dome on MIT''s Building 10, that was a hack in this sense, and the students involved were therefore hackers. Another type of hacker is now called a reality hacker. More recent examples of usage for almost any type of playful cleverness are wetware hackers ("hack your brain"), media hackers and "hack your reputation". In a similar vein, a "hack" may refer to a math hack, that is, a clever solution to a mathematical problem. The GNU General Public License has been described as a copyright hack because it cleverly uses the copyright laws for a purpose the lawmakers did not foresee. All of these uses now also have spread beyond MIT as well.

    Home computer hackers Main article: Hacker (hobbyist)

    In yet another context, a hacker is a computer hobbyist who pushes the limits of software or hardware. The home computer hacking subculture relates to the hobbyist home computing of the late 1970s, beginning with the availability of MITS Altair. An influential organization was the Homebrew Computer Club. However, its roots go back further to amateur radio enthusiasts. The amateur radio slang referred to creatively tinkering to improve performance as "hacking" already in the 1950s.

    A large overlaps between hobbyist hackers and the programmer subculture hackers existed during the Homebrew Club''s days, but the interests and values of both communities somewhat diverged. Today, the hobbyists focus on commercial computer and video games, software cracking and exceptional computer programming (demo scene). Also of interest to some members of this group is the modification of computer hardware and other electronic devices, see modding.

    A DIY musician probes the circuit board of a synthesizer for "bends" using a jeweler''s screwdriver and alligator clips

    Electronics hobbyists working on machines other than computers also fall into this category. This includes people who do simple modifications to graphing calculators, video game consoles, electronic musical keyboards or other device (see CueCat for a notorious example) to expose or add functionality to a device that was unintended for use by end users by the company who created it. A number of techno musicians have modified 1980s-era Casio SK-1 sampling keyboards to create unusual sounds by doing circuit bending: connecting wires to different leads of the integrated circuit chips. The results of these DIY experiments range from opening up previously inaccessible features that were part of the chip design to producing the strange, dis-harmonic digital tones that became part of the techno music style. Companies take different attitudes towards such practices, ranging from open acceptance (such as Texas Instruments for its graphing calculators and Lego for its Lego Mindstorms robotics gear) to outright hostility (such as Microsoft''s attempts to lock out Xbox hackers or the DRM routines on Blu-ray Disc players designed to sabotage compromised players.)

    In this context, a "hack" refers to a program that (sometimes illegally) modifies another program, often a video game, giving the user access to features otherwise inaccessible to them. As an example of this use, for Palm OS users (until the 4th iteration of this operating system), a "hack" refers to an extension of the operating system which provides additional functionality. Term also refers to those people who cheat on video games using special software. This can also refer to the jailbreaking of iPhones.

    Overlaps and differences

    The main basic difference between programmer subculture and computer security hackers is their mostly separate historical origin and development. However, the Jargon File reports that considerable overlap existed for the early phreaking at the beginning of the 1970s. An article from MIT''s student paper The Tech used the term hacker in this context already in 1963 in its pejorative meaning for someone messing with the phone system. The overlap quickly started to break when people joined in the activity who did it in a less responsible way. This was the case after the publication of an article exposing the activities of Draper and Engressia.

    According to Raymond, hackers from the programmer subculture usually work openly and use their real name, while computer security hackers prefer secretive groups and identity-concealing aliases. Also, their activities in practice are largely distinct. The former focus on creating new and improving existing infrastructure (especially the software environment they work with), while the latter primarily and strongly emphasize the general act of circumvention of security measures, with the effective use of the knowledge (which can be to report and help fixing the security bugs, or exploitation for criminal purpose) being only rather secondary. The most visible difference in these views was in the design of the MIT hackers'' Incompatible Timesharing System, which deliberately did not have any security measures.

    There are some subtle overlaps, however, since basic knowledge about computer security is also common within the programmer subculture of hackers. For example, Ken Thompson noted during his 1983 Turing Award lecture that it is possible to add code to the UNIX "login" command that would accept either the intended encrypted password or a particular known password, allowing a back door into the system with the latter password. He named his invention the "Trojan horse". Furthermore, Thompson argued, the C compiler itself could be modified to automatically generate the rogue code, to make detecting the modification even harder. Because the compiler is itself a program generated from a compiler, the Trojan horse could also be automatically installed in a new compiler program, without any detectable modification to the source of the new compiler. However, Thompson disassociated himself strictly from the computer security hackers: "I would like to criticize the press in its handling of the ''hackers,'' the 414 gang, the Dalton gang, etc. The acts performed by these kids are vandalism at best and probably trespass and theft at worst. ... I have watched kids testifying before Congress. It is clear that they are completely unaware of the seriousness of their acts."

    The programmer subculture of hackers sees secondary circumvention of security mechanisms as legitimate if it is done to get practical barriers out of the way for doing actual work. In special forms, that can even be an expression of playful cleverness. However, the systematic and primary engagement in such activities is not one of the actual interests of the programmer subculture of hackers and it does not have significance in its actual activities, either. A further difference is that, historically, members of the programmer subculture of hackers were working at academic institutions and used the computing environment there. In contrast, the prototypical computer security hacker had access exclusively to a home computer and a modem. However since the mid-1990s, with home computers that could run Unix-like operating systems and with inexpensive internet home access being available for the first time, many people from outside of the academic world started to take part in the programmer subculture of hacking.

    Since the mid-1980s, there are some overlaps in ideas and members with the computer security hacking community. The most prominent case is Robert T. Morris, who was a user of MIT-AI, yet wrote the Morris worm. The Jargon File hence calls him "a true hacker who blundered". Nevertheless, members of the programmer subculture have a tendency to look down on and disassociate from these overlaps. They commonly refer disparagingly to people in the computer security subculture as crackers, and refuse to accept any definition of hacker that encompasses such activities. The computer security hacking subculture on the other hand tends not to distinguish between the two subcultures as harshly, instead acknowledging that they have much in common including many members, political and social goals, and a love of learning about technology. They restrict the use of the term cracker to their categories of script kiddies and black hat hackers instead.

    All three subcultures have relations to hardware modifications. In the early days of network hacking, phreaks were building blue boxes and various variants. The programmer subculture of hackers has stories about several hardware hacks in its folklore, such as a mysterious ''magic'' switch attached to a PDP-10 computer in MIT''s AI lab, that, when turned off, crashed the computer. The early hobbyist hackers built their home computers themselves, from construction kits. However, all these activities have died out during the 1980s, when the phone network switched to digitally controlled switchboards, causing network hacking to shift to dialing remote computers with modems, when pre-assembled inexpensive home computers were available, and when academic institutions started to give individual mass-produced workstation computers to scientists instead of using a central timesharing system. The only kind of widespread hardware modification nowadays is case modding.

    An encounter of the programmer and the computer security hacker subculture occurred at the end of the 1980s, when a group of computer security hackers, sympathizing with the Chaos Computer Club (who disclaimed any knowledge in these activities), broke into computers of American military organizations and academic institutions. They sold data from these machines to the Soviet secret service, one of them in order to fund his drug addiction. The case could be solved when Clifford Stoll, a scientist working as a system administrator, found ways to log the attacks and to trace them back (with the help of many others). 23, a German film adaption with fictional elements, shows the events from the attackers'' perspective. Stoll described the case in his book The Cuckoo''s Egg and in the TV documentary The KGB, the Computer, and Me from the other perspective. According to Eric S. Raymond, it "nicely illustrates the difference between ''hacker'' and ''cracker''. Stoll''s portrait of himself, his lady Martha, and his friends at Berkeley and on the Internet paints a marvelously vivid picture of how hackers and the people around them like to live and how they think."


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