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The media spinwheel on the word Hacker. My rant of the day.

Hacker Disables More Than 100 Cars Remotely (wired.com). This story circulated a lot on different websites and on Twitter today and is the reason for this rant.

Normally I have high regards for wired.com for the articles they write, including the series they did on hackerspaces. But with this article, they really disappointed me. I’m used that the main media makes this mistake but not Wired.

How would you define an ex-employee, guessing or stealing a former co-worker’s password to access the system and screwing with it out of revenge? A cybercriminal? A hacker?

Wrong and wrong. It’s an insider threat! He really must had mad 1337 skills to pull this one off!

I know that the word hacker is a confusing term meaning a lot of different things to different people, including the media’s insistent wish to use it to describe cybercriminals. (Hint: use a dictionary).
But this all leads to so many misunderstanding. Hardware hacker, blackhat hackers, whitehat hackers, greyhat hackers, software hackers, kernel hackers, lifehackers, script kiddies, etc etc…. there are so many different dimensions to the word hacker that it leaves the average outsider confused.

But I have to be honest, I sometimes catch even myself using the word hacker in the context of ‘cybercriminal’. Even if I know better, it’s a bad habit. I often try to correct myself and others but it’s an uphill battle. Let’s use more specific terms!

But a lot of the above variations have a common element: taking things apart and learning how they work and improve on them. It’s this sharing and curiosity of how things work that is at the core of the original meaning of ‘hacking’ and involve non-computer related domains as well.

I’m a big supporter of the rise of the current flood of hackerspaces around the world and also in Belgium. As these spaces embody the original meaning of hacking and enables users to learn and share knowledge. Sometimes compared to Do-it-yourself labs or workplaces (wired.com).

Frank Rieger, part of the Chaos Computer Club couldn’t have said it better in this BBC article today:

For CCC member Frank Rieger, the word hacking – the process of reconfiguring or reprogramming a system to do things that its inventor never intended – needs to be reclaimed, and stripped of negative connotations.


“We are trying to show people the beauty of technology, and how exciting it can be to find out new stuff and then do good things with that,” he says. (Source: BBC news)

Emphasis added by me. So is it time to educate the media and others to reclaim the word hacker for what it really means? It might be!

I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious — Albert Einstein

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