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The Dark Side: Hackers versus Crackers

There are, of course, programmers who do fit the media's picture of the computer hacker. These programmers use their skills to cause trouble, crash machines, release computer viruses, steal credit card numbers, make free long distance calls (the phone system is so much like a computer system that is is a common target for computer criminals), remove copy-protection, and distribute pirated software. These people may also call themselves ``hackers,'' leading to more confusion. Hackers in the original sense of the term, however, look down on these sorts of activities. Among the programming community, and to a large extent even amongst the illegal programming community, these people are called ``crackers'' and their activities known as ``cracking'' to distinguish it from hacking.

The cracker definitely does not follow the Hacker Ethic. Even among legitimate hackers there are those who add to the Hacker Ethic the belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality. It is the hacker who uses his skill for these latter purposes who has crossed over and become a cracker.

Crackers have their own lore, their own heros, and their own set of ethics distinct from the hackers discussed in this paper. They also have much more space in the popular press.

Erik Brunvand
Tue Oct 15 13:40:41 MDT 1996