Why I’m right to use the word ‘hacker’, and will carry on using it

Hackers poster
Uh-oh. I’ve really annoyed Swapnil Bhartiya.

He’s written a blog post at Katonda which, amongst other things, takes me to task for referring to cybercriminals as “hackers”.

Bhartiya’s complaint is one that many in the IT field share – that the media has taken the word “hacker”, which used to mean simply someone who was a computer enthusiast, and now use it to mean someone who breaks into computer systems, writes malware or causes other forms of online mischief.

I have some sympathy with Bhartiya’s pedantry (after all, I’m the chap who blogged at length about how we should all say “Trojan horses” rather than “Trojans”), but he and other zealots for the preservation of the older definition of the word “hacker” are missing one fact.

The world has moved on.

One of the challenges we all face is that computer security is it is no longer an issue just of interest to those of us with beards and sandals. It’s a problem for everybody with a computer. It’s an issue for the woman who does my ironing, the vicar down the lane, my grandparents and your children.

And that means talking their language. Most people think “bad guys” if we say the word “hacker”, and we should stop trying to fool ourselves that we’re going to convince anyone to think differently.

Yes, many of us are nostalgic for the language of yesteryear but it’s more important that we spread advice and information using words that people understand, rather than tie ourselves in knots of our own making.