Redefining Hacker

This post was triggered in part by a comment on the CrashBang Labs facebook page. I won’t call out the specific person, but the general idea was that we shouldn’t call CB a “hackerspace” because the policies of the group frown upon security-related “hacking”.

As the founder of HackREGINA, I’ve had to consistently fight against this stereotypical view of hackers when asking for sponsorships or talking to the media or general public. The last few years of media coverage have painted hackers to be those shady individuals who can type 200 wpm and break into any secure system they want to steal any information they want. No. This is wrong. Wikipedia knows it, and even the individual communities of both Hackers and Crackers (the actual term for those groups) know it.

Hackers are the people who “enjoy exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness”. This group of people are the ones who make software or hardware and share it with the public for free, who value the freedom of inquiry and use information sharing as both an ideal and practical strategy. This group of people solve problems using hardware and software hacks, just because they can. These people value sharing, openness, and collaboration. Popular hackers include Linus Torvalds, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, and more. These people have advanced the community, and in turn most of the modern world, not for profit, but because they had the curisoity and knowledge to do so.

Crackers, in contrast, focus specifically on computer security. These are the people that the media talk about, the ones that you hear getting arrested and the people with 12 monitors and 200 wpm in the movies. Of course, this is pretty far from the truth – there’s a bunch of sub-cultures within the cracker definition. I won’t go into them, but you can read all about it on the wikipedia page. I have absolutely nothing against crackers, in fact there are a lot of them that do good work such as white-hat security professionals. It’s only a problem when the media gets involved, or when people misunderstand the term Hackerspace or Hackathon, and impede the progress of what would otherwise be great and beneficial organizations.

Futhermore, and this is targeted to Mr. “you guys should change your name ‘cause you’re not really hackers”, if you were truly a part of that scene you probably wouldn’t 1) advertise it in a public forum like facebook, and 2) expect to meet with a bunch of your peers in a well-advertised public place. If what you do is so “theoretically illegal”, why would you want to advertise the location of where you’re doing it? That’s comparable to having a “drug dealers anonymous” and not expecting the RCMP to show up.

I guess it really just bothered me because of all the positive work that hackerspaces and hackathons have done in the last few years, especially locally, that it really takes just one person posting in a public forum to throw all of that under the bus. And just one media rep to find that post and use it to paint a negative light on hackerspaces and all the good work that’s been done.