How to catch a cracker in the US?

James R Cutler james.cutler at
Thu Mar 13 15:45:16 UTC 2014

On Mar 13, 2014, at 11:08 AM, William Herrin <bill at> wrote:
> On Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 10:13 AM,  <Valdis.Kletnieks at> wrote:
>> On Thu, 13 Mar 2014 13:22:40 -0000, "Sholes, Joshua" said:
>>> If one came up in this field with a mentor who was old school, or if one
>>> is old school oneself, one tends use the original (as I understand it)
>>> definitions--a "cracker" breaks security or obtains data unlawfully, a
>>> "hacker" is someone who likes ethically playing (in the "joyful
>>> exploration" sense) with complicated systems.
>> For the old-schoolers, a "cracker" would violate the CFAA to get into a system.
>> A hacker would produce a long list of ways to get in without violating the CFAA.
>> Unfortunately, we no longer have a well-established word for the latter
>> class of people.
> You're all talkin' 1990s redefinitions here. 1980s crackers cracked
> the copy protections on software (DRM in modern parlance) while
> hackers broke in to online systems. Even that is a redefinition.
> Before that, hackers were anyone who jovially pranked a system in a
> manner typically unlawful which involved creativity and technical
> challenge.
> For example, "hackers" might arrange for live cattle to appear on the
> top of the great dome at MIT.
> Regards,
> Bill Herrin

And Bill documents yet another redefinition.  Prior to that time, at MIT a “hacker” produced a novel variation of technology using it in ways not previously envisioned but not necessarily unlawful.  

Mating two different generations of telephone keysets or reducing a complex rack mount filter to a single small circuit board with an FET or two are just a couple of examples.  One was just a “hack”, the other an “elegant hack”.  We just called the moving of the rocket a “prank”. 


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