Friday, 17 October 2008

The hacker, the cracker and the scener

It seems that my anti-hacker posts will never seize to appear. In fact I am really motivated to get more into it in any way possible :P

I will just make some comparisons now of the average person in three different communities. And two funny analogies too.. (my favorites :)

First, some distinctions have to be made. I will be shortly talking about the hacker, the cracker and the scener. I will define their meaning at least as used in this post. I need to be sure that no misunderstandings will take place because of a different understanding of the same words and that my point will be understood.

The hacker: I know that you don't like the use of this term to describe these electronic pranksters as seen on TV (Neither do I). In this post though I will use it as it is (even without the quotes) and I will mean only the definition as portrayed by the mass media and adapted by our own culture. I will not mean in this post by the word "hacker" the hobbyist programmer, the computer enthousiast or the computer pioneers of the past. Please understand this is just for the purpose of the post and as means to be understood even by the illiterate.

The cracker: Be careful to my definition of this term for the purpose of this post! This is not the term used in hacker ethics to differentiate from the programmer to the electronic prankster. It does not mean the bad hacker or the script kiddie here. It is about the software cracker, the dude who managed to overpass the copy protection of commercial software, makes serial number generators or even makes those nice cracktro screens with gfx/music and sometimes (maybe in the past) option for infitive lives/energy/etc. While piracy is also ethically questionable, in my opinion this guy has not much to do with the hacker as described in the previous paragraph in my opinion.

The scener: Some people say that the demoscene has it's ancestors in the cracking scene (as described in the previous paragraph). Some of the software crackers except from removing the copy protection from the commercial software, also did code some sort of a graphical screen with some music, a logo of the cracking group and a scrolling text with greeting/fuckings to various other crackers and other messages. These are the cracktros accompanied some pirated games which some of you might remember a lot of years ago even though they are not too frequent today. Some of the crackers who liked doing these intros stop their cracking abilities and just released similar cracktros (later called intros or demos (from demonstration)) purely for artistic purposes. When I first got involved in the demoscene I had no idea about the cracking scene. I just liked to code demonstrations of graphic algorithms synced to the music and release them to the public. Demoscene has nothing to do with "illegal" (as in piracy) cracking activities except for the roots (how the cracktros evolved into the scene demos of today).

In a nutshell:

What my terms mean here is:

The hacker is mostly caring about the reach of his goal which is to get access to some server in order to make some supposedly "cool" act as defacing a website, spreading a virus, stealing some private informations or maybe make a political statement. The primary force that drove most of these dudes into hacking could be because it sounded "cool" or maybe they thought romantically that they are heros fighting against the system or anything. They don't really care much about knowledge or programming skills as they just really dream for the time they make a cool "hack" into the pentagon or something. 98% "coolness" / 2% soul in my opinion.

The cracker mostly cares about the challenge of breaking that copy protection scheme, reverse engineering the algorithm behind those serial codes, disassembling commercial software and make few improvements here and there, etc. They get commercial software from suppliers and send cracked versions to the warez dudez who are responsible for spreading the pirated (and cracked) copies. Sometimes they code cracktros attached to the software and run before it starts, to claim how leet they are. The cracker may not care whether software piracy is accepted or not, they are more driven from the challenge of bypassing the protection against piracy and they feel very proud if succeed. Not much code or work is needed to achieve this but they know what a disassembler is and use it regularly for example. Funny thing is that I have met two crackers in the past and they both ignored or even snobbed my demoscene involvement while bragging about their cracking activities. There is a feeling of leetness in this scene but at least it's not about pranks on the internet and those dudes know a bit about programming and love the challenge. 70% coolness / 30% work (always in my opinion).

The scener in his first days had watched some demos done from older scene veterans and for some reasons he really liked the graphics algorithms, music and programming effort went into it. He actually liked the demos alone for their feeling and creativity and thought he'd really like to learn how to create something like that. He is in a great need for being creative with his computer and show that he can do something cool rather than spend time gaming, chatting or watching porn. It's hard at the beginning, needs a lot of effort to learn good programming, optimizations, mathematics, graphics algorithms or even how to choose the proper colors for his demo, it's even hard to organize this one with other sceners who are willing to paint computer graphics or write some music for you and put all things together in a nice presentation. Ripping a demo and presenting it as yours is more than lame in the scene because the whole purpose of what we are doing is to work hard and create a pleasing realtime demonstration of graphics algorithms, art and sound, the creative road taken is the soul of demomaking (entirely opposite from hacking, where someone can even succeed sometimes doing a "lucky" hack in a website and brag about it strongly). Of course there is a bit of a feeling of leetness in the scene too, we use cool sounding nicks and group names and argue with each other too, as in cracking and hacking, something that happens in a lesser or greater degree in every other community now I am thinking it. But the greatest motivation to join was initially to create something like the first demos we have seen and loved, no matter if some of us needed that for curing their low self-esteem too. (I am talking about myself here :)) 20% coolness / 80% creativity.

And now my favorites!

A scener is someone who walks several miles to reach his destination although he enjoys the walk. A lot of obstacles and problems are to be passed on his way. There is a great prize at the end for the good effort.

The cracker needs to jump over a protective electric fence to get to the other side. There is a ramp there at the right position and he finds a broken motorcycle. With his tools he manages to fix it and jump on the other side. He finds the switch to turn off the electric fence and cuts an opening in the fence with his tools for others to get through.

The hacker enters into the back of the car of a careless driver who stops to take a piss. The driver gets back and drives to his home. The hacker gets out, gets into the driver's house without to be seen and starts writing messages with spray over the wall. Sometimes he leaves the place, sometimes he breaks some furniture or beat the crap out of the driver too. And at the end he brags about it, thinks he is a hero and even some people congratulate him for his acts because they have heard it's to be respected.

Another one. What if sometimes even sceners or crackers seem to be engaged into hacker's activities? Why would that happen in any of these cases?

The scener is a scientist who except from his primary expertise also happens to be engaged into lock picking as a hobby because it's a tricky thing to do(like Feynmann for example). At best he finds a safe target just to experiment, not someone else's house.

The cracker is into lock picking sometimes. It's a similar technical challenge as his primary cracking activities and gives him back some more of the leetness that makes him feel special. He tries lockpicking and maybe breaks into some house. He maybe steals some food to eat or supply to other people who need it.

The hacker most of the times cannot even bother to lockpick but slams the door with a kick and gets inside. He either writes some messages with spray upon the walls or furniture with texts that mock the owner, sometimes he may steal some money or only in rare situations breaks everything apart or kills the owners. In the end he things he is a great respected scientist, a brilliant mind or a hero of the revolution because lockpicking is what Feynmann is into also. Most of the people think that these dudes are like robin hood and praise them. When you have a different opinion they blame you of being ignorant or working for something they call "the system".

I said things as raw as I could. Trying to be as exhibitive as possible. And you have seen nothing yet..

Now, to the people who still think I shouldn't be using the term "hacker" to describe what I am talking about in this post I have to say this. Nobody is using or understands the distinction term "cracker". (with which definition I also disagree because there is another scene of software crackers that have almost nothing to do with the new hacker definition (in either color of hats)) It doesn't show the real problem here. We, computer enthousiasts and hardcore programmers are not called hackers anymore. Our image to the average person is of geeks rather than revolutionary heros as seen on TV. And the new definition is deeply into our culture and only confuses things if we try to both keep the old and new definitions or even try to put different titles, not understanding at the end which activities we praise or blame given the words used.

If for example I started by saying that hacker is defined as a programming pioneer of the past that is bound to be respected and then tried to either use the same or even a distinction term (like your bad hacker "cracker") to describe it, people would still click to the well known cool sounding of the word "hacker" and further attribute the good things of the old definition you describe with their liking of the new definition everybody understands. What we would have here as a result is people thinking that illegally attacking or taking access into computer networks is to be respected and it's called "hacking" and it's done by computer gods and think that your distinction talks about the difference between good and evil hackers who both invade into computer networks but for different reasons. This is why I insisted only on the new term definition, because this is what people think either ways and I really wanted to make it clear to them that this one is not romantic or heroic but purely lame.

I thought about the term "neohacker". If you speak to people that people who invade computer networks are called "crackers" (or anything else not using the synthetic word "hacker") they will not understand. Nobody calls anyone cracker outside the world to mean anything like that. It's not deep into their culture as the romantic or heroic sounding word "hacker". And you will confuse the things more. I thought that "neohacker" still having the synthetic "hacker" into it would drag people's attention but make the distinction nicely. "Neo" refers to the new definition of the later generations. "Hacker" with the quotes wouldn't make it because if not written it sounds the same. But "neohacker" would still drag attention and yet not being forgotten as "cracker" and also can easilly make the distinction.

In fact neither "neohacker" would do it because those electronic pranksters and wannabe rebellions would still think they are called hackers and that only the bad sides of their activity is called neohacking. Where they would still think that defacing a website is on the good or accepted side (since it doesn't "destroy" anything, hell yet in my opinion it kills a lot of the precious time of people behind the website or the admins, frustrates people and is simply childish :P). But I will use the term more frequently in the future. Not much that can be done when something enters our culture and stays. But we can forget these terms for a while and just concentrate on criticizing these not really to be respected activities. If only meanings wouldn't be distorted because of the words used..

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