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What Is a Hacker?

News stories commonly call computer criminals "hackers." But are they really hackers? Eric Raymond, author of The New Hacker's Dictionary, says, "Real hackers call these people 'crackers' and want nothing to do with them... being able to break security doesn't make you a hacker any more than being able to hot wire cars makes you an automotive engineer. Unfortunately, many journalists and writers have been fooled into using the word 'hacker' to describe crackers; this irritates real hackers no end...

"The basic difference is, hackers build things; crackers break them."

The computer file version of this dictionary is known as the "Hacker Jargon File." It adds that a hacker is "A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary."

You can find a current version of the Hacker Jargon File at http://catb.org/jargon/.

What Is an Überhacker?

"Über" means "over" or "super" in German, as in übermensch - the superman described by Nietzsche and taught in his Praktikum des Übermenschen (practical course of the supermen, a group that met regularly to try to figure out how to be über).

However, über anything gives many people the creeps, and for good reason. Nietzsche's philosophy was an inspiration to Adolph Hitler and his Nazis, the German leaders who brought us the Second World War. From 1938 through 1945, the violence and privation of that war killed an estimated 100 million people.

Does my writing about überwhatever mean I sympathize with Nietzsche's followers? No way. Even Nietzsche himself must have spun in his grave at what Hitler did with his ideas. Nietzsche once said "Against war it may be said it makes the victors stupid and the vanquished revengeful."

Unfortunately, many people who call themselves "hackers" have more in common with Hitler than Nietzche. They act arrogant and insulting in chat groups and believe they have the right to invade people's privacy, steal money from credit cards and censor the Internet by warring against those with whom they disagree. These people are not überhackers. They aren't even hackers. We call them script kiddies or kode kiddies.

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