[ISN] 'Hacker' is too cutesy a word to describe what's really going on

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Oct 07 2002 - 01:37:18 PDT

  • Next message: InfoSec News: "[ISN] Russian hacker sentenced to 3 years in prison"

    Business Speak
    Oct. 6, 2002
    J. Robert Parkinson
    It's usually interesting, sometimes amusing and always important to
    pay close attention to all the words we use. We make choices not only
    in business communications, but also in our everyday lives, and we
    should be careful.
    Words are labels that become significant in the way we respond to
    situations. They carry strong meanings, and they often influence the
    way we act.
    I was reminded of this recently when I read a news story about
    "hackers" breaking into the secure computer of a major U.S.  
    corporation. These "hackers" were teenagers, and the story described
    them as "good kids" who just wanted to see if they could do it. No
    harsh penalty was suggested because they didn't do anything "really
    On the surface this seemed to be innocent enough because they were
    just kids, and they weren't being malicious, only irresponsible and
    inquisitive. They didn't mean any harm. They were, after all, just
    That word, "hacker," itself seems innocent because it sounds kind of
    frivolous. The word makes the action seem unimportant, but the action
    is serious. The action is called "breaking and entering," and that's
    another name for "burglary."
    A "hacker" isn't a cute character; he is a felon. Perpetrators often
    justify their actions by saying something to the effect that, "If
    someone can get into the computer it isn't secure. If the companies
    made their systems secure, I wouldn't be able to get in. I can get in,
    so it's the company's fault for not making it secure."
    This doesn't make any sense. There is nothing more physically
    vulnerable and less secure than a letter sitting in a mailbox. Anyone,
    even a child, can take a letter out of a mailbox and open it. Yet mail
    is secure in this country.
    Physical and technological barriers don't provide the protection, but
    mail is secure because of a mental attitude. It's just plain wrong,
    not to mention illegal, to open someone else's mail. Doing so is a
    serious federal criminal offense. People go to jail for stealing mail.
    If the hacker mentality were applied to mail, a mailbox would have to
    be armor plated, chained and locked so no one could possibly open it.  
    Imagine how difficult it would be to build a mailbox at your home or
    office that was invulnerable to anyone who wanted to take out a letter
    "just to see if he could"?
    Our national mind-set is what makes mail secure. The same should be
    true for information on a computer. Just because it's possible to get
    at electronic information doesn't give anyone the license to do it any
    more than being able to open someone's mailbox gives anyone permission
    to do that.
    Society would never tolerate a "United States mail hacker," and there
    is no reason to tolerate a computer hacker.
    Clear and accurate communication is essential for business to be
    successful. In a past column, I quoted my first-grade teacher, who
    often said, "Say what you mean, and mean what you say."
    I don't think she would ever use the light-hearted word "hacker" for
    such a serious activity. She would have a much stronger word. Perhaps
    all of us in business should use equally strong and clear language,
    and place the responsibility or blame where it belongs.
    The way we use language defines both our companies and us as
    Honesty, clarity and accuracy go hand in hand. With increasing
    frequency, business executives are focusing on ethics and honesty and
    the need to do what is right - not just what someone can get away
    Choose your words well, and then stand behind them. They are the
    spotlight that helps others see you and your company. Be sure what
    they see is what you want them to see.
    Use the "hacker" label as an example. He is a criminal, and that's
    what he should be called. That's being honest, and honesty is what
    business has to demonstrate today more than ever. All of our clients
    and customers are watching and listening.
    We better be sure we're using the right words and sending the right
    messages if we want to stay around for a while.
    J. Robert Parkinson is a communications consultant working in private
    industry, government and higher education. He has written five books
    and hosted numerous radio and television programs. He can be reached
    at jrpat_private or at www.jrparkinson.com.
    ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org
    To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn'
    in the BODY of the mail.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Oct 07 2002 - 04:32:37 PDT