Re: Current definition of a hack -reply

From: Joseph S. D. Yao (jsdyat_private)
Date: Tue May 19 1998 - 08:21:25 PDT

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    > Thank you for the URL, but the question is more in line with the recent
    > splash of IDS articles reviewing systems and why IDS systems are important
    > in detecting vulnerabilities and potential hackers.  Since the definition
    > has been slightly exaggerated to get the hype up about certain products, it
    > would be nice to have a 90's version of the definition
    Eric's screed is still pretty reasonable.
    "Hack" and "hacker" can have different connotations depending on the
    tone of voice in which it is said, much as "bad" recently had in
    certain segments of our society.  The denotation for "hack" is a piece
    of software that is non-obvious, that performs a function, and does it
    perhaps in a somewhat inspired way.  "The Art of Computer Programming"
    personified.  [Note that not all art is GOOD art.]  Things done in a
    pedestrian, software engineering manner are rarely "hacks".  Things
    done in a brilliant, inspired, yet engineering manner may qualify as
    hacks - this gets subjective.  Oh, heck, the whole thing is subjective.
    A pejorative tone of voice - "Oh Gawd, what a hack!" - connotes that
    the hack in question is inspired and bad.  Bad how?  It may be crufty,
    ugly, inelegant, non-extensible ... whatever violates the perceiver's
    aesthetics.  I tend to think of any added code that violates a
    program's initial model and pattern [assuming such exist] as a bad hack
    in this sense.  If it's unreadable and unmaintainable, I think it's a
    bad hack.  In this sense, I think of the hacker as someone wading into
    a surgical field with a dull woodaxe, and laying waste.  The result
    might work under some set of circumstances, but who knows?
    An admiring tone of voice - "Neat hack!" - connotes that the person
    saying it wishes he were sufficiently gifted [or lucky] to have thought
    of the hack in question.  For me, a neat hack must be modular [so I can
    perceive and appreciate it], clear [however many times I may have to
    read it to understand it, depending on the genius of the hacker],
    readable, and must fit the model of the problem and the rest of the
    program. In this sense, I think of the hacker as an artist - one who
    works in the medium of translating required actions into the art form
    of programming languages, and who may or may not lay down sonnet-like
    constraints on his or her art form.
    As you can tell, perception of a "hack" is more related to perception
    of art than it is to objective measurement.
    AS A SMALL AND NASTY SUBSET, there are "hackers" whose inspired works
    consist of finding the "holes" in others' software, and exploiting them
    to intrude into systems running said software.  These are more properly
    termed "crackers".
    Joe Yao				jsdyat_private - Joseph S. D. Yao
    COSPO Computer Support						EMT-A/B
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