Definition

computer cracker

What is a computer cracker?

A computer cracker is an outdated term used to describe someone who broke into computer systems, bypassed passwords or licenses in computer programs, or in other ways intentionally breached computer security. Computer crackers were motivated by malicious intent, for profit or just because the challenge is there.

Computer cracker vs. hacker

The antiquated phrase computer cracker is not used anymore. It was originally proposed as an antonym, or the opposite, of the term hacker. Hacker initially applied to only those who used their computing skills without malicious intent -- they broke into systems to identify or solve technical issues. Skillful technologists with altruistic motives were called hackers; those with bad intent were called computer crackers. This distinction never gained much traction, however.

In 1993, the Internet Users' Glossary defined hacker as "a person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular. The term is often misused in a pejorative context, where 'cracker' would be the correct term."

The Glossary defined a computer cracker as "an individual who attempts to access computer systems without authorization. These individuals are often malicious, as opposed to hackers, and have many means at their disposal for breaking into a system."

The term computer cracker was subsequently subsumed by the term black hat, another outdated term for threat actor.

It should be noted, however, that people today rarely distinguish between ethical hackers and malicious hackers. Although hackers, by definition, do not have malicious intent, some people assume malicious intent when the word is used in everyday context.

Types of computer crackers

A computer cracker has also referred to users who break into copyrighted software or devices. Jailbreaking is a common example of cracking. Jailbreaking removes restrictions a manufacturer sets in the phone's software. By bypassing the restrictions, the user can perform more advanced functions on the phone or use it on a different network.

Cracking also applies to password cracking. A password cracker is an application designed to identify passwords to computers or network resources.

TechTarget is responding to readers' concerns as well as profound cultural changes when it comes to certain commonly used but potentially linguistically biased terms. In some cases, we are defaulting to industry-standard terminology that may be seen as linguistically biased in instances where we have not found a replacement term. However, we are actively seeking out and giving preference to terms that properly convey meaning and intent without the potential to perpetuate negative stereotypes.

This was last updated in April 2021

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