October 26, 2008

When did the term cracker arise?

Category: academic,Hackers,Politics — Biella @ 4:06 am

Seegras asked

Until Eric S. Raymond turns up in 1990 with this: “CRACKER (krak’r) n. One who breaks security on a system. Coined c. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of HACKER,
see definition #6.”

And I’ve never heard before of this; so I presume ESR himself decided that people who break into systems are now called by a name which some other group had already applied to themselves. I anyone has some documents referring to this kind of “crackers” from before 1990 and not from ESR, I’d be happy to hear of. And I’ve got plenty of documentation on the other “crackers”, those who crack copyprotection, from 1980 onwards…

Does anyone know the answer? Have any thoughts? I penned a few comments below as well but won’t repeat them here. His comment as well as Nona’s reminded me of this brilliant shirt crafted by Mathew Garret.


  1. Have you considered writing ESR and asking for his 1985 source(s)? If he had records then, he undoubtedly still has them, not being the type to throw stuff out.

    Comment by Karl Fogel — October 26, 2008 @ 11:14 am

  2. I think this is due to RMS.
    No proof of it being before 1990, though.

    Comment by Eric Cooper — October 26, 2008 @ 11:18 am

  3. Note, by the way, that the GNU project pretty universally maintains the hacker/cracker distinction as well. I don’t know when they started making that distinction, though.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 26, 2008 @ 11:21 am

  4. am i crazy for initially thinking your post was about the race?

    Comment by yari — October 27, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

  5. I’m pretty sure the term comes up in “The Cuckoo’s Egg” by Cliff Stoll which was pre-1990. Also, see any “cracked” video game from the 8-bit PC era, which I assume is where the term comes from.

    Comment by ss — October 28, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  6. Ok

    1) I thought you were asking about a slang term for white people there for a sec

    2) There is something interesting going on when people who advocate FOSS have a notion of cultural patrimony which leads them to believe theirs is ‘stolen’ when it is shared and publicized.

    Comment by Rex — October 29, 2008 @ 11:55 am

  7. Not sure I understood Rex’s comment… Rex, if you’re there, please elaborate.

    Comment by Karl Fogel — October 29, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  8. Crackers: Derogatory term for white people, or people who use computers to break the law?

    Cultural Patrimony: The Tshirt that Biella linked to above: “ESR Stole My Cultural Patrimony”

    Comment by Rex — October 29, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

  9. I think we both had trouble understanding what 2) means. We know what it refers to though!

    Comment by Biella — October 30, 2008 @ 3:22 am

  10. What Biella said.

    Comment by Karl Fogel — November 3, 2008 @ 9:06 am

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