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By Bruce Sussman
Mon | Mar 4, 2019 | 8:06 AM PST

What is a hacker? How do you define hacker?

Lots of people ask Google this very question each year. And like a lot of terms, there are some interesting ideas out there on what a hacker is, what a hacker does, and how you define the term hacker.

Idea #1: how do you define hacker?

The HackerOne bug bounty program recently defined hacker like this:

"Noun. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming limitations."

While that certainly is true, don't you feel it is too open-ended?

That definition could apply to a chemist, a server at the Olive Garden when there's a shortage of breadsticks, or (hopefully) most people in your organization.

We all have to overcome limitations in work and in life, right?

Idea #2: how do you define hacker?

So let's narrow the definition of hacker down a bit: What is a hacker according to the old standard, the Merriam-Webster dictionary?

Webster's defines hacker this way:

  1. one that hacks [author's note: obviously!]
  2.  a person who is inexperienced or unskilled at a particular activity, a tennis hacker [author's note: could still apply to someone new to computer hacking]
  3. an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer [author's note: seems legitimate]
  4. a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system [author's note: this one could probably be changed to "a person who legally or illegally gains access to...."]

The suggested change in point 4 would cover white hat hackers who help improve security and those black hat hackers who try to break down cybersecurity to cause harm.

Idea #3: how do you define hacker?

And that is the spirit of how Technopedia defines a hacker.

"A hacker utilizes alternative system access methods to sabotage computer systems and networks.

Hacking actions are differentiated as illegal and unacceptable (black/grey hat hacking), or legal and acceptable (white hat hacking)."

The term "alternative system access methods" seems to fit perfectly with how a hacker gets into networks, and the second part of the definition nails the white hat hacker versus black hat hacker.

So these are three ways you can define hacker. 

Does this fit with your definition of a hacker—what are we missing? Let us know in the comments below.

[RESOURCE: Collaborate with your InfoSec peers at SecureWorld 2019]