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Hackers and Crackers: The Critical Difference

Hackers and Crackers: The Critical Difference

Every once in a while, you’ll hear a news report about a hacker breaking into a system in a large company or causing some sort of trouble. Many people aren’t aware, however, that the media incorrectly uses the term “hacker” when describing the situation.

Hackers are shown in television and movies as a sort of super-intelligent criminal. Sometimes they are fighting against a corrupt government or otherwise using their abilities for good. Other times, they are malicious and are terrorizing people with their skills. There are all sorts of fantasy hacker scenarios in entertainment, but when’s the last time you saw a movie on someone labeled as a heroic or criminal cracker?

Reporters usually mix up the word “hacker” with the correct term, “cracker.” Unless you enjoy computers or work closely with them, you probably don’t know the difference.

In this guide, we will be using the term “hacker” to refer to someone that’s breaking through your WordPress website’s security. However, it is important that you understand the difference between the two phrases.

First, let’s define what they mean. We’ll start with the more popular expression, “hacker.”


A hacker is a person who is familiar with the internal systems of a computer or network. Hackers are enthusiastic about computers and enjoy exploring and learning about how they work. They are often computer programmers or designers.

The media often portrays the word in a criminal sense, and this is often where the non-technical crowd gets confused. When you hear on the news about a hacker attacking a bank, what they’re actually referring to is a cracker.

It’s important to realize that there is nothing illegal about being a hacker. The word doesn’t imply that anything illicit is taking place. It is no more illegal to hack a system you own than it is for you to look under the hood of your car.

However, when someone else comes along and starts looking under your car’s hood without your permission, then that is where the line gets crossed. There may also be laws regarding what kind of modifications you can make to your own car, such as installing tinted windows.

Hackers occasionally get in trouble by going too far. Once a hacker starts performing illegal actions through hacking, they can be correctly classified as a cracker.


Crackers are also computer and network enthusiasts. The difference is that crackers use their knowledge of computer systems to break into secured systems that they have no authority over. Such actions include (but are not limited to) breaking into systems they do not have permission to access, stealing information, and corrupting data.

Even the legitimate use of the term “cracker” doesn’t necessarily mean that something illegal is happening, though. Most crackers do their work illegally, but not all. Some companies hire crackers to intentionally break into their systems. This may sound crazy, but the goal is to expose weak spots that a real cracker could exploit so that they can be patched up.

Here, the cracker is legally doing an act that would normally be illegal. This is similar to how police may hire minors to attempt to buy alcohol at a bar, in an effort to test if the bar is following the law about checking the IDs of patrons.

If you really want to get your vocabulary correct, you’ll have to throw some adjectives on there. Criminal crackers or malicious crackers are a few you could use.

You can think of crackers as being a type of hacker. Additionally, you could say crackers are hackers, but hackers aren’t crackers. It’s like saying all German Shepherds are dogs, but not all dogs are German Shepherds.

Why the Confusion?

Not a lot of people run around calling any dog they see a German Shepard. After all, a Golden Retriever and a Dalmatian are different breeds and wouldn’t be classified as a German Shepard. So why have the words “cracker” and “hacker” become mixed up?

It may be in part that they sound so similar. They rhyme, and cracker has only one more letter than hacker. Additionally, their definitions are very similar.

Some hackers take offense to the use of the term. With the way the word is portrayed in movies and in the news, it leads people to believe that all hackers are crackers, and that being a hacker automatically means you commit crimes.

Remember, it isn’t incorrect to refer to a cracker as a hacker, just as it wouldn’t be wrong to call a German Shepard a dog. But when someone who isn’t familiar with technological terms only hears the word “hacker” to describe these people, they have no reason not to believe that’s the correct word.

With how the word “hacker” is used in the media, and has been for years, it can be acceptably used to refer to a cracker. Also, from this point forward, this guide refers to anyone attempting to break into your WordPress system as a hacker. However, it is important to know the difference between the two. This way, you can clarify if need be, and not make assumptions about people based on simply if you know they’re a “hacker.”

What Do Hackers Want?

What does a hacker stand to gain by breaking into your website? Some see it as a way to make a monetary gain. For example, a hacker who tries to steal credit card numbers from a bank may be trying to steal someone’s bank account or identity. An identity can be sold and resold to a variety of buyers who would use it for illegal business practices.

Sometimes the hacker isn’t after your money, however. Maybe you just happened to upset the wrong person, who then decides to have a vendetta against your website or blog. They may try to hack your site and take your server offline, disrupting business. They could also edit your website and put damaging information on your pages that would drive away readers or customers.

Perhaps a hacker stumbles onto your website. Suppose you’ve made a statement on your site that contradicts a strong belief the hacker holds. Instead of deciding to go on their merry way and agreeing to disagree, they may take this as a reason to attack you.

Also, there are hackers out there that simply love the idea of doing something naughty. These hackers tend to be in the younger generations, so they’re looking to entertain themselves and prove how “cool” they are to their friends and strangers. They may not mean any serious harm to you, but the damage they can cause should still be taken seriously.

Hackers may look at your security system as a personal challenge, as if you’re daring them to attack. Their pride compels them to try and take control of your system. There’s no greater satisfaction for them than when they succeedthe more difficult the lock, the more interested they will be.

Whatever the case, it’s important to keep your security tightly locked and updated. You never want to put your WordPress site at risk of being hacked. Following basic security precautions, keeping your system up-to-date, and having good security systems are vital to securing your website. 

This is a chapter out of my WordPress book about Hackers and Crackers. WordPress Security: Protection from Hackers and Crackers
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About Lambert Klein

Lambert Klein
Lambert Klein is that inspirational older brother you wish you had; that guy who knows all the ways to be successful at online marketing and is willing to share his secrets with you.

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