Pretend that this is not copy-pasted
Currently, "hacker" is used in two main conflicting ways as someone who is able to subvert computer security; if doing so for malicious purposes, the person can also be called a cracker. a member of the Unix or the free and open source software programming subcultures, or one who uses such a style of software or hardware development. The controversy is usually based on the assumption that the term originally meant someone messing about with something in a positive sense, that is, using playful cleverness to achieve a goal. But then, it is supposed, the meaning of the term shifted over the decades since it first came into use in a computer context and came to refer to computer criminals.
As usage has spread more widely, the primary misunderstanding of newer users conflicts with the original primary emphasis. In popular usage and in the media, computer intruders or criminals is the exclusive meaning today, with associated pejorative connotations. (For example, "An Internet 'hacker' broke through state government security systems in March.") In the computing community, the primary meaning is a complimentary description for a particularly brilliant programmer or technical expert. (For example, "Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, is considered by some to be a hacker.") A large segment of the technical community insist the latter is the "correct" usage of the word (see the Jargon File definition below).
The mainstream media's current usage of the term may be traced back to the early 1980s. When the term was introduced to wider society by the mainstream media in 1983, even those in the computer community referred to computer intrusion as "hacking", although not as the exclusive use of that word. In reaction to the increasing media use of the term exclusively with the criminal connotation, the computer community began to differentiate their terminology. Alternative terms such as "cracker" were coined in an effort to distinguish between those adhering to the historical use of the term "hack" within the programmer community and those performing computer break-ins. Further terms such as "black hat", "white hat" and "gray hat" developed when laws against breaking into computers came into effect, to distinguish criminal activities and those activities which were legal.
However, since network news use of the term pertained primarily to the criminal activities despite this attempt by the technical community to preserve and distinguish the original meaning, the mainstream media and general public continue to describe computer criminals with all levels of technical sophistication as "hackers" and do not generally make use of the word in any of its non-criminal connotations. Members of the media sometimes seem unaware of the distinction, grouping legitimate "hackers" such as Linus Torvalds and Steve Wozniak along with criminal "crackers".
As a result of this difference, the definition is the subject of heated controversy. The wider dominance of the pejorative connotation is resented by many who object to the term being taken from their cultural jargon and used negatively, including those who have historically preferred to self-identify as hackers. Many advocate using the more recent and nuanced alternate terms when describing criminals and others who negatively take advantage of security flaws in software and hardware. Others prefer to follow common popular usage, arguing that the positive form is confusing and unlikely to become widespread in the general public. A minority still stubbornly use the term in both original senses despite the controversy, leaving context to clarify (or leave ambiguous) which meaning is intended.
However, the positive definition of hacker was widely used as the predominant form for many years before the negative definition was popularized. "Hacker" can therefore be seen as a shibboleth, identifying those who use the technically oriented sense (as opposed to the exclusively intrusion-oriented sense) as members of the computing community.
A possible middle ground position has been suggested, based on the observation that "hacking" describes a collection of skills which are used by hackers of both descriptions for differing reasons. The analogy is made to locksmithing, specifically picking locks, which — aside from its being a skill with a fairly high tropism to 'classic' hacking — is a skill which can be used for good or evil. The primary weakness of this analogy is the inclusion of script kiddies in the popular usage of "hacker", despite the lack of an underlying skill and knowledge base. Sometimes, hacker also is simply used synonymous to geek: "A true hacker is not a group person. He's a person who loves to stay up all night, he and the machine in a love-hate relationship... They're kids who tended to be brilliant but not very interested in conventional goals[...] It's a term of derision and also the ultimate compliment."
Fred Shapiro thinks that "the common theory that 'hacker' originally was a benign term and the malicious connotations of the word were a later perversion is untrue." He found out that the malicious connotations were present at MIT in 1963 already (quoting The Tech, an MIT student newspaper) and then referred to unauthorized users of the telephone network, that is, the phreaker movement that developed into the computer security hacker subculture of today.