I can’t take it anymore! Nearly every time I have listened to or read the news few weeks I have heard the term “hacking” abused, usually in reference to News of the World. The constant references to “The News of the World phone hacking scandal“ show that these reporters are hopelessly clueless in technical matters, and should not report on anything technology related until they do some research. According to the reports, all that was involved was voicemail PIN guessing and a little social engineering, neither of which fit under the definition of hacking. Guessing default passwords is easy, and in no way can be considered hacking, though it can be considered cracking. Since the PINs were guessed to gain access to voicemail, it could fit under a loose definition of phreaking, but not hacking. The other part of gaining access to the PINs involved talking to the phone companies. This is called social engineering, though apparently those involved called it “blagging”. This is also not a form of hacking.

Since no hacking was involved in the scandal, it would be more proper to call it “The News of the World voicemail scandal”, or “The latest News Corp scandal”. Since this hasn’t been common, it is clear that these are hack reporters and their stories should be treated with greater than usual skepticism. This is unfortunate, since these reports came from usually reliable sources such as The New York Times, ProPublica, McClatchy, and NPR. Heck, on NPR there have even been a number of non-Murdoch related stories where hack has been abused. Remember, misusing the word hack is one of the signs that someone doesn’t have basic competence in technology. This is also a good time to mention Steven Levy’s book Hackers. If you don’t understand the definition of hack, you should read this book.


  title={Hackers: heroes of the computer revolution},
  author={Steven Levy},

While I’m at it, here’s an article posted today that uses hacking correctly.