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  • Foto del escritorElena Contreras Saura

Do you mean cybercriminal?

There is a common misconception in mass media about two terms related to the cybersphere. I am talking about two terms that often are used indiscriminately but have some notorious differences. Some of you might have guessed what I am talking about.

Exactly! Hackers and cybercriminals.


If you search the word “hacker” in different dictionaries you would find out various definitions:

Merriam-Webster definition of hacker:

  1. one that hacks

  2. a person who is inexperienced or unskilled at a particular activity: a tennis hacker

  3. an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer

  4. a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system

Oxford dictionary:

  1. A person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data.

    1. An enthusiastic and skillful computer programmer or user.

  2. A person or thing that hacks or cuts roughly.

Cambridge dictionary definition:

  1. someone who gets into other people's computer systems without permission to find out information or to do something illegal :

  2. (in US English): a person who is skilled in the use of computer systems, often the one who illegally obtains access to private computer systems:

RAE definition:

  1. A person who illegally accesses third-party computer systems to appropriate them or obtain secret information.

  2. A person with great computer skills who investigates a computer system to warn of failures and develop improvement techniques.


If you search the word “cybercriminal”:


Actor of criminal activity (such as fraud, theft, or distribution of child pornography) committed using a computer especially to illegally access, transmit, or manipulate data

Oxford dictionary: A person who engages in criminal activity by means of computers or the internet.


Actor of crime or illegal activity that is done using the internet.


Besides finding some definitions in which hacker and cybercriminal are synonyms the difference is very clear. But it was only a few years ago (in 2017) when the Spanish dictionary added the last exception to the word “Hacker”. One that did not include any link between the Hacker and the illegal activity. Meanwhile, INCIBE had already included these differences in their outreach activity.

The definition of a hacker has developed since it came into use during the 50s. Today, the hacking and technology community does not read this term in its pejorative meaning. Instead, when they were asked - in a black channel's post - for a definition of what a hacker was, they came up with some genuine definitions such as:

"A hacker approaches everything in the world for what it can be, not what it is, and colors outside and over the lines"

- Matt Mullenweg


The activity of hackers and cybercriminals might be the same, but the difference is their use to their activity. While hackers do not have malicious intentions, cybercriminals do.

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