As hacks abound--Rupert Murdoch, LulzSec, Anonymous--journalists are throwing the term around for any crime in which technology is involved, but there's some debate on the actual definition of the term. It's about time we unpacked its varied meanings. Murdoch is in the midst of a hacking scandal. Or is he? Can we really call it a "hacking" scandal? Or, did News of the World do something shady that doesn't exactly fall under the category of hacking?
There's a difference between social engineering and hacking. Sometimes people trick other people into giving them something they shouldn't. Like, in the case of NoTW, voicemail passwords. That's not hacking, but rather "social engineering," argues Adam Penenberg in Fast Company.
If what NotW, spammers, and phishers have done is hacking, then you've probably been guilty of hacking at one time or another, because this type of "social engineering" is all around us--on the train, on the web, in libraries, Congress, and on Madison Avenue. The panhandler on the subway hacked you when his sob story convinced you to fork over a buck.
Murdoch's "hacks" didn't really hack voicemails, but tricked people into providing passwords using various low-tech methods, continues Penenberg. And, just because these types of incidents involve "hackers" like LulzSec or Anonymous (or Murdoch), that does not necessarily mean a hack has happened. "I realize it's not always easy to know when something goes from simple social engineering to true-blue hacking, because incidents that involve hackers don't necessarily mean it's hacking."