Words are powerful, no argument there. Words shape what we see (not just what we look at) and words shape our understanding of the world around us. Some words have been beautifully chosen while others remain questionably in existence only to serve confusion and engender ambiguity. Once such example is the word “hacker”.
In days of old, ok, not that old, a hacker was someone who lived, eat and breathed binary. They were the geeks of the day and relished their 10000 hours on the computer with zeal. They were not necessarily deviant or trying to overthrow governments, banks or universities. They just (mostly) coded. And then somewhere between 1980 and 2000, the meaning of the word changed and now a hacker is largely understood to be a “bad” person. And I use the term “bad” loosely because one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Heck, these days, just participating in a DDoS (even unknowingly- ha!) can get you labelled a “hacker”. Oooo…
Phishing is another one. I have trouble with the word phishing. Just coming up with the term and calling ‘it’ by something else robs the essence of what ‘it’ is. Let’s face it, phishing is fraud- on so many levels.
If someone knocked on your door, dressed as a policeman, claiming to be a policeman, flashed a policeman badge and requested to enter your house on the premise of official police business (but he wasn’t a policeman)- he would be arrested, tried, found guilty and sent to jail for doing only that. He wouldn’t even need to enter your house to make new chums in the block. He just needs to pretend to be someone he’s not in order to gain something that’s not his. He’s a conman. A fraud. A liar. A cheat. A decepticon.
Do this online (or via text) and you’re only phishing. Happily, justice departments see through the thin veil that the word phishing tries to hide. They apply existing criminal codes which match the behaviour of the phishing agent(s) and go to trial based on that but we tend to be blasÃ© about the word despite very real consequences. Only when there’s a consequence do we upgrade our language and start calling it for what it is: fraud.
Hopefully, with time, the word phishing will convey a stronger sense of immorality. That way, when we are confronted with phishing emails, sms, phone calls, we take them a little more seriously. Not just, “Oh. Spam. Delete”. If some “policeman” was walking around your neighbourhood knocking on everybody’s door, asking to come in, would you just: “Oh. Fake. Close door.” and carry on as you were? Or would you: “Uh-oh. Call the real cops. There’s a phony on the prowl”?
Continuing with cliche abuse, evil reigns when good men do nothing. With Data Protection Day coming up (28 January 2010), think for a moment about your contribution to the battle against fraud.