Hackers at Microsoft?! Now wait a minute ...

Microsoft has decided to drop the term "hacker" from a new security blog on MSDN.

For the record, there are hackers at Microsoft. Just don't call them hackers.

In August, a blogger using the handle "Techjunkie" started a Microsoft Developer Network blog called Hackers @ Microsoft that, he claimed, would introduce the world to some of the ethical "white hat" hackers working there.

White hat hackers are security professionals who use many of the same techniques as the bad guys, but who learn how to break into systems for research purposes only. "The focus of this blog is likely to be a little different from most other blogs you'll see on blogs.msdn.com," Techjunkie wrote.

Then he went silent for a month and a half.

Late Thursday, however, Techjunkie resurfaced, saying that he was dropping the Hackers @ Microsoft name. "There was some concerns raised that the average blog reading audience may not be able to discern the difference, and we may inadvertently associate Microsoft with the negative connotations of the word 'hacker' that is out there," he wrote.

Techjunkie didn't say whether the decision to drop the name came from Microsoft's marketing department, but if it did, he's found a way to get even. "To alleviate that concern, I've changed the name of the blog to '%41%43%45%20%54%65%61%6d'," he wrote.

"%41%43%45%20%54%65%61%6d" may not be as memorable as Hackers @ Microsoft, but it does mean something. It is code for "ACE Team," apparently a reference to Microsoft's Application Consulting & Engineering Team, which does performance, security and privacy development work at Microsoft. They have a blog too.

Microsoft's public relations agency was unable to comment immediately on Techjunkie's blog. However, the company has talked frequently about its growing use of ethical hackers to test its products for bugs. The software vendor even invites them onsite twice a year for its Blue Hat security conference.

Techjunkie followed up his Thursday evening post explaining the name change with a generic blog item on the need for security processes when developing software.

The debate over the term "hacker" is long running and bitter. Originally used to denote someone creative who enjoyed building new things with computers the term has also come to mean computer attacker in the popular culture, much to the dismay of the white hats.

One security professional who also maintains a hacking blog said he understood why Microsoft may have wanted to drop the name. "Unfortunately, I think there's a bit of a stigma associated with the word hacker," said Robert Hansen, CEO of security consultancy SecTheory and also the man behind the ha.ckers.org Web site.

Though Hansen considers himself a hacker, he says that he sometimes downplays this fact in business situations. "There are definitely times at which I use the ha.ckers.org persona more than I use the SecTheory persona," he said. "Some people aren't comfortable with the concept."

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Robert McMillan

IDG News Service

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