The Core Dump

Cyber is hard

[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 19 April 2015]

Tech terms you might be misusing

Some technical terms still confuse people who should know better, like journalists.

For people who break out in hives when people misuse “fewer” and “less,” there’s a decidedly cavalier attitude to technical terms in mainstream media.

Here are a few terms that seem particularly confusing to people who make their living from gathering and transmitting information to the masses, people who should really want to understand how to use terms correctly.

Download versus upload

Downloading something from the Internet means to copy it from a server somewhere on the Internet to your computer. Uploading means to copy something from your computer to a server on the Internet. Think of your computer as being below the Internet on an org chart.

You pull things down to your computer and push them up to the Internet.

This is important for two reasons: 1) Get it wrong and you show you have no credibility when it comes to writing about technology; and 2) Nobody has been fined for downloading music or movies from the Internet. None people. People have been fined for making movies or music available for upload to the Internet—for making it possible for other people on the Internet to download the files. Which is a very different thing.

Imagine your computer dangling below the Internet in the org chart of life and you’ll get it right.

Write a blog versus write a blog post

Just as nobody sane would say they wrote a newspaper or that they wrote a magazine, nobody should say they wrote a blog.

A blog is one entity and the individual articles are called posts. So you wrote a blog post. Just like you wrote a story for a newspaper or an article for a magazine, you wrote a blog post if you’re referring to an individual piece of content.

Hack

Hack is one of those words that have many meanings, but when you say somebody hacked a computer usually what you mean is that person gained unauthorized access to a computer or network of computers.

Usually this means the attacker has downloaded proprietary information, like in the Sony hack.

A denial of service attack, on the other hand, is not a hack. A denial of service attack means unleashing a flood of malicious requests at a site, taking it offline. Which means the Web server is inaccessible, but does not mean there was any unauthorized access. (The denial of service attack could be used to trigger a vulnerability that then allows the attacker to get access, but that is less common and is certainly not implied.)

So when a site goes down from a denial of service attack, that is not the same thing as the site being hacked.

Also, if somebody leaves their phone unlocked at a bar while they go to the bathroom and you post a “funny” Facebook update while they’re gone, you didn’t hack their phone. You’re just a terrible person and you should think about your values.

For technical people, hack also means jerry-rigging a solution to a problem, as in “This is really hacky, but we’ll clean it up in the next version.” Be aware when talking to technical people or reading tech sites that this usage is very common.

“Logging in”

Logging in to a computer means providing your credentials through a challenge-response system. Usually this means a user name and password.

When you visit a website you usually don’t log in. You just visit the site. If the site requires a user name and password to access, then, yes, you have indeed logged in to the site. Otherwise, you’re just visiting the site.

So please stop teasing your site in your newscasts by saying, “Log in to our site at blahblah.com.” There is no challenge-response. You are using words wrong.

If you’re a journalist you should care about using words correctly and not wanting to have to understand technology is not a valid excuse.

“I don’t understand it so it can’t be important” is not a great attitude.

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