A note about this ‘cyber’ thing…

I know quite a few people – hackers mostly – who get quite snarky and condescending over what they see as the media’s overuse of the ‘cyber’ prefix.

In fact, I’ve just had an email exchange with a friend on this very topic. The media, the thinking goes, always get their panties in a bunch whenever anything ‘cyber’ is involved, and so just love to use that word. Things like facts and technical accuracy go out the window because journalists are too busy frothing at the mouth about sinister crackers and Russian crime gangs.

Well, that’s not entirely unfair. The mainstream media – national newspapers and TV in particular – don’t generally have a good grasp on things like the difference between a virus and a worm, or between US CENTCOM having its Twitter account hacked and the end of national security as we know it.

But as a journalist, even one who writes mainly for the specialist press aimed directly at information security people, I have to defend the use of the ‘cyber’ prefix. When writing, I have to make my meaning clear. Cybercrime is a subset of crime. Cyber-espionage is a specific form of spying. In an article, once I’ve made my subject and context clear, I’ll drop the prefix when I can and when I think it won’t cause confusion. But, by and large, I have no problem using it. It’s all about precision…


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