In the early days of the internet, and even before that, there was a distinct difference in the terminology used for the people who obtained unauthorized access to computer systems. The term hacker meant someone who created an interesting hack, usually something interesting that used a system – not necessarily even a computer system – to do something outside its design intent. A Rube Goldberg machne is a good example of a hack. So is playing music with printers. Conversely, cracker was applied to people who broke into computer systems for nefarious purposes. There was often some overlap between the two, as people making interesting hacks often didn’t have authorized access to the systems they were using.

The media went with the term hacker for people breaking into computer systems, and that was that.