aka: Grey Hat Hacker
Playful Hacker, the cracker is a computer criminal. He may never leave his dark, monitor-lit room, but he can destroy lives and impoverish millions with his miraculous but misused skills, because Everything Is Online. With his Magical Computer, the cracker can break into the CIA, spy on anyone, cause train wrecks and airplane crashes, bankrupt entire nations, and most dramatically, practically wipe a person off the face of the earth by zeroing all his identity and credit records (because, of course, birth certificates in Hollywood are always null and void). He delights in mayhem and never objects to lining his pockets with money untraceably transferred from someone else's bank account. Crackers are often called "hackers", but this is more a product of outsider confusion and sensationalist media than reality. Those within the subculture often insist that the term "Hacker" is a value-neutral term that means "people who are skilled at making computers do things outside their original specifications".note Because authorities never know any better, and because the cracker is so good at hiding his trail, they often chase the innocent Playful Hacker who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in the end, the cracker will come to a bad end, either murdered by his employers/partners or electrocuted by his equipment. In security informatics, the real-life analogue of this character is sometimes called a "Black Hat". This is derived from old western movies based on the colour of villains' hats, which people basically made up from whole cloth decades later. There, the opposite term is "white hat". There's also the "grey hat", which doesn't entirely fit into either camp. Not to be confused with the crime show starring Robbie Coltrane, or the derogatory term used for white trashnote , or cowboys of central Florida, or those biscuit-like things people eat with peanut butter, or those biscuit-like things people eat with regular butter. And cheese.
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Anime and Manga
- Makubex of Get Backers paired his computer skills with Infinity Fortress's warped reality to set himself up as a dictator. He escaped karmic death with a Heel-Face Turn.
- The Numbers Cyborgs from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha had two crackers as part of their team. Uno, who could break into any computer without being detected as part of her intelligence gathering capabilities, and Quattro, who can screw up any computer as an extension of her illusion skills.
- In a slightly more heroic example, formerly Playful Hacker Shinji Mimura decides to use his skills for something a bit more serious after being forced into the Program. In all three versions, he attempts to hack into the government's computer system to disable the collars in order to make an escape attempt: he is caught in the manga and novel versions halfway through his plan due to the microphones in the collars; but in the movie, he does succeed in doing so. His uncle, particularly in the manga version, is also an example of this trope.
- Chachamaru took this role during the Mahora Festival arc of Mahou Sensei Negima!, hacking into the school's security main computer to screw around with the communications network and shut down the barrier around the school that prevents Chao's
Evasdemon-powered Humongous Mecha from working. The level of her skill forced Playful Hacker Chisame to form a Pactio with Negi and gain the abilities of a Technopath.
- The plot of Dengeki Daisy is driven by a mysterious cracker.
- Mitsuo Yamaki of Digimon Tamers, whose goal is to seek and destroy Digimon (at first). Inverted that he's working for the government, and using his skills to stop what he considers a abomination to existence.
- The Digimon Kaiser of Digimon Adventure 02, using his programing skills to conquer the Digital World.
- Choe Gu-Sung in Psycho-Pass apparently conceives all the technical means to Makishima's schemes.
- The Calculator in The DCU.
- Bookhunter features 1970's-appropriate hacking: The criminal uses the phone lines to break into and alter the library's computer records.
- The DCU's Psyber-Rats are a rare example of a kind-of-heroic version; they hack for criminal purposes, rather than just the fun of it, but they see themselves as Just Like Robin Hood.
- Oliver Wendell Jones in Bloom County is both this and a Playful Hacker, depending on his mood; he has often done things that have caused chaos on a national - or global - scale, but has occasionally also done things to benefit people.
- And sometimes he messes it up too. For example, one time, in a strip released in the early 1980's, he hacked into the headquarters of Russia's state-owned newspaper and changed the headline to what he thought was, "Gorbachev Urges Disarmament! Complete! Total!". What he had actually changed it to (his translation being rather off) was "Gorbachev Sings Tractors! Turnips! Buttocks!"
- Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race has Tiesel Bonne, as well as Mr. Wire.
- The Shadowchasers franchise has Shadowjacks, hackers who can use magical skills in combination with technology to surf the net. Not all Shadowjacks qualify for this Trope, but many do. One fic in the franchise, Shadowchasers Torment, mentions Black Jack, the greatest Shadowjack of all who clearly fits this Trope, although eventually he had to flee the country and hide out in some place with no extradition treaties after his intrusions were discovered. Still, he's willing to help any other Shadowjacks with the knowledge to find him, his skills at hacking so great, he was even able to find information on someone who was assigned to Area 51.
- Die Hard features Theo, the wisecrack-spouting computer tech who cracks through all but the final layer of corporate security.
- Ozzie from Masterminds starts off this way, downloading a game before it goes on the market to sell illegal copies. Later, though, he turns more Playful Hacker when he attempts to foil Bentley's hostage plot.
- In Superman III, Richard Pryor, of all people, plays a wage-slave who gets some basic computer training and is soon able to crack into anything. The character was originally supposed to be Brainiac in disguise, explaining his abilities, but Executive Meddling turned the character into comic relief.
- In Swordfish Hugh Jackman plays a computer criminal who got caught cracking CARNIVORE, went to jail, and is banned from using computers ever again. He's hired/forced to break into computers for John Travolta at the risk of his daughter's life.
- James Bond:
- Stephen in The Score.
- In Catherine Jinks' Evil Genius Trilogy, Doctor Vee (AKA The Virus) is a consumate example of a Cracker, having built a nasty reputation on the creation of fabulously destructive viruses. As such, the Axis Institute employs him as a teacher to the hero of the story, Cadel.
- Despite being the protagonist of Neuromancer, Case is more this than Playful Hacker- he takes a very cold and methodic approach to his job that Molly remarks on as unusual.
- Dulcinea Anwin of Tad Williams Otherland series, is a Black Hat, a criminal hacker who breaks into systems for fun and profit. Used to working for nefarious employers, she's always managed to remain aloof from the dark side of her profession, but she bites off more than she can chew when she hires herself out to John Dread, and learns just exactly how bad bad really is.
- Phate ( Jon Holloway) from Jeffery Deaver's The Blue Nowhere is a prime example.
- Albermarle is the werewolf hunter's Cracker in Curse of the Wolfgirl, if only he had kept to the mission instead of playing Stalker with a Crush to the woman who rejected him in college he might have been more successful.
- The Spectrum in the second Spaceforce book is a notorious cyber-criminal who is hired by terrorists to hack into security cam recordings to cover the kidnapping of an alien prince. Before being forced to reform, series protagonist Andri did much the same kind of thing.
- Sarah Swan in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel Blue Box by Kate Orman. She's a dark legend in the small world of 1981 computer hackers; a powerful businesswoman who became first a phone-phreaker and then a hacker to gain power over others, and who uses her skills to destroy anyone who crosses her.
- The Smoking Gnu in the Discworld book Going Postal go from Playful Hackers to a noble version of this after they realize that, having discovered a way of sending code that physically damages the equipment, they can try to use this dangerous code to destroy the system from the inside out until the Corrupt Corporate Executives in charge are forced to abandon the company at a loss, allowing people who want it to work rather than make money to swoop in and magically fix everything (Moist eventually comes up with a plan that will accomplish the same goal without ending up with the company back under similarly predatory investors).
- In Vernor Vinge's classic novella, "True Names", all the members of The Cabal fall into this category as well as the Playful Hacker. They're all prankers, but they're all criminal prankers. Some are more criminal than others, so we eventually get to a Dueling Hackers climax.
- Brian Gragg aka Loki Stormbringer from Daniel Suarez' Daemon is one of these.
- Danny in Wizardry Compiled and subsequent books is both Lovable Rogue and Playful Hacker. He started with editing game character files, then cracking protection of games he couldn't afford, and by 16 was a competent self-taught programmer. His colleagues distrust him early on, but recognize the talent. And need to watch lest he gets carried away.
"Yep, it's an 800 number. Direct line to the Wizard's Keep from any phone in the USA. Just don't use it unless you really need to."[...]"Is this legal?"Wiz hesitated. "Like I said, it was one of Danny's projects."
- In Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad and its Japanese counterpart, Denkou Choujin Gridman, one of the main villains is a cracker who creates computer viruses that are then brought to life by the evil sentient AI program he partners with, and are then sent into various electrical devices, causing problems the protagonists then have to solve..
- Nevel, a villain from iCarly, he repeatedly breaks into and causes problems for the iCarly.com website.
- On Leverage, Chaos Manson has this role, contrasted with Hardison's playful hacker style. The CIA calls him the Kobyashu Maru.
- Enter from Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters.
- Part of the Five-Bad Band in Unnatural History.
- Person of Interest: Root, a misanthropic genius with an obsession with the Machine, and has the computer skills to provide a perfect nemesis for Finch.
- Christopher Pelant, self-proclaimed "Hacktivist" and recurring villain in Season 7 of Bones, combined this trope with Serial Killer. He used his computer savvy to frame Dr. Brennan for one of his murders.
- In Criminal Minds Garcia was this before she was forced to work for the FBI.
- In Breaking In the main character was one, using his skills to hack into his university's system to take classes for free.
- Seeing as the Monsters of the Week in Power Rangers Zeo were all robots, it was natural that there'd be one who could do this. Mean Screen was created with the intent to crash every computer system in the city, and could infect a system with a virus by just looking at it. (And seeing as the Rangers used computerized weaponry, this was rather dangerous. Still, he wasn't able to counter an anti-viral program that Angel Grove High's resident computer whiz had thought up.)
- Crash Zone has "Sabretooth", whose identifying mark is leaving a teeth-mark image on the websites of the hacked companies. It turns out to be Lisa Grey, a reputable security expert.
- Avon in Blake's 7 was initially this: he met the revolutionary hero in jail where he was sent for a massive computer-aided fraud. As the series went on he got better at combat but he never lost his hacking skills.
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Rising Tide is a hacktivist organization that opposes SHIELD's secrecy. One of their members, Skye, is captured by SHIELD and recruited for her skills in the pilot; though she's still mistrustful of them and may be The Mole. We're not sure how "evil" the group is as a whole - Skye's heart is in the right place, at least - but taking on an international security organization puts you closer to this than a Playful Hacker.
- Many of the villains on CSI: Cyber qualify, and two of the heroes are former crackers who have reformed (more or less willingly).
- The game Uplink. Breaking into computer systems to steal or destroy information, destroy systems, or worse is just another paying job for you. The game even gives you a Neuromancer rating that is your alignment; scrapping systems For the Evulz and ruining people's lives decreases it.
- The Chinese Hacker from Command & Conquer: Generals, whose job is to crack bank accounts and steal their money. While vulnerable they also can generate infinite money (like GLA Black Markets and USA Drop Zones). They even got a specialised structure to help them out in the expansion.
- Deckers in Shadowrun, who use their tools to enter virtual reality Cyber Space and wage hand to hand combat with security devices.
- Saints Row: The Third has Matt Miller, leader of The Deckers, official hacker of The Syndicate and a personification of the GIFT. In Saints Row IV however, he made a Heel-Face Turn after being offered amnesty by MI6.
- Anonydeath from Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. He is based on Anonymous (see below), but he also skirts around being a Playful Hacker.
- Bentley of Sly Cooper is the team's hacker and expert of all things tech-related. However, he's also something of a Playful Hacker at nature and relishes the challenge of going up against a worthy security system.
- Amy Sauce from Unwinders Tall Comics. She claims that she's wanted by the FBI for her activities. At another point, a telepath tried to read her mind, and she proceeded to hack his brain.
- Sollux (aka twinArmageddons), one of the Trolls from Homestuck, takes this to Serial Escalation levels. He's apparently so good at hacking and writing code that he can make computers explode and place curses on the victims. He also is capable of adapting alien software and technology into a reality-warping game.
- He also later writes a program that allows Terezi to use Trollslum to directly contact Doc Scratch. Who lives on the moon. And uses a typewriter. And is actually far in the future.
- In Not A Villain, hackers have caused much mayhem and destruction in the past, so they're the object of paranoia and Witch Hunts.
- In the Whateley Universe, there's a notorious cracker named Dr. Abel Palm, who believed that computers would replace humans. He tried to make that happen, and was stopped by a mutant technopath (who is in fact the Assistant to the Headmistress and a badguy at Whateley Academy) But The Palm, as he is now known, is not dead. He used black magics to ensorcel his own soul into an adaptable computer virus which is loose again.
- The title character in The Saga of Tuck routinely starts the school year by breaking in to school, getting the new passwords and changing the class schedule so his friends share lunches. This is when he's not altering grades, installing Trojans or surveillance cameras, etc.
- Electronic thieves-for-hire Deadlock, Keystroke, and E-Beam from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe are all cyberpaths who can jack their minds directly into computer systems. They specialize in this sort of crime.
- La Constructeuse, a French cyborg supervillain with a fetish for high technology, does this sort of thing as well, but its not her primary modus operandi.
- Saint from Worm is talented enough to have repeatedly defeated Dragon, the world's greatest tinker largely because she's really an AI with incomplete programming that he can exploit and even reverse-engineered her equipment.
- Noob has Tenshirock, who wants to "free" people from MMORPGs and interacts with players via an avatar.
- A hacker is anyone who likes to mess around with computers. A cracker is specifically someone who uses computers with malicious intent, usually by breaking security measures.
- Truth in Television - known as Black Hats. Most common form (at least, the stereotype... which, so far, has been true) are people who hack other sites and computers for kicks and prestige, extending to virus makers and malicious program coders. Case in point: Our good buddy Killer Hack.
- Meta example: KiLLeR HaCK (whatever that may mean), the hacker(s) who hacked the Wiki on Nov. 13, 2008. You'd have to ask the Wiki administrators if they thought it was a case of hacking or cracking...
- Another Meta example: A hacker who we shall refer to as "Cap'n Dickless" hacked the accounts of various abridged series makers on YouTube (including Lanipator, hbi2k, Masako X, Team Dattebayo and numerous others), and many of the accounts had to be suspended because of this, but they later got them back, and Cap'n Dickless got what he deserved.
- The Dark Avenger lives in countries where hacking's not illegal. To add insult to injury, he adds completely random clues.
- Dark Avenger is long gone. He was a young, mischievous programmer who was trying to learn new things and experimenting on his Pravetz 82 computer. The only reason anyone in Bulgaria even knew about computer viruses at the time was because of a translated 1988 article in a Bulgarian computer hobbyist magazine (only one at the time, most people in Bulgaria during the '80s had no idea what a computer was anyway), which jumpstarted the brief period of Bulgarian computer virus epidemics from 1989 to 1992. The reason Dark Avenger is still somewhat popular is because of his highly enigmatic persona, impersonators, his odd motivations (he was a grey hat neutral hacker whose exact motivations aren't known, besides his famous hatred of Vesselin Bontchev) and his relationship with Sarah Gordon. Todor Todorov claimed to be him, but was noticeably hostile, which wasn't a trait in the Gordon interview. For all we know, the Dark Avenger was a persona adopted by several virus writers, Bontchev himself, or it was an elaborate stunt.
- Kevin Mitnick, before the poacher turned gamekeeper.
- Anonymous is a loosely-associated network of "hactivists", that was founded around 2003, comitting cyber-crimes as a form of retribution against institutions they claim are corrupt, such as PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and Sony, and controversial groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. Similar groups like LulzSec and Operation AntiSec have carried out cyberattacks on US government agencies, media, video game companies, military contractors, military personnel, and police officers. (Of course, these groups claim they aren't malicious but many would disagree.)
- In August 2013, a notorious hacker group called the Syrian Electronic Army who claimed to be sympathizers of the Syrian government, attacked the website of The New York Times, causing a great deal of collateral damage. Apparently a combination of their ability and rather poor security by Melbourne IT, a registrar of domain names, was at fault.