The dark counterpart to the 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, in Hollywood physical identity documents like birth certificates and passports 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.
Some people believe that a Cracker should not be called a "Hacker", and that the term "Hacker" should be reserved for good guys.
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 trash. Or those biscuit-like things people eat with peanut butter. Or those biscuit-like things people eat with regular butter. And cheese. Or the very low-powered explosive devices with prizes in them that the British play with at Christmas...
Anime and Manga
- Makubex of GetBackers 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.
- It is revealed at the end of the novel version that Shogo Kawada hacked into the computers before the Program in order to get the specs for the collars. Whether this makes him a Playful Hacker or The Cracker is up to the reader.
- 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.
- Pretty much the entire plot of Dengeki Daisy.
- 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.
- The Punisher's friend and ally David "Microchip" Lieberman was sort of an Anti-Villain version (given how he was helping Frank). Formerly a legendary hacker in the early days of computer hacking, he finally messed up and was almost caught, leading to his nephew's death at The Kingpin's orders. He'd later hook up with the Punisher and use his skills to manage and launder his finances (i.e., the money Frank took from the criminals he kills), set-up and equip safehouses, train Castle in more "specialized" skills for his war on crime, obtain hard-to-get ammunition and equipment, and at times, be the voice of reason for Castle, who was far-more obsessed than he was. Sadly, a falling out between the two led to Micro's death at the hands of rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Derek "Stone Cold" Smalls, Micro's later resurrection by the Hood during the Dark Reign , and a full Face Heel Turn and crossing the Moral Event Horizon by murdering G.W. Bridge, making him and his former friend enemies.
- The Joker himself develops this talent right before Batman No Man's Land . With only a skeleton staff on duty at Arkham and only inexperienced orderlies able to distribute medication to the inmates, he hacks into the system and makes sure everyone gets stuff they clearly should not have. Killer Croc is given stimulants, manic depressive patients get depressants, and the Joker himself is exempt from any meds. (And possibly as a nasty joke, the Ventriloquist is given prescription-strength laxatives.) As he planned, complete pandemonium ensues and he seizes control of the place.
- Oliver Wendell Jones in Bloom County is either this or 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!"
- 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 just about 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.
- 'Techno-terrorist' Henry Gupta in Tomorrow Never Dies.
- Boris, the Russian hacker in GoldenEye.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Noob has Tenshirock, who wants to "free" people from MMORPGs and interacts with players via an avatar.
- Enter from Tokumei Sentai Gobusters.
- The game Uplink is built entirely around this trope. 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 basically 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 vurnerable 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 Cyberspace 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.
- Amy Sauce from Unwinder's 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 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.
- 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.
- Meta example: KiLLeR HaCK (whatever that may mean), the hacker(s) who hacked the original TV Tropes Wiki on Nov. 13, 2008. You'd have to ask that Wiki's administrators if they thought it was a case of hacking or cracking...
- Another Meta example: A hacker whom 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 reason anyone in Bulgaria even knew about 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, committing cyber-crimes as a form of retribution against institutions they claim are corrupt, such as PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and Sony, and controversial groups like ISIS and 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.
- However, crackers stereotypically tend to be Hikikomori, so both senses of "cracker" might apply. The ambiguity might therefore be deliberate.