Freakin’ Phones

Posted by Voipfone on April 8, 2015

As a bit of a busman’s holiday, over Easter I read a book by Phil Lapsley called “Exploding the Phone” – the story of how the phone freakers of the 60s not only started off the game of meddling with telephone company’s networks but also gave birth to the entire hacking industry as we know it today.

Way back then ‘all’ you needed to do to make free calls was to whistle into the handset at 2600 Hz, mimicking the Single (SF) and Multi-frequency (MF) signalling that Ma Bell and AT&T were using to switch calls. Of course, very few people could actually whistle with perfect pitch so various other methods were devised. The very coolest of which turned out to be a whistle given away in Cap’n Crunch breakfast cereal. The entirety of the US telephone network could be controlled by kids blowing a free whistle down the line. It’s probably the biggest vulnerability ever seen in any network.

A kid called John Draper, assumed the phreaker name Captain Crunch – for obvious reasons – subsequently became a real hacker; maybe the first? Below is a 1970s interview with him. It starts with a rather boring section of his lunar landing game which was a big deal at the time, but rather more interesting is the Frank Zappa moustache, and the kit – we have dual screens!

After about 8 minutes he starts talking about telephony and demos what is probably the first softphone and auto-dialler. The purpose of the auto-dialler was to find AT&T’s “Silver Boxes” – their mythical phone tap devices…

“It’s kind of a bummer to have your privacy invaded all the time by these people who can come in and monitor your own private calls…”

Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.

By-the-way a few years after Captain Crunch’s exploits, a chap called Steve Wozniak and his mate Steve Jobs built a tone machine – a blue box – so that anyone could defraud the networks. Arguably, without this box there would be no Apple. And you may notice that the machine that John Draper was using to create his softphones and diallers is an Apple……

Here is a rare interview with Phone Phreak Captain Crunch:

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