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A Short History of Phreaking

Well now we know a little vocabulary, and now its into history, Phreak history. Back at MIT in 1964 arrived a student by the name of Stewart Nelson, who was extremely interested in the telephone. Before entering MIT, he had built autodialers, cheese boxes, and many more gadgets. But when he came to MIT he became even more interested in "fone-hacking" as they called it.

After a little while he naturally started using the PDP-1, the schools computer at that time, and from there he decided that it would be interesting to see whether the computer could generate the frequencies required for blue boxing. The hackers at MIT were not interested in ripping off Ma Bell, but just exploring the telephone network. Stew (as he was called) wrote a program to generate all the tones and set off into the vast network.

Now there were more people phreaking than the ones at MIT. Most people have heard of Captain Crunch (No not the cereal), he also discovered how to take rides through the fone system, with the aid of a small whistle found in a cereal box (can we guess which one?).

By blowing this whistle, he generated the magical 2600hz and into the mouthpiece it sailed, giving him complete control over the system. I have heard rumors that at one time he made about 1/4 of the calls coming out of San Francisco. He got famous fast.

He made the cover of people magazine and was interviewed several times (as you'll soon see). Well he finally got caught after a long adventurous career. After he was caught he was put in jail and was beaten up quite badly because he would not teach other inmates how to box calls. After getting out, he joined Apple computer and is still out there somewhere.

Then there was Joe the Whistler, blind form the day he was born. He could whistle a perfect 2600hz tone. It was rumored phreaks used to call him to tune their boxes.

Well that was up to about 1970, then from 1970 to 1979, phreaking was mainly done by college students, businessmen and anyone who knew enough about electronics and the fone company to make a 555 Ic to generate those magic tones. Businessmen and a few college students mainly just blue box to get free calls. The others were still there, exploring 800#'s and the new ESS systems.

ESS posed a big problem for phreaks then and even a bigger one now. ESS was not widespread, but where it was, blue boxing was next to impossible except for the most experienced phreak. Today ESS is installed in almost all major cities and blue boxing is getting harder and harder.

1978 marked a change in phreaking, the Apple ][, now a computer that was affordable, could be programmed, and could save all that precious work on a cassette. Then just a short while later came the Apple Cat modem. With this modem, generating all blue box tones was easy as writing a program to count form one to ten (a little exaggerated).

Pretty soon programs that could imitate an operator just as good as the real thing were hitting the community, TSPS and Cat's Meow, are the standard now and are the best.

1982-1986: LD services were starting to appear in mass numbers. People now had programs to hack LD services, telephone exchanges, and even passwords. By now many phreaks were getting extremely good and BBS's started to spring up everywhere, each having many documentations on phreaking for the novice.

Then it happened, the movie War Games was released and mass numbers of sixth grade to all ages flocked to see it. The problem wasn't that the movie was bad, it was that now EVERYONE wanted to be a hacker/phreak. Novices came out in such mass numbers, that bulletin boards started to be busy 24 hours a day. To this day, they still have not recovered. Other problems started to occur, novices guessed easy passwords on large government computers and started to play around...

Well it wasn't long before they were caught, I think that many people remember the 414-hackers. They were so stupid as to say "yes" when the computer asked them whether they'd like to play games. Well at least it takes the heat off the real phreaks/hacker/krackers.
Posted on September 30th, 2009 - Updated on December 31st, 2010
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Jolly Roger


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