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How Telephone Phreaking Worked

How Telephone Phreaking Worked

Every October for the last 4 years I have
travelled to Portland Oregon to attend the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. It takes place in the Oregon Convention Center.
This convention is like Mecca for retro gaming enthusiasts. The vendor area alone is truly
amazing. People come from all over to shop for games, or look for that special vintage
computer or gaming console they’ve been wanting to find. People often run into me and want to show
me cool thing they managed to scoop up. They also have gaming competitions here, multi-player
games of all kinds, and of course lots and lots of original stand up arcade machines.
These are all set to free play so there is no need to insert a quarter or token. They
also have an enormous number of pinball machines. Of course, one of the most popular machines
in the place is actually the ATM, it always has a line. Myself, I don’t usually get a chance to
play since I’m running a both and doing a speech, but I do sneak away for a little
bit here and there to play something. There are more Ataris than you can shake a
stick at! I also love the traditional 1980s living rooms
they have setup. This one has an Atari 2600, and over here is a Nintendo. They also have tabletop systems. And when people get tired, there is an area
with beanbags you can take a break and relax some. And much like any gaming convention, there
is a lot of cosplay going on! I tried to capture some of it! And this may be the only place you’ll ever
see Darth Vader riding a unicycle and playing the bagpipes. They also host the Tetris world championships
here, which I didn’t get to see. And there is a video game history museum. So, for example,
if you’ve ever wondered how big a complete set of gameboy games is, well, now you know.
Likewise, there was a complete set of boxed Genesis games, which is what is in all of
these clear display cases. Here’s one of the original Gameboy display units that has
the larger screen so people can see what you are playing. And here’s a display of everything
that would have been in a Nintendo tech support cubicle back in the day, myself, I found the
telephone most interesting because it’s the exact same model that I used to do tech
support on at AST, as I’ve discussed previously. There were also dozens of celebrities at the
event, such as Pat the NES punk here selling his books, and Metal Jesus, but I wasn’t
able to meet up with most of them because I was too busy. People often ask me to autograph a variety
of interesting objects, and this year I tried to capture some of those. A lot of people
bring me cartridges, whether they be Nintendo cartridges, Gameboy cartridges, etc. But it
isn’t uncommon for people to ask me to sign things like this Commodore VIC-20 . However,
this is the first time I’ve ever signed a MacBook Air. Looks like quite a few other
people have signed it already, and I’m the only one that signed it in black. I also signed
one of those hummer DTV games from back in the day, and one of the neatest things was
this laserdisc. I was also asked to sign a pornographic anime magazine. And now, it’s time for the main event here
for this video, which was my presentation on telephone phreaking of the past. OK people, we’re going to get started here
even though people are still filing in just a little bit, but we’re running a little
bit behind schedule. So, every time I come to this convention,
I’m a little bit bad about getting the topic of my presentation given to the expo so that
they can print it on the materials and on the website and whatnot. It’s always interesting
how you guys come in having absolutely no idea what I’m going to talk about, but you
usually like it. This year we’re going to be talking about
phone phreaking. Now, I told some people a few days ago that I was going to be talking
about phone phreaking in the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and I was surprised a lot of
people didn’t even know what that was. In fact, a lot of people thought I was talking
about telephone pranking, which is not the same thing. They’re entirely different.
However, back in the 1980s before the advent of caller-ID, I did my, probably more than
my fair share of telephone pranking. However, that’s not actually what we’re going to
be talking about. Although you can use phreaking to accomplish pranking, which we can talk
about later. So, what is telephone phreaking? That is basically
where you hack the telephone system in order to make long distance calls for free, among
other things. And I will preface this by saying it is highly illegal. However, before anybody
gets worried about me teaching their kids about doing illegal things, I will preface
this entire presentation by saying that everything I’m going to be talking about is obsolete,
it no longer works, it’s just being presented for historical purposes. Phreaking has been around for quite a while.
Probably not quite that long, but started in like the 1960s, became particularly popular
in the 1970s. I’ll talk about how the first method was using a 2600 hertz tone. And, I’ll
explain a little bit about how that works. So, this is your typical, well I wouldn’t
say typical, but this is a DTMF keypad. The original ones actually had these A, B, C,
D letters down the side but most of your consumer telephones never had these but the operator
phones did as well as the military phones had these and they had their own set of tones.
Now, the way a DTMF tone works, for those who don’t know, is you basically have particular
frequencies across horizontally and particular frequencies vertically. And so, when you push
a button, it actually combines these two tones and that creates the sounds you hear when
you push the buttons on the phone. Now, a lot of people thought and still think
that those buttons on the phone actually directly control the phone system. But they don’t.
They literally just make sounds. When I was a kid, I thought “Yeah, there must be some
kind of direct connection between these buttons and the phone company so they know which buttons
you’re pushing and that the sounds I heard were just like a byproduct of how they worked.”
But, in reality, I had it exactly opposite. The tones is all the phone company cares about
and you can actually generate these tones externally, for example, you could record
the DTMF tones to a cassette tape and then hold the cassette player up to your phone
and it would actually dial the phone number and the phone company doesn’t care where
the tones come from as long as it hears tones that it recognizes. And so this is kind of
important for what we’re going to be talking about here in just a minute. Imagine this is your local neighborhood phone
company here. Now, there’s going to be anywhere from dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of
telephone lines going into your local phone exchange. And, those phones could be home
phones, business phones, pay phones, you know whatever. Now these phones can call each other
without incurring any long distance charges. And without even going outside of your local
phone company. But, if you needed to make a long-distance call, now that’s where things
change. You would go over these other special lines that linked phone exchanges together,
and they were called trunk lines. Now, trunk lines don’t actually work all
that different from a regular telephone line in that they also are controlled by tones,
or at least they used to be. And, the trunk lines, they had their own dial tone or their
own ready tone, and that tone is a 2600 hertz tone, which is a really high pitched sound,
not normally the type of sound you would hear in nature, so it wouldn’t necessarily be
a problem. The offshoot of this is that if you were to
place a long distance phone call, your local exchange would pick up a trunk line and dial
a phone number for that trunk line to connect to. Now, you would not typically have been
aware of this. It would happen right after you dialed your number. But if a 2600 hertz
tone was introduced during the course of the call, it would cause the trunk line to hang
up and go back into ready mode and wait for you to dial the number of where you want to
connect to. So, the offshoot of this was that if you were
to call a 1-800 number, it’s a toll-free number right? You’re local exchange says
“oh, well this is a long distance call so we’re going to need to use a trunk line.
But, it’s a toll-free call so we’re not going to bill customer for this call. So,
you would call the 1-800 number and then as soon as it starts ringing, you could play
the 2600 hertz tone and the trunk line would hang up and wait for you to now enter a new
number because it’s back in ready mode again. And then you could call whomever you wanted
to and your local exchange still believes you’re talking to a toll-free number, so
you didn’t get billed for it. In the early 1970s, one of the early pioneers
of this method was John Draper and he went by the code name of captain crunch. Now, you
might wonder how a person would get a code name like captain crunch. It’s a little
bit more straight forward than you might think. It actually came from this little whistle
that was included as a toy in the captain crunch cereal box back around 1971 or so. And what Draper figured out was that there’s
two little ports in the side of that, and if you covered one of them up, it actually
produced a 2600 hertz tone perfect for causing trunk lines to hang up. In fact, one of the
interesting offshoots he would talk about was that if he were to walk through an airport,
there would be banks of payphones back then. And people would be on the phones, and of
course, you can imagine in an airport most of those calls are probably long distance
calls, so they’re probably using trunk lines. And he could just walk by a bank of payphones
and blow his little captain crunch whistle and it would hang up every payphone that people
were talking on and they wouldn’t know why. They’d think there was something wrong with
the phone company. But yeah, you could use that for literally making free telephone calls
if you knew how. So, that was the seventies, now when the computer
age came in in the eighties, things changed quite a bit. I’m going to play you this
little 60 second clip from the movie WarGames. Many of you have probably already seen this,
but it will be just a little refresher. What’s it doing? Oh, it’s dialing numbers.
You’re calling ever number in Sunnyvale? Isn’t that expensive? There’s ways around
that. You could go to jail for that! Only if you’re over 18. She asks, “isn’t that expensive?” And
his reply is “there’s ways around that.” In the movie they never really go into any
particular detail as to how he’s getting around it, and so we really don’t know exactly
which method he was using. But, there’s actually a lot of different things happening
in the scene and I wanted to go ahead and talk about some of that. First I want a little refresher on how telephone
numbers work. And for most of the guys in this audience that are my age or older, this
is going to be old news, but for a lot of the younger kids who’ve grown up with cell
phones, they may not understand how the anatomy of a telephone number works. So, I want to start by talking about the first
3 digits, which of course is the area code. And this typically refers to a particular
geographical area, typically like a county or something like that. Now, back in my day,
we didn’t actually have to dial the area code. We just dialed the 7 digits. And the
only reason you would ever dial an area code back then was if you were making a long-distance
phone call. So, that was one way you always knew that your call was going to be local
or long-distance was whether or not you were dialing the area code. Now, I grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area
and we had primarily two area codes. If you lived in Tarrant county, where I did, we had
the area code of 817. And if you lived in Dallas county then it was 214. Actually, we’ve
got like 10 different area codes there now, but back in the 80s, this was all we had.
And one particularly unfortunate scenario was, it was really expensive to call from
Fort Worth to Dallas or Dallas to Fort Worth. And I, to this day , really don’t understand
why that was. Because like, I want to say that I could call like Dallas and it was like
85 cents a minute or something like that. Where, I could call Los Angeles and it would
be like 11 cents a minute. Or New York and it would be like 11 cents a minute or something.
But for some bizarre reason it was like 4 or 5 times more expensive to call between
these two counties than to make an actual, like really long-distance call. And if you
were unfortunate, and if you lived along this dividing line, your next-door neighbor could
actually be a really expensive phone call to make, which is really crazy. Anyway, the next 3 digits is the prefix. And
again, this had particular significance back in the eighties. The prefix would actually
narrow down to very specific geographical areas. So, back in the eighties, the 473 prefix
was the city of Mansfield, which is where I lived. So, you knew if you saw a telephone
number, you could actually narrow down almost like a zip code, you could narrow down a particular
geographic area where that telephone number was. And, unlike cell phones and stuff today,
you know they can have any number. And there is really not any significance to them. But,
back then, you could tell a lot by looking at a phone number. So, if you wanted to be like David on WarGames
and you wanted to hack into your school computer and change your grade, before you could even
start to hack the computer, you’d have to find it first. You’d have to. It’s not
likely they’d tell students what the number was to the modem for the school computer.
But you could probably make several assumptions in that the area code and prefix you could
probably figure out by the geographic location of your school. In fact, it would probably
be the same as the main office number that would be advertised to call the school. So,
all you would have to figure out is the line number, which is the last 4 digits. So, there’s
still 10,000 combinations, but how could you narrow that down even more? Well, you could
do what they were doing in the movie, which is called war-dialing. And so, the way that works, is you would have
your computer and you would tell it, probably before you go to bed at night, to start calling
phone numbers. Now, you would go ahead and tell it a specific area code and prefix. And
then you’d just start it off at like zero or one. And it would just start calling. Probably
in the middle of the night. And probably some irritated person is going to wake up in the
middle of the night answering the call and there’s not going to be anybody there. And
the computer, of course can’t tell who answered the phone. Especially back then, they couldn’t even
detect busy signals, or ring tones, or operator recordings, or if a human being answered and
said “hello?” They couldn’t tell. All they could tell is that there was no computer
answering. So, they would just timeout and after a moment later, the computer would try
again and it would call the next number in the sequence. And again, you’d probably
wind up irritating some other person in the middle of the night. But, eventually, after a certain amount of
time, you would call a number and another computer would answer. And when this would
happen, the computer would mark that number as being significant. It would either print
it to your printer, or it would save it to a disk for a file you could look at. So, when
you get up in the morning after you’ve woken up half the town, you could look and see there’d
probably be about, and I know from experience, about 20.. about 20 or 30 computers that it
would have found. And those could be, one of them is probably your school computer,
they could be banks or any number of things back in the time and you could attempt to
hack into them. But, you know, at least you’ve narrowed it down now to 20 or 30 different
phone numbers. So that would give you a head start. But let’s talk about the second part about
that, which is how do you do it for free? We already talked about one way, which was
using a blue box, now that was using. When they call it a blue box it’s because back
then they actually had to construct a box back in the seventies to do this kind of stuff.
And there were all of these different kind of boxes that do different things. Now, when the computer age came around, we
ended up doing a lot of these things with our personal computers so we didn’t really
need a box. We still called it blue boxing or black boxing or red boxing, or whatever.
And I’m not going to go through all of these because it would take a few hours. But I’m
just going to briefly tell you what some of these different ones did. The blue box, we already talked about , which
was the 2600 hertz tone with a 1-800 number. The black box actually kind of does the exact
opposite. You modify your own phone line so that when somebody calls you long-distance,
it would trick the phone company into thinking that you haven’t actually answered your
phone. The phone company on the other end would actually think your phone was still
ringing so they wouldn’t actually charge the person calling you, but you would actually
be able to answer and talk to them. Didn’t always work, and it only worked in certain
geographical areas. But that was called a black box. The red box. This was used for pay phones.
So, just like trunk lines and regular phones, pay phones made very specific tones that they
sent to the phone company to tell them how many quarters, dimes, or nickels that you
have inserted. And so you could actually take a red box and take it to a payphone and just
hold it up to the microphone and you know, push the button and it would create the sounds
for quarters and the phone company would think you’ve inserted quarters. You could put
10 dollars worth of quarters in there, for example, and then make whatever call you wanted
to, to wherever. You had to be a little bit careful how much you put in there, though.
I think there was a certain number, I want to say it was like 200 dollars. Like, if you
ever put more than 200 dollars of fake quarters into a pay phone, they would immediately send
the police to investigate because the phones couldn’t actually hold more than that amount
of money. So, they had like a flag that says hey, if any phone, if it says you’ve inserted
like 300 dollars, send the police immediately to investigate that pay phone. So, you had
to be a little bit careful how much money you told it you were putting in there. But, the silver box adds the A, B, C, D functions
that the operators had, which you could do multiple different things with that and the
military phone lines also had the A,B,C,D buttons. So there’s a lot of information
that can be talked about there. That would be a whole separate discussion. Oh, and then there’s the blotto box. Has
anyone ever heard of a blotto box? I see a few hands. Yeah, you know how people. You
always say you used to sit around camp fires and talk about this or that. Well, you know,
us hackers, when we were 12, we’d sit around camp fires and talk about building blotto
boxes. And we believed, seriously believed this actually existed although we found out
later that it was just a hoax, it was mythical, didn’t really exist. But the idea was you
would take like a Honda generator or a Tesla coil or something like that and hook it up
to your phone line and it would paralyze the entire city’s phone. All the phones would
ring constantly and nobody would be able to place or receive any calls. We thought that
would be like the pinnacle of hacking to do that, but it actually, knowing what I know
about electronics today, you can immediately know this would never work. Because those
little copper wires, I mean how much amperage could you possibly put down them before they’d
melt. I mean, come on. But yeah, we believed this back in the time. It was quite a fable. So, I want to talk about another way of getting
free phone calls. And that was by using these calling cards. Now, the way these worked,
these are ancient history as well, but they looked very much like a credit card. And they
would have a code, access code, printed on the front. And what you would do is, if you
had one of these cards, you would call a local number or a 1-800 number and then a little
recording would come on saying “please enter your access code.” And you would type in
the code on the card, and then you would get another dial tone and then you would type
in the long-distance number you wanted to call. And the purpose behind this was a lot for
like traveling businessmen, for example. Because, if you needed to place your long distance
business calls, you could do it from a pay phone, you could do it from a relative’s
house, you could do it from a hotel room, wherever you happened to be. And you would
make sure the calls got billed to your company’s long-distance card instead of wherever you
happened to be. But, all you had to do was find some access
codes if you wanted to hack these, so how would you do that? Well, it would actually
be surprisingly similar to war dialing. You could setup your computer to call whatever
access or whatever the phone number was for the long distance company. And then just,
it would dial a random access code, and then you would need to give the computer a known-good
modem number. It didn’t matter what it was, as long as was a known good phone number that
was guaranteed to be answered by a modem. It could be a BBS, it could be your school’s
computer, it could be whatever as long as a modem would answer that line. And so what
the computer would do, it would do this entire sequence and it would call that and then most
likely it would timeout because the code doesn’t work. And so it would just repeat the same
thing again and it would use another random number for the code. And probably still wouldn’t
work. But eventually another computer would answer the other line. And what this would
tell the program you were using is BINGO! That code worked! And it would save that code,
either print it to your printer or save it to your floppy disk and you would do this
before going to bed at night and at least you don’t wake up half the town doing it.
But, you get up the next morning and bam! You’ve got like 5 or 6 long distance codes
available. And you would use those codes throughout the day. Now, what you would do is do this
every night because you wouldn’t want to use the same code over and over again because
then you’d probably get caught. Because they’d be like well, this code is being
abused all of the time and it’s coming from this same house. So, you’d just want to
use new codes every day and that would keep the phone companies guessing as to what was
going on there. So that was another way of phreaking that didn’t involve any special
hardware. This is a little program that a lot of us
Commodore guys used back in the day. This is just an emulation, of course, so I’m
not going to be able to completely demonstrate this, but I think you’ll definitely get
the idea of how it worked. So, this is called tele-clone, it’s made by Sergeant Pepper.
This is one of the later versions. He made it all throughout the 1980s. This program
actually does a lot of different things. And I’m not even going to begin to show them
all. But I wanted to show a few of them. So, I’m going to go to the phone and phreak
box mode. And you’ll notice there’s all these different colors of boxes that do all
kinds of different things. So, let me show you the blue box. This is the one we talked
about at the very beginning where we did the 1-800 number and the 2600 hertz tone on the
trunk line. And so you could do this all from your computer. So, do you need 2600 hertz
tone, yes. We don’t need the pink noise. This would be like the phone number, the long-distance
number you actually wanted to call. So, you could put in like 2-1-4 and then you know,
whatever. And then, you would want a 1-800 number. It doesn’t matter what the number
is as long as its a valid number. Actually, interesting this is the default number that
the program includes. I actually looked this up the other day. I think this was like the
customer service number to GTE, which is kind of Ironic. I actually tried calling it a few
days ago to see what it was and it’s actually some scam company now. So, I don’t remember
what it was, auto-warranty scams or something like that. But anyway, so at this point it’s
ready to go. Now, you don’t actually even need a modem
to use this program. What you could actually do, is take the handset for your telephone
and hold it up to your monitor or television screen right next to the speaker and it would
dial the number. And then it would wait. As soon as you hear it ringing, you would press
enter. There’s your tone. And now I’ve got a free telephone call to wherever it was
that I wanted. It was that easy. And I literally just hold it up to the monitor and I didn’t
even have to touch the phone to do it. So, that’s how easy it became to do this in
the computer age when we had these things and it became quite popular and it’s obvious
why the phone company eventually had to change the way everything worked so that these things
didn’t work anymore. So, let me show you another little thing.
So here’s the red box. So, you probably couldn’t use this. You know, computers weren’t
terrible portable at the time, but what you would probably do is just record these tones
onto a cassette tape. And so like here’s the quarter tone, the dime, or nickel. And
yeah, you could just record those onto like a cassette tape and just go to a pay phone
and then hold it up and you’ve got free calling on your pay phone. Now I want to show you the cracker box. So,
here’s how this works. This is for those long distance calling cards that I was talking
about. So, you would type in the phone number to whatever the long distance company was,
and then you would say whether you want random or sequential numbers. It doesn’t really
matter. I’ll just say random numbers. You could setup a particular time interval between
the calls, and then you would tell how many digits the particular long distance company
card, like the calling card, how many digits they used for their access codes. So, let’s
just say 6 digits. You could type in a code, you know whatever you wanted to start with.
And then this would be the number you would expect a modem to answer so that it could
test the code with. So this would be any number that you would expect a modem to answer. And
then do you want put your codes to a printer or disk. So, we’ll just say printer if you
want to just print them out as it finds them. And if everything looked correct, then you
go yes. Then you go to bed. And it starts its thing. And it would, of course, we’re
not going to be able to see anything on here, it’s an emulator, but yeah. In the morning
you’d wake up and and it would show you on the screen “number of good codes found”
it would be like 5 or 6. And they’d be ready there waiting for you. So that’s how that
worked. So, the next thing I was going to talk about
is why people did it. And there’s actually more reasons than you might think. Sgt Pepper
and people like Steve Wozniak have talked about this and a lot of the reason they did
it was not necessarily because they wanted to cheat the phone company, but simply because
it was challenging. It was hacking, it was fun. It was a way of trying to challenge themselves
to see what they could figure out next. Steve Wozniak said, for example, this was back before
he was wealthy right? He said that he did it for the fun of it. But, when he called
his own personal family and friends, that he always paid for the calls. He only did
phreaking when he was simply trying to figure out how stuff worked, and he said once he
figured it all out, he got bored of it and didn’t do it anymore. But, that’s one element. But, in the eighties
particularly, a lot of us teenagers did it because it was our only way of transferring
files on computers with our friends. Because, back then long-distance calls were extremely
expensive. So if you, for example, if I wanted to transfer a file to a friend who lived in
Dallas, which was only like a 30 minute drive, it would be. Well, just to do the math, back
then just one disk used to take like 5 or 6 hours to transfer over a modem. So, if you
multiply that by like 89 cents a minute, that was a heck of a lot of money you’d have
to pay. It’d be much cheaper just to mail it to them or get in a car and drive over
there. But, particularly if they lived in Germany, or Australia, or the UK or something
like that, it could be insanely expensive. And so the way we looked at it, especially
since we were teenagers and we were broke, we didn’t have jobs. It was kind of like
piracy. You know, the way we tended to think of piracy back then was, you know, we copied
games from each other because we couldn’t afford them. Some people could. But most of
us teenagers were broke. And so you’d say, “oh well you’re cheating the game companies,
the publishers that made the games.” And well, there’s a certain amount of truth
to that. But one way of looking at it is that we wouldn’t have had the games regardless.
I mean like, if we had to buy them, we just wouldn’t have had them. So, the game companies
still wouldn’t have gotten any money from us because we were broke. So we looked at
it from a stand point of “I’m going to copy this game because that’s literally
the only way I can get it.” And so we looked at telephone phreaking kind of the same way.
We’re going to do the phreaking because it was the only way we could make these long
distance phone calls. Because yeah, if our parents found out that we were calling and
charging hundreds of dollars to our phone bill, that wouldn’t last very long. So that’s
two of the main reasons why phreaking was done. And we are exactly on time at 4:30.
So, I guess I’m ready for questions. All right, I’ll start with you.

89 thoughts on “How Telephone Phreaking Worked”

  1. My friend had a little device that did this. We spent a couple of years following the Grateful Dead around in the 80s and we used it on payphones all over the country. Good times.

  2. And that point about not having the game at all is what companies don´t want to understand. If people don´t pirate songs or software, in most cases they won´t be a customer anyway so it doesn´t mean they would earn any more money. But it means less exposure because a friend of mine might hear a song at my house and go buy it or I play a game made by a developer and either do get money and buy the game or buy another game of theirs because I liked the first one or it hasn´t been cracked yet. It is much smarter to try and delay the cracking than to stop it altogether because it is free advertising.

  3. This video would’ve been super helpful when I was writing my thesis on the early days of hacking, which required a huge amount of research and exposition on phreaking. Most people “know” about hacking (though a vast majority of those people are the type who think it can be done more quickly when two people team up on one keyboard) but almost no one really remembers phone phreaking. I attribute this to the aging-out of the folks who remember an analog tone-driven phone system from the population and the folks who do remember such a thing not knowing about phreaking, forgetting, or dying off. A couple of the people who read the paper recognized things from their youth and remarked that they had been completely unaware of both these techniques and the subculture, but that they had to some extent understood parts of the phone system structure like tone control and party line infrastructure.

    There’s a great deal to be learned about our technological history which connects back to phreaking – like how the Yippie movement was directly connected to it. They were formed as the Youth International Party Line, or YIPL, which is (arguably) why they became known as the Yippies – there’s dispute as to where the name comes from. Most sources agree however that the “party line” portion was a double-entendre (I think that’s the right word) which was referencing the party lines that phreaks used to hang out in. Their newsletter (titled “The Youth International Party Line, later changed to the Technology Assistance Program or TAP) focused HEAVILY on distributing phreaking methods as broadly as possible, partially because the folks involved were dedicated phreaks, but also because those less interested in phreaking WERE interested in screwing over the phone company and the US government, which worked together to collect a tax on phone calls which was seen as supporting the Vietnam War. This was just one in a long list of pretty valid complaints including a collaboration between the Bell System and the government to record millions of calls basically automatically when it was suspected a Box was being used, which prior to the PATRIOT Act was the largest domestic spying operation ever carried out in the US.

    Even most people who truly know hacking aren’t aware that some of the earliest hacktivism was part of the protest against the war in Vietnam which involved distributing information about how to make free calls to normies, much less the other intensely fascinating history of phreaking. Thank you for helping. Someday I’d like to do the kinds of things you do. I need to learn to be a better researcher first, though. I’m sure that I got a few things totally wrong in my paper, and probably even in this comment. It was a history degree, and I’m pretty sure everyone who read it was just like “ok, the source seems to be saying this, so even if I have zero idea what he’s talking about I just gotta go with it.” I hope as more people my age and younger become historians, the profession will become much more technologically aware – but we are losing so much history very day because it isn’t recorded anywhere, and by the time History as a profession starts to document early and immediately pre-computer-age history and the way it shaped our modern world, we will have forgotten a great deal of it. My paper was an attempt to fight back against that, in some small way. It did not do much, and it is likely that no one will ever read it again and that most who did read it have forgotten almost everything in it, but it’s something I’m proud of and I don’t have much of that in my life.

  4. When I was a kid, we figured out the phone number for the modem that controlled the school's HVAC system by just trying a few numbers surrounding the advertised main school number.
    No automated war dialing was even necessary.

  5. A few blocks down from the convention center is skidmore fountain.
    Great place to buy some of oregons best cannabis.

  6. Why did they do this ??

    Cuz nerds are actually really evil. They come across as peaceful, but inside the fornicate with satan.

    Stealing from the phone company is called stealing. All thieves say the same thing. I did not have money…its too expencive…

    This guy is nothing but a thief. An evil thief.

    This nerd could have gotten a paperroute to pay for his hobbies like the rest of us, but nooooo, he,s an evil nerd….

    All cool, once a nerd still a nerd…

    "I was soo cool in my day, we robbed the phone calls…im cool right ?"


  7. I remember watching that 80 or 90s movie Hackers, and one of the guys held a tape player up to the receiver and made a free call after playing a tone. Never knew that was actually real, I always thought they just added that in to look cool.

  8. 02:31 do you know why he's cycling whilst playing the bagpipes?

    To get away from the awful sound! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

  9. Thank God phone companies wisened up and ain't as greedy now as then, We now can transfer files to our pals FAST and cost free via email,file sites,etc.

  10. I remember reading txt docs about this in the early 90s and actually trying to get free calls with payphones. didnt work because I think the technology in payphones had actually been improved enough for these 80s tricks to work.

  11. 11:45 In brazil is different, is 4 numbers more other 4 numbers.
    Sometimes is different but always is 0000-0000 i think.

  12. Guess Might be Darth Vader on Unicycle is actually an youtuber…

  13. I was gonna only watch for a minute just for "WTF does he mean by 'phreaking'", ended up watching the whole thing, LOL! Took like 5 minutes just to get to the topic at hand, but still. Easy answer, "Oh, the WarGames thing". 🙂 I had a telephony course in my electronics design college program, so I knew about the A, B, C, D column – though not that it was actually in use anywhere (I always figured it was dropped to not be confused with the letters on the standard phone pad: "1-800-GOT-JUNK") – but I hadn't realized the Red Box stuff, which just makes sense, it's not like (how I subconsciously assumed) the payphones have a special data line, LOL! Or the 2600 tone thing (which makes me wonder it there's any co-relation with the Atari being the Atari 2600). Interesting video, I must say.

    And a thought just occurred to me: An audio phone book, instead of writing down numbers, you record the tones for your friends' phone numbers, saved as like "Doug.mp3" and such, play them to dial them when you're out and about. Plan falls apart in that 1) Requires a landline with a dial tone to work, and they're getting scarce and 2) Where do you keep these recordings? Oh, on your cell ph… Wait.

  14. I knew that you are a dad, but if I hadn't – the ATM Joke outed you as one. "always has a line" hahah… Can a joke get any dad Joke-isher?

  15. i had never heard of 'phreaking' before and so I read the title as, "How the telephone freaking WORKED"

    i was … a bit confused.

  16. I would love to see an in depth review on the program you used about 22 minutes in as well as the rest of the boxes in depth.

    This type of tech/hacking history is fascinating.

  17. I don't know if anyone else did this, but on pay phones, you could open the bottom of the phone and if you touched the exposed wires to the coin return, you would get a dial tone.

  18. In 1996, I was twelve years old at the time, I found a redbox software somewhere online, likely through the Altavista search engine. I recorded quarter tones into a handheld tape recorded. Took it to the payphone near my house, and called the operator, and told her that the keypad was broken. I told her the phone number and then she told me to insert the coins, I played the tape recorder, and then she connected the call for me. To this day, I have no idea if she just let me make the call, or if she heard the tones, and that was confirmation enough for her to believe that I had put coins in. I was so freaked out that it worked, i never did it again. I thought that I would get arrested. lol.

  19. I love these speeches about "the old times", even though I am a bit too young (was born in the 80s). And I also love that the credits show the used music – Carmen's Theme is so good!

  20. In Germany this didnt work becuse we dailed with impulses. (IWV). But you was able to trick this also. Later Germany switched to the DTMF like the US has. We had telephones with a dial plate until the 90s.

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  22. The last time I was able to do any sort of phreaking was 2008. YES that late. A payphone in a neighborhood about 20 minutes from my house. I would press the operator, wait for her to hang up, hear a kachunk or whatever and then I had an open line to call anywhere and access the trunk line. Is this something that happened a lot?

  23. I'm just picturing like a 50 year old walking around a convention centre with like dad jean shorts filming cosplayers and how awkward it must be

  24. Neat. I usually put off these phreaking videos because they are so inaccurate, but while being somewhat basic, this was pretty spot on. Blue Box was obsolete in my area back when I started to trade (1984), so I was a "code kiddie," or a telcom code phreaker, when I hit my heyday. In fact, I traded with a C64 group in DFW called OID. Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane. Cheers–

  25. I can't think of any modem that could auto dial but not detect busy signals , ringing or dial tones. I used a Hayes and a Supra. In the video I am sure the The 8-Bit Guy said that the modems can't detect busy signals or ring tones.

  26. Another way of thinking about phone phreaking is the line probably isn't going to be used any way so whether or not an idle line is used by a phone phreak or left unused it is the same cost to the phone company. And as far as games go if I went to a friends house all the time rather than buy the game or made my own copy there is still a loss of revenue to the game company. We used to copy game tapes between two tape machines with a patch cable. For some unknown reason there was no protection on tapes.

  27. I had an E.T. game for the GameBoy Color and you were able to enter a phone number. Then raise the GameBoy speaker to the phone microphone and it would call the number.

  28. I remember my grandmother telling me how she'd tell her mother that she's on her way home. She'd dial the operator and would ask for a person to person call for an imaginary person at her house. When her mom answered and was told if so and so was there, she'd reply with "No, so and so isn't hear at the moment". The beauty of it was they didn't have to pay a dime for this.

  29. 11:55 He says"Back in my day we never had to dial the area code", well idiot, we still don't unless we are calling long distance, and everyone even kids of today with cellphones know what an area code is. So I don't know what era he was thinking about, unless he's older than he's letting on.

    Arizona is 520 area code, so an Arizona number could look like this (and if it resembles anyone's phone number don't blame me as I'm only picking out a random number) (520) 495-1975, you'll notice the area (state) code in parenthesis and the next 3 digits is the area within that state, particularly, a town or city, and the next 4 digits is the actual phone number. even if you're inside Arizona, you still don't need to use the area code.

    So what in the hell is this guy talking about?

  30. This was a lot more interesting than I expected it to be. I immediately thought of the movie Wargames. Then at 10:47 you showed the clip I had been thinking of. (That's spooky). 😉

  31. did you i think in late 70 if you where on payphone making long distances call and operator comes on line because you had to add more money for call, the operator had to listen to the tones of the coins made dropping in and add the total coins dropped by tone then patch call thru.

  32. Steve jobs also mentioned phone phreaking with his buddy Woz back when they wer young, he said once, we could phreak the phone to go 3 or 4 times around the world and call the payphone next to ours, and when we shout into the phone, you could here yourself shouting 30 seconds later on the other phone . . . I think this would be hilarious to do actually!

  33. @14:00 I think telephone companies are still enforcing prefixes by geographical areas for land lines still, at least in Cincinnati area code 513, Cincinnati Bell.

    When my dad died in 2011, my mom moved to a condo probably 10 minutes away but in a different suburb. Same 513 area code.

    She wanted to keep her original number, 513-851-XXXX (not sharing her number for obvious reasons). By luck, the XXXX part of her original number WAS available in the new area but they wouldn't let her keep 851 prefix. She had to switch to 874. So 513-874-XXXX instead of 513-851-XXXX.

  34. People who do cosplay should have their right to vote voided for a couple of years. If they are captured doing it again 3 years and so on…

  35. Ham radio uses operator codes in their onboard keypads. What they were for other then to be annoying on the local repeater no clue, I’m not one to annoy others though.

  36. I'm super impressed and humbled by the convention intro of the video. I wasn't aware this con existed and it sounds like a wet dream.

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