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History Of Telephone Hacking Essay, Research Paper
I. Introduction – The 60s and 70s
The Time Was Right
II. Phreaking Is Born
III. The Technical Aspects That Allowed Phreaking To Work
IV. Phreaker Culture
Phreaking in the Media
V. The Downfall of Phreaking
VI. What s Left For The Phreaking Community
VII. Bibliography. I. Introduction – The 60s and 70s
It s hard for one not to be familiar with the state of our nation in the 60s and 70s. The period was arguably the high point of independent thought for the century. Average, everyday people began to question and disagree with aspects of society that had formerly been respected and revered. The new line of thinking greatly influenced the way society would advanced through that period.
A. Social Advancements
The period in question was marked by a particularly hostile attitude towards those who were in positions of authority. The public was unhappy with the events surrounding the Vietnam War. For the first time, there was a large number of people who felt the need to speak up for what they believed in, even if it was against the government. The nation began to see the laying of foundations towards equal civil rights and disarmament, and the rebirth of independent thought.
Change tends to be popular for the younger generations. Older people are more set in their ways. Some would say that the generation gap is the chasm between differing points of view. The older generations of the 60s and 70s grew up with the idea that the government acted only in the best interests of the people, and that one should support the government in all ways possible. However, the inquisitive nature of the younger generation naturally caused them to tack the more defiant path. So, it is not hard to imagine that the new line of thinking that developed during this period bloomed from mediums related to the younger generations. For instance, pop culture contributed to this new way of thinking. If any one area contributed most to the new way of thinking, it would surely be the areas of higher education. College campuses allowed the younger people to come together and discuss current events, voice their opinions, and find like-minded individuals to associate with. Before long, the greatest areas of protest were college campuses. Thus, collegiate level educational centers became the homes of new independent thought
B. Technological Advancements
While the younger generation was busy with their revolution of sorts, the older populace continued on with their quest for technological advancement. In the midst of war, technology always tends to profit from the race to improve the nation s war machine. A great part of our budget goes towards research into bettering our armed forces chances of winning the war, whether it be by building a better gun, or by building better means of communication, or by making military life more suitable for the men in the trenches. The most prevalent areas for research towards these improvements were the colleges and universities. As the research grants piled in, more and more advancements were made, specifically in the areas of computing and electronics. Eventually, these advancements would creep their way into the everyday life of modern society.
C. The Time Was Right
Based on these facts, we can say that the period pertaining to the 60s and 70s was marked by an increase in independent and noncompliant thought, with a further increase in technological advancement, both centered at institutions of higher learning. Once the possibility of combining our new way of thinking to our new found technology was explored, things would never be the same again. Technology would forever after be considered a medium for expression. From this notion, hacking would be born. But, it would be some time before the computing industry would reach into the lives of everyday people. The technology wasn t quite advanced enough. However, there was one technology that was budding quite nicely in this period. One that reached into every house in the nation. One that was complex enough to grab attention, but simple enough to be dissected by those with enough determination or intent. This technology was the telephone system.
II. Phreaking Is Born
The Jargon dictionary defines phreaking as: The art and science of cracking the phone network (so as, for example, to make free long-distance calls). This was no easy task. The inner workings of the phone system don t lend themselves to analysis very easily. As I ll soon explain, there are many signaling tones involved. The forerunners of the phreaking community must have done some research into the phone system before they developed the methods to manipulate the system. Some sources say that a lot of information about the phone system was obtained by searching through the trash of nearby Central Offices (CO s). More often, the information was found right in a university library, where the Ma Bell Technical Journals were often kept for informational purposes. While reading these journals, it was easy to see how the Bell Telephone System left it self open to attacks.
III. The Technical Aspects That Make Phreaking Work
At this point in time, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) was a primarily (if not completely) analog network. It was designed to handle analog voice signals. Likewise, it used analog signaling to inform CO equipment of various line states. IT is important to mention that this signaling scheme was in-band. In-band means that the signals were sent over the normal telephone line, right along with the voice signals, and staying within the bandwidth of the line. Sometimes, while placing a call, one would actually be able to hear the office switches signaling each other, especially during a long distance phone call. This is due to the relationship between local offices (class 5 switching systems) and toll offices (class 4 switching systems), in respect to the trunk lines they share. These lines were loop start lines. This means that an off hook signal was given to the line if the loop (or circuit) was completed. If the loop was open, the line was not in use. Buy picking up the phone and dialing out, the customer caused the local office to complete a loop with the class 4 toll office. However, the lines between each class 4 office and other hierarchical offices dealt with Multi-Frequency (MF) signaling. On these trunk lines, there was a 2600Hz signal ever present, to signify the trunk was idle (not being used). If the class 4 toll office needed to route a call, it would cease sending 2600 across that line, to tell the other switch to wait for further instructions. Then the switch would send a combination of MF signals to signify the start of a number (Key Pulse, or KP), then the actual number in dial (consisting of unique MF signals to represent the digits 0-9), followed by the signal to signify the end of the number (ST). Now, assume for example that you are calling an 800 number. 1-800-555-1212, for example. You pick up the phone and dial. When you dial the first digit, 1, the local office switch realizes that you re going to need a long distance line. It send your request onward to a class 4 toll office switch. All this time, you re connected by loop start signaling. The signal won t be broken until you physically hang up the receiver. Now, the toll center switch gets a request to route the number 800/5551212, a number in the 800 Number Plan Area (NPA). The switch knows that this call is not a chargeable call, because the 800 NPA is a free call, from anywhere in the country. The toll office switch will send out the following MF string: KP8005551212ST. The proper switch will receive the request and the call will be connected. Now, here is what made phreaking so popular. If you blow a 2600Hz signal into the receiver of the handset, the furthest toll office (the one serving your number) and every other switch that you re using between the furthest and the nearest toll office (the one that your local office connected to originally) will think that the call was disconnected. But, you re still connected with the first toll office, who still believes that you made a call to an 800 number. At this point, if you had the capabilities to produce the other MF tones, besides 2600Hz, you could dial to anywhere in the country (or out of the country, as long as they use MF signaling) for free. This was the earliest type of phreaking. Later on, phreakers would learn how to manipulate other aspects of the phone system, including the singals that operators use to tell pay phones to return coins to users, and how to stack trunk seizures, so that single calls could be routed through as many far away toll offices as possible, including satellite transmitters.
IV. Phreaker Culture
A. Famous Phreakers
One of the earliest known phreakers was Stewart Nelson. Stewart was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1964, Stewart was able to program the MIT computer to play the proper MF tones needed to make the free phone calls. He could then record them onto a tape recorder to play them over the phone line. Stewart wasn t involved in the phreaking scene for the free calls. He was just curious as to how the phone system worked.
A more interesting person in the history of phreaking is Joe the Whistler. Rumor had it that Joe was born blind. He became interested in the workings of the phone company, and found that he had a special talent. He was able to whistle a perfect 2600Hz sound. It is said that other phreakers would call him to set their tones generators to his whistle.
The person primarily responsible for these tone generators is a man by the name of Cap n Crunch. His real name is John Draper. He got his nickname by figuring out that if you taped over a whole in a whistle from a box of Cap n Crunch, it would make a perfect 2600hz sound. While he was pursuing his Engineering degree in 1969, he was approached by another member of the blind phreaker community, Dennie, who explained the workings of the phone system to him, and introduced Draper to the underground phreaker community. They knew of Draper s ability to work with electronics, and asked him if there was any way to make a device to generate the MF tones needed to phreak, but in the style of a numeric keypad. Draper developed the first blue box, a pocket sized device that would make the proper tones. As people used and abused the phone system, using the blue boxes Draper had designed, Ma Bell finally started to catch on to the phreaking scene. Often, Draper and his friends would find trouble lines and would report them to the phone company linemen, who would sometimes exchange information about the system for their tips. Finally, the phreakers made it into the news, in an article on page 116 of the October 1971 issue of Esquire Magazine. Soon, more and more phreakers were being arrested on phone fraud charges, and the FBI sought out the captain for his involvement. In 1974, he was sent to jail, and was forced to teach inmates the secrets of the phone system. When he was released from prison, Steve Wozniak contacted him and introduced him to Steve Jobs. Wozniak produced a large enough quantity of Draper s blue box to help fund his computer venture, the Apple I, while he was still in high school. While Draper was no longer an active phreaker, he did enjoy hearing of Wozniak s antics while using the blue box, which allegedly included calling the Pope in Rome asking for the sacrament of confession and prank calling Richard Nixon on the private White House line.
B. Phreaking in the Media
Eventually, phreaking made it s way into other areas of society and culture. As home computing became more popular, and the modem was made available to people, phreaking text files were typed up. Afterwards, these text files were posted to a Bulletin Board System (BBS). A BBS was a computer that was attached to a modem, run by an Systems Operator (SysOp) who was most likely the owner of the computer. The SysOp would allow users to call up his computer to leave postings and swap files to and from the hard disk. Other users would then be able to share their texts as well. These text files specified the workings of the telephone system or schematics for various types of boxes, drawn out in ANSI text font type. In some ways, these BBSs paved the way for the dial up internet that most of us use today.
On the modern internet, phreaking and hacking were some of the most popular postings for newsgroups. Now, people can host their own websites devoted to phreaking and hacking, though the phreaking technology will no longer work, for the most part.
Finally, phreaking even has it s own magazine. 2600 Magazine is a quarterly periodical. Included in it s pages are articles about modern phreaking and hacking. 2600 heralds itself as The Hacker Quarterly and it is a place for hackers to voice their opinions and gather together in an environment where they re not considered threatening. Likewise, 2600 Magazine will often put itself into the spot of being the champion of free speech, on both the internet and any other form of Telecommunication. It is the constant subject of lawsuits and harassment by big business, who wants to stifle the free speech of the consumer. They have been know to cyber squat on world wide web addresses containing disparaging comments about a business, with the business name in the address. For example, they recently acquired WWW.VerizonReallySucks.Com. The page links back to a portion of the 2600 site that explains just what the business has done to deserve such an honor.
V. The Downfall of Phreaking
Eventually, the phone company became wise to the situation. Although the process of using in-band signaling was saving them a fortune on cables and equipment, they realized that they were losing too much face. The general public didn t like to see kids going to jail for a relatively useless crime. Many people began to blame the phone company for cutting corners in their infrastructure design, rather than blame the people who were exploiting it. So, for a short time, Ma Bell switched to out-of-band signaling. For now on, the switching signals would be sent by separate channels than the voice connection. Not too long after, digital signaling systems began to replace the analog system. This being the case, phreaking, in the original sense of the word, can no longer be accomplished.
VI. What s Left For The Phreaking Community?
Even though phreaking and blue boxing are now things of the past, the phreaking community doesn t have to retreat quietly into the darkness. There are many more telecommunications areas now, including high speed internet access, and cellular phones, that have yet to be explored, and possibly exploited. But, even if phreaking doesn t find a foothold in the future of telecommunications, it will always have a firm place in history. The text files still remain posted to certain websites, as if they were left there in homage to all those who believed in the cause the files stood for. Hopefully more people in our line of work will read them and become familiar with the sketchy past of phone systems. I am a firm believer in the saying that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. One day the need for a new infrastructure might arise, and we might be tempted to cut corners in our design specifications, leaving ourselves vulnerable to a very simple attack. If we remember the lesson taught to us by the phreakers, we will hopefully be less likely to make the same mistake again.
Cole, Marion. Telecommunications.
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1999.
Corley, Eric. 2600: Hacker Quarterly. 27 April, 2001
Draper, John. Capn Crunch In Cyberspace. 27 April, 2001.
Devil s Pl@ce. 27 April, 2001.
Hacking History – Phreaking – 4/12/99. 27 April, 2001.
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