History of Hacking 3: The Dawn of Computer Hacking

Reasons for phone phreaking effectiveness, as well as peculiarities and flaws of the first known online systems are what John Draper outlines in this part.

Why Phone Phreaking Worked

Well, AT&T’s decision to use what they called ‘in-band signaling’ was their downfall, very bad idea. Because if you can use ‘in-band signaling’ and signal on the same wire pair that you’re talking on – my god, that’s like giving away the jewels to your system; it’s like giving root access to your computer. That’s not a very good idea.

Joybubbles could whistle 2600 Hz

Joybubbles could whistle 2600 Hz

Using this ‘in-band signaling’ was the 2600 Hz that I showed you with the ‘Captain Crunch’ whistle, but pulse dialing. Joe Engressia was the first phone phreak to actually use his mouth, not a Captain Crunch whistle, just his mouth to whistle a free call. Joe Engressia’s more recent name is Joybubbles. He has since passed away several years ago, but he was one of the very first phone phreaks. Now, there’s going to be a book out by Phil Lapsley called “Phone Phreaking” and it’s going to be coming out in the next few months, so be on the lookout for it.

What can you do with this power? You can do anything an operator can do, plus more. You can tap phone lines; you can access inter-trunking routing codes; you can reach ‘inward’ operators – these are operators in distant cities. Like, if I want to call, let’s say, New York, NJ I call 201-121: 201 is the area code for New Jersey, 121 is the ‘inward’ operator for New Jersey, she’ll answer the phone: “New Jersey”, and usually these operators will just connect you without any questions asked, because in order for you to actually reach that operator you have to be an operator yourself.

So, these inter-trunking routing codes are always three codes: like, in the 209 area code there’s a number of different cities: there’s Stockton, there’s Modesto, and there’s a few other cities. Stockton would be, like, 042, so you’re going to first dial 209 area code, so you dial 209-042-121. And that’s how you can reach ‘inward’ operators. You can manually route the calls by stacking those numbers together, so you can do 209-042-044-042-044-042-044, and you can keep looping around over and over again, and that’s how you can stack tandems.

Arpa Net – Early Days

Now let’s go back a little bit to computing. Back in the mid-1960s and the late 1970s there was the Arpa Net. The Arpa Net was the military’s way of getting access to computers during war time, when all the universities and stuff like that had their computers tied together on what they called TIPs – Terminal Interface Processors.

Those TIPs allowed you to be able to access computers from different colleges and universities. MIT had one, Stanford had one, and all these large universities had their own computers. Back in the day every Arpa Net host had a guest account, and you could go in, you could write programs, like chess programs, the green/black chess programs.

Most hosts had very little storage, just enough for you to be able to run and test a few programs.

One time I took MIT with 2 terminals, I pitted MIT against Stanford in the game of chess, so I would duplicate the move that MIT made over to Stanford, and when Stanford made a move I would duplicate that over there. By the way, MIT won.

Most hosts had guest accounts, they had very little storage, just enough storage for you to be able to run and test a few programs. Most allowed you to play computer games and offered academic related programs, for instance, to help you with your math and something like that. And that was called the ‘Gentlemen’s Systems’.

Back in the day, normally, nobody had computer terminals. If you happened to have a computer room in the college or something like that, you could get on the Arpa Net and you could dial local Arpa TIP, dial ‘L+space+39’ and log in, you’ll get another prompt, and that prompt is MIT or whatever it happens to be, depending on the code.

Early BBS Days

Hayes Smartmodem 1200

Hayes Smartmodem 1200

Now let’s bring ourselves to the early 1980s. In the early 1980s DC Hayes came out with the first consumer product modem. It was 1200 baud, and this modem would basically allow you to access computers remotely through a phone line: by calling up the phone number, you get the high-pitched screech, you get connected to the computer.

Normally, BBS systems were used at that point. FidoNet was one of the more popular BBS systems, written by Tom Jennings. I see Tom quite a bit in the clubs in LA by the way, he’s still around. He’s not very active anymore in the computing industry, he’s getting on with his age like me.

A lot of illegal hacking methods were discussed at this time. Back in the BBS systems they’d publish usernames and passwords. And one of the most famous ones was the 8BBS. 8BBS stands for PDP-8; BBS is a bulletin board system running on a PDP-8 system. The owner of that thing was called Bernard Klaat; he got busted for running his PDP-8 BBS system. Of course he had more than one user on the PDP-8, but you only can have one user on your Apple, or on your Atari, or your Windows, or whatever you happen to be running.

Online Systems

Back in the day there was Compuserve – they were the most expensive, I think they were like $12 an hour. There was another system called BIX. For three months they had free accounts. You could just give yourself a free account on BIX and off you go, and then they started charging about $5 an hour after that, and their usage dropped from amazing down to about 1/100th of what they were using before.

There was Delphi and another online system which was very, very popular, called the WELL. WELL stands for the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link. These are the people with Stewart Brand. Stewart Brand and a lot of the people down in the Palo Alto area came out with the book called “What to Do After You Hit Return” – a very popular book for beginning students. There was also AOL, and of course there were many others.

Read previous: History of Hacking 2: Insight into Phone Phreaking
Read next: History of Hacking 4: Real-World Phone Phreaking Stories

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