How Phone Phreaks Launched Hacking...

and started social engineering.

The five video series below is from ca 2000 and tells the story of Capn Crunch and his Blue Box and the development of phone phreaking culture. There was a natural progression from phreaking the phone system to hacking massive corporate computers. Watch the videos to see how John Draper, aka Capn Crunch, was the hero of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs and their origins as hackers, and the origins of social engineering. This social behavior, using impersonal technology to manipulate personal behaviors, is manifested today on the internet, especially through online social networking sites.

My parents accomplished their goal of redirecting my behavior in their own inimitable way by convincing me to become one of the first teenage male operators in over 75 years. I had progressed from "playing with the phone" as a kid to an adolescent "breaking into the phone" and that could lead to serious consequences. So...I never got very far as a phone phreak because suddenly I virtually had the keys to the kingdom when I sat at the old cord switchboard where I learned and legitimately used all the codes on a regular basis. As heavily monitored as it was, it was the source of the information I was seeking.

It's amazing how much you could figure out how to reach the most far flung places across the globe, just by sitting at a lowly cordboard with plain tandem trunks, working with only a few people in the middle of the night...in a state with one area code in a Toll Center designed only for standard North American calls. With subtle inquiring questions at the right time, to gain insight and information, on how the networked was designed and worked.

What the telephone network personally meant to me was connection and communication with the big, wide world and I saw it as a big impersonal system I learned to use effectively to get out of where I was. I was intrigued by the massive network and what could be done with it to connect people by shrinking geography through telecommunications. It was the old social network and almost everything that has occurred with the internet with social interaction, online networking and connection to government and commerce, was preceded on the telephone network.

Phone phreaking had a mentality that naturally leant itself to hacking and the beginning of social engineering started on the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The evolution from the PSTN to the internet was natural and the social behaviors of the internet were already in society on the PSTN for decades.


Computer History Museum

In many ways the post WWII analog telephone system that developed has been more properly recognized by computer historians as the beginning of contemporary interaction online. It often seems telephone historians are more interested in either the progression of technology in a purely factual manner or basking in the aura of a bygone era. The fusion of the idea that the old PSTN socially networked people and was pivotal in the transition of society to the digital Information Age and the internet has yet to be fully explored by telecommunications historians.


John Draper inspired Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs

The Blue Box

video 1 of 5


Inventing Hacker Sensibility
video 2 of 5


The Counterculture of Hacking
personal computing and the transition from phreaking to hacking
video 3 of 5


video 4 of 5


Phreaking: from wireline to pc to wireless
video 5 of 5