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Phone Phreaking
- The Telecommunications Underground -

2600 Magazine cover
Image from cover of 2600 Magazine

Phone Phreaking

phreaking /freek'ing/ /n./ [from `phone phreak'] 1. The art and science of cracking the phone network (so as, for example, to make free long-distance calls). 2. By extension, security-cracking in any other context (especially, but not exclusively, on communications networks) (see cracking).

At one time phreaking was a semi-respectable activity among hackers; there was a gentleman's agreement that phreaking as an intellectual game and a form of exploration was OK, but serious theft of services was taboo. There was significant crossover between the hacker community and the hard-core phone phreaks who ran semi-underground networks of their own through such media as the legendary "TAP Newsletter". This ethos began to break down in the mid-1980s as wider dissemination of the techniques put them in the hands of less responsible phreaks. Around the same time, changes in the phone network made old-style technical ingenuity less effective as a way of hacking it, so phreaking came to depend more on overtly criminal acts such as stealing phone-card numbers. The crimes and punishments of gangs like the '414 group' turned that game very ugly. A few old-time hackers still phreak casually just to keep their hand in, but most these days have hardly even heard of `blue boxes' or any of the other paraphernalia of the great phreaks of yore. From the Jargon Dictionary -

Okay, you may be wondering why I've included a page on the underground world of "phreaking" on this otherwise pro-"Ma Bell"/pro-corporate telephone history web site. Well, like it or not, these underground activities are very much a part of our telephone history.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive web page of phreaking, there are sites that "specialize" in phreaking history and technical information on phone phreaking. I just want to provide a glimpse of the underground movement that started in the late sixties and continues to this day. None of the information on this page should be interpreted as my support or condemnation for these individuals or for their actions as "phreakers". I'm not casting any stones. Personally, I think the police and government officials can find more serious problems to spend my tax money on than catching phreakers making "free" phone calls.

Enough of my editorial opinions . . . let's meet some of the "pioneers" of this underground movement and then check out the links at the bottom of this page for more in-depth reading (probably more than you can digest in one sitting!) . . .

Joe Engressia - a.k.a "The Whistler"

The original granddaddy phone phreak was this blind kid with perfect pitch, Joe Engressia, who used to whistle into the phone. An operator could tell the difference between his whistle and the phone company's electronic tone generator, but the phone company's switching circuit can't tell them apart. From "The Hacker's Manifesto" - - NOTE: Appears to be a dead link on Sept. 25, 1999.

One of the first phreakers. Born blind, he could whistle perfectly any tone he wanted. He discovered phreaking accidentally when he was young. He loved to call unconnected numbers just to hear the error message. One time he started whistling a tune while listening to the message, and he was cut off. It happened again. He then phoned AT&T tech. labs and said "Hi. I'm Joe and I want to know why when I whistle this tune I get cut off." The engineer then explained how the 2600 Hz tone worked, and Joe learned how to phreak. It is said that phreakers across the world used to call Joe to tune their Blue Boxes. From "Guys from the Past" - (link was broken when checked Sept. 22, 2000)

Steve Wozniak

a.k.a. "Woz". One of the "Two Steve's" who founded Apple Computer and sold Blue Boxes at University. Claims he grew out of phreaking and hacking (true hacking) when he started Apple with Steve Jobs. He no longer works at Apple. From "Guys from the Past" -

Steve Jobs

The other Steve, who worked with Woz. They founded Apple Computer in Jobs' garage. Jobs now works for an animation/graphics company and was working on "Toy Story", the first computer animated film. From "Guys from the Past" -

John T. Draper - a.k.a., Cap'n Crunch

John Draper - in his younger years.
Colorized version of B&W photo from NightScribe
(Broken link - Sept. 25, 1999)


Recent photo of John Draper.
Photo from History of Cap'n Crunch

Around 1971 a Vietnam vet named John Draper discovered that the giveaway whistle in Cap'n Crunch cereal boxes perfectly reproduced a 2600 Hertz tone. Simply blow the whistle into a telephone receiver to make free calls; thanks for using AT&T. From "Discovery On Line - Hackers Hall of Fame"

Click here to go to the "Official" Cap'n Crunch web site.

Click here to go to the Computer Pirates web site to read an interview with Cap'n Crunch.
NOTE: This link was also found to be non-existent as of Sept. 25, 1999

The Cap'n Crunch Whistle

I found some information and pictures of the famous Cap'n Crunch whistle. Apparently the plastic whistle was made in several colors - red, blue, yellow, white, brown, and green, plus combinations of these colors. They first appeared in Cap'n Crunch cereal boxes as a free toy in the mid 1960's, were about 3" long and were made by Bosun. They had pictures of the "Captain" molded on one side & the Sea Dog mascot molded on the other side.

Speaking of Cap'n Crunch whistles, if you've got one, it could be worth some money to a phreaker as a collector's item. Here is a copy of an old advertisement in the marketplace section of 2600 magazine:

CAP'N CRUNCH WHISTLES. Brand new, only a few left. THE ORIGINAL WHISTLE in mint condition, never used. Join the elite few who own this treasure! Once they are gone, that is it - there are no more! Keychain hole for keyring. Identify yourself at meetings, etc. as a 2600 member by dangling your keychain and saying nothing. Cover one hole and get exactly 2600 Hz, cover the other hole and get another frequency. Use both holes to call your dog or dolphin. Also, ideal for telephone remote control devices. Price includes mailing. $99.95. Not only a collector's item but a VERY USEFUL device to carry at all times. Cash or money order only. Mail to: WHISTLE, PO Box 11562-ST, Clt, Missouri 63105.

Here are some additional photos I found of the whistle (found these on Ebay):

Two Cap'n Crunch Whistles
Pair sold for $27.75 US dollars on Ebay

Ebay Item #132089255 - Auction still on when this page was created.

For further reading (and audio files) on phone phreaking visit the following web sites:
WARNING! Some of the sites listed below contain inappropriate language and by no means condoned by this web site!

Cap'n Crunch Home Page -

Hackers Hall of Fame (Discovery Channel Online) -

Hacking History - Phreaking (About.Com) -

Cap'n Crunch FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) -

AUDIO FILES! Phone Trips web site -

PhoneFreaks web site -

"2600" Web Site -

Kevin Poulsen's Web Site  - - On December 4th, 1992, Poulsen became the first hacker to be indicted under U.S. espionage laws when the Justice Department charged him with stealing classified information. (18 U.S.C. 793). Five years later the charge was dismissed. This is his official web page.

"The Secrets of the Little Blue Box" - Originally found in Esquire Magazine - - Link broken to this page on Sept. 25, 1999

"Secrets of the Little Blue Box" - Another blue box link -