Monday, September 16, 2013

Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley

Exploding the Phone:  The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell, Phil Lapsley.  New York: Grove Press, 2013.  e-book, 425 pps.

Exploding the Phone covers a period of time from the late 60s through the 70s.  Although there were a few female phone phreaks, the book deals exclusively with adolescents and college phone phreaks who were male.  The book gives a very basic history of phone phreaking.  In the beginning were Cap'n Crunch whistles and boxes of various colors.  It was easier to get caught then.  And some phreakers did indeed get caught.  Exploding the Phone talks about having to hand-dial various exchanges [the first three numbers of a seven digit phone number] and then playing with the last four numbers until "something" happened.  The phreaks stayed alert for a series of clicks on the line or other unexpected things.  There was dumpster diving going on back then-- raiding the dumpsters behind local phone companies for service manuals and handbooks.  There was also bits of social engineering, although the term wasn't much used.

As the telephone system progressed and became more automated, hacking into the system became easier.  The black box, blue box, red box were consigned to the pile of relics of the past in the backs of closets and on crowded workbenches.  2600 Hz could be generated with a Cap'n Crunch whistle which one could obtain from the cereal boxes, and later on people had those whistles for sale.  One phreak had perfect pitch and could whistle all of the tones needed on demand.  Others had to find ways to generate the proper tones in order to get the automated system to do what they wanted it to do.  In the early days of ARPAnet, the phone phreaks had their own BBC boards to trade ideas and knowledge on.  As computers became more commonplace, phone phreaks found ways to use them to find useful exchanges.  Exploding the Phone touches only briefly on WATS lines at the end.

sapphoq reviews says:  Phil Lapsley has written a fine trip down memory lane for older hackers-- some of whom may have gotten their start fiddling around on the telephone wires-- and a good basic history book for younger hackers.  The phone phreaks predated today's hackers.  They also paid for their curiosity with time in the criminal justice system, fines, and a criminal record; just as hackers today do.  Although the book did not admit to the existence of any specific female phreaks, there were a few active females on the scene back then.  The best thing about Exploding the Phone is that there was no preachiness ["phreaking is bad, m'kay...] associated with the recounting of court dates and arrests.  I would have liked details about Centrex phreaking to be included as well as the tie-in with Arpanet, the BBC boards, and electronics flea markets.  I did enjoy this book immensely.  Techies and geeks will probably enjoy this book too.  Absolutely highly recommended.

No comments: