Of Toy Whistles and Hacking Heroes

On the tracks of Phreaking

Like all good stories, it all started with a toy whistle. The best ideas come in the morning when eating your cereals. In any case, this has happened to one of the world’s most famous hackers. The miniature flute from his cereal box was the gateway to the hacker story of the century. And gave it its name: John “Captain Crunch” Draper.

Draper already hacked computers when there really wasn’t anything to hack. We are in the early 70s when the largest public computer network still consisted of a telephone network and the Internet was a distant dream of the future. At exactly this time, Draper got a priceless tip from one of his hacker colleagues. It was about the breakfast cereals from Cap’n Crunch which had a gimmick included: A toy flute that made a very special sound: An “e” with a frequency of 2600 Hertz.

This is how the age of phreaking started: The cracking of analogue telephone systems in order to be able to make calls free of charge or at the expense of others. If you whistled this tone into a telephone receiver, you could hack into the telephone system and make free telephone calls.

The criminal machinations of a toy flute

But what made Draper so famous was not that discovery. It was that he made phreaking accessible to everyone: Draper recorded the flute sound on tape and built multi-frequency devices in an old blue box. The Blue Box was born. Now everyone could enjoy the phreaking!

From Blue Boxing to Steve Jobs

Many copies of Blue Boxes were built later and sold among other things expensively. No wonder that Steve Jobs also earned his first money selling Blue Boxes at that time. If you like, Apple’s success story is based on a hacker story that is unparalleled. The quintessence of this story: A children’s flute was enough to deceive an enormous mediation system – which might seem impossible today. Read more about the 5 most common cyber threats here.

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March 26, 2019|
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