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Teen Phone Phreak Targeted by the FBI 431

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the asking-for-trouble-and-giving-the-rest-of-us-a-bad-name dept.
Wired has an interesting editorial on the latest resurgence of the old days of phone phreaking and the latest phreak that is rising into the FBI crosshairs. The most recent hoax, "swatting", involves malicious pranksters calling police with reports of fake murders, hostage crises, or the like and spoofing the call to appear as though it was from another location. "Now the FBI thinks it has identified the culprit in the Colorado swatting as a 17-year-old East Boston phone phreak known as "Li'l Hacker." Because he's underage, Wired.com is not reporting Li'l Hacker's last name. His first name is Matthew, and he poses a unique challenge to the federal justice system, because he is blind from birth. If he's guilty, the attack is at once the least sophisticated and most malicious of a string of capers linked to Matt, who stumbled into the lingering remains of the decades-old subculture of phone phreaking when he was 14, and quickly rose to become one of the most skilled active phreakers alive."
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Teen Phone Phreak Targeted by the FBI

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  • by AdamTrace (255409) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:29PM (#22603678)
    I love a good prank as much as the next guy, but sending the SWAT team to an innocent persons house? That's not that cool...
    • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:33PM (#22603720) Homepage Journal
      What if it was Jack Thompson's house?
    • No kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:35PM (#22603758)
      Instead of calling him a "prankster", a "hacker", etc. and then complaining that he is giving "the rest of us a bad name", why not call him what he really is?

      A sociopath, a criminal.
      • A Hero. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by FatSean (18753)
        If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from your militarized police force!
        • by tsm_sf (545316)
          If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from your militarized police force!

          QFT... especially since all of the early posters were modded down to zero for questioning the wisdom of sending kill squads into a house on the basis of a phone call.
      • Re:No kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday February 29, 2008 @05:19PM (#22605304)

        Instead of calling him a "prankster", a "hacker", etc. and then complaining that he is giving "the rest of us a bad name", why not call him what he really is?

        A sociopath, a criminal.
        Playful is crank-calling someone and asking if their refrigerator is running. Getting a dozen pizzas delivered to the local police station is a prank and theft but nobody got hurt. Calling in SWAT teams gets people killed. There are many cases of SWAT no-knocking the wrong apartment and either shooting unarmed people or getting shot at by guys with guns defending their homes. (Note to 2nd amendment types: your guns will not keep you free. If the government wants your ass, they're going to get it.)
        • by maillemaker (924053) on Friday February 29, 2008 @05:38PM (#22605496)
          >(Note to 2nd amendment types: your guns will not keep you free. If the government wants your ass, they're going to get it.)

          Of course, the government getting one or two asses is one thing. Thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of asses - that's a bit harder to contain.

          Ask the Vietnamese. Or the Mogadishuans. Or the Iraqies.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by routerl (976394)

          Instead of calling him a "prankster", a "hacker", etc. and then complaining that he is giving "the rest of us a bad name", why not call him what he really is?

          A sociopath, a criminal.

          Playful is crank-calling someone and asking if their refrigerator is running. Getting a dozen pizzas delivered to the local police station is a prank and theft but nobody got hurt. Calling in SWAT teams gets people killed. There are many cases of SWAT no-knocking the wrong apartment and either shooting unarmed people or getting shot at by guys with guns defending their homes. (Note to 2nd amendment types: your guns will not keep you free. If the government wants your ass, they're going to get it.)

          This is strictly a devil's advocate post. That is to say, I mostly agree with you but have a nagging voice (perhaps from childhood) which poses a counterpoint to your post.

          There seems to be a pattern echoed throughout generations which the rapid growth of communication technology in the 20th century lets us see quite clearly. Namely, previous generations attack the habits of current children/teenagers using reasons that seem perfectly sensible to members of the previous generations, but do not genera

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by RedK (112790)
            If you throw a live Bee's nest in someone's kitchen where he's having a diner party, sure it can be considered a prank, and since you're not responsible for the fact that the Bees will defend themselves, it's perfectly innocent right ?

            Don't stir a Hornet's nest. You know SWAT teams aren't renowned for their sense of humor, don't go playing pranks on them. There is a term for what you are describing, it is Criminal Negligence. You are responsible if people get hurt, end of story. It has nothing to do wi
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Obfuscant (592200)
            Is the fact that "calling in SWAT teams gets people killed" the fault of the prankster, or the SWAT teams?

            The "prankster", or better named, CRIMINAL.

            Getting the police to knock down the door to someone's house and put the entire household at risk is not a "prank". It is deliberate and malicious assault, as much as if the criminal himself had broken down the door and held the residents at gun-point. The criminal knows very well what the police response to his fictitious call will be, the results are extr

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by couchslug (175151)
        That, and NAME him. Just because someone is "underage" doesn't mean they should be able to conceal their criminal behavior. His crimes should follow him through life, and his punishment be an example to others.
    • by FatSean (18753)
      Our police SWAT teams always comport themselves justly. Of course, due to cowardice of many American voters, they can now just bust in and start shooting without saying a word. If a few innocents have to die so that the retarded "take my freedoms and tell me I'm safe" can be shown how wrong they are, so be it.

      Of course, I'm betting it won't be my house...pretty good odds :D
    • by Rinisari (521266)
      If you're gonna go, man, go all out.

      I hear they call that "swatting" these days.

      "Yeah, Sam got swatted last night during the evening news. He didn't realize that the TV crews and SWAT van he was watching on TV were outside his house until SWAT blew his door off the hinges. That's the third swatting this week!"
    • by Nerdfest (867930)
      Wasn't this sort of prank part of a William Gibson book, "Virtual Light", maybe? Perhaps we'll get some group all up in arms about the dangers of reading books now.
    • Thuggery (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wsanders (114993) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:51PM (#22604074) Homepage
      This isn't phreaking, it's thuggery. The Coast Guard has a BIG problem with phony emergencies on marine radio, like at it's peak 2 or 3 pranks per week in the SF Bay Area.

      When you get caught you are not released to the custody of your parents, they make sure you go to ass-pounding school.
  • Challenge? Why (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NETHED (258016) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:29PM (#22603682) Homepage
    Why is he a challenge? If he broke the law, he broke the law, blind or not.

    The justice system should be blind, so who cares if he broke the law.

    For this he will (rightfully) be tried as an adult because this kind of behavior can cost real lives. (I'll get modded down for being a troll)
    • Re:Challenge? Why (Score:5, Interesting)

      by KublaiKhan (522918) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:35PM (#22603750) Homepage Journal
      The challenge is that he's a disabled juvenile, for which there are likely very few facilities available for the internment thereof.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:51PM (#22604066)
        If he had a swat team pointing guns at me for a prank, I'd remedy the situation with a baseball bat. I'm sure he can be interned in a hospital bed just fine.
      • Re:Challenge? Why (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tverbeek (457094) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:59PM (#22604218) Homepage
        As a blind 17-year-old he doesn't pose any special challenge for incarceration, at least no more than a blind 18-year-old or blind 25-year-old would. He'll probably get tried as an adult and sentenced as an adult, and the prison system will deal with him the same as it does any other handicapped inmate. (In other words, chew him up and spit him out.)
      • And probably far fewer -- possibly zero -- facilities where he can be denied access to a phone. Disabled people need to be able to contact others for help, but this guy is likely to abuse any such privilege.

        You can put kids on trial as if they were adults. I wonder if this guy can be sentenced as if he were non-disabled?
      • Then arrest him on his birthday. There are blind people in prison. Take out the juvenile, part and problem solved.
      • by esocid (946821)
        from TFA he turns 18 in April, so what are the facilities like for disabled adults?
      • Re:Challenge? Why (Score:5, Insightful)

        by plague3106 (71849) on Friday February 29, 2008 @04:24PM (#22604544)
        Well, sucks to be him huh? I guess he'll have to fall down a few stairs in prison; should have thought of that before he did this shit. His actions are not excusable, and his disabilities matter not when deciding his punishment.
    • by esocid (946821)
      I gotta agree with you on this. Whether or not he can see doesn't change the fact that he put innocent lives in danger by doing this. It isn't like the early days of phreaking where you made long distance calls for free. Spoofing calls about an insane gunman is completely justified for this kid to get charged with some sort of crime.
      There was another story I read about swatting [dailynews.com] where they wanted the culprit charged with assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment by violence, both by proxy, which a
    • by electricbern (1222632) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:58PM (#22604200)
      Well, you see... since justice is also blind, it might be biased when judging his case.
  • Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moogied (1175879) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:32PM (#22603698)
    I think this is more a sign that the telco's really need to look at phone security. If a teenager can STILL phreak, decades after it started.. Something needs to be done.
    • No, not really (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:44PM (#22603944)
      I mean I don't disagree that we should shoot for better security, but the idea that the problem is that they don't have perfect security is stupid. Not that long ago, within my lifetime, E911 didn't know where you called from, you had to tell them. So phreaking them was as simple as giving a false address. What's more, it had been this ways for DECADES.

      So while the telcos should work towards a better identification system, it isn't necessarily the easiest thing in the world to develop and deploy, especially since the phone switches aren't the world's most extensible architecture (new features often mean adding hardware, not just changing code). We have to accept that virtual security is just like physical security: It cannot be perfect and impenetrable. We can have better and worse, but just because a failure is found doesn't mean the security is necessarily bad.

      Besides, I see a bigger problem in kids who think this sort of thing is ok to do.
  • by circletimessquare (444983) <<circletimessquare> <at> <gmail.com>> on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:33PM (#22603710) Homepage Journal
    if phreakers or hackers target the feds

    but please don't target the local law enforcement guys. you're actively denying some poor shlub 911 resources who might need them in a real emergency

    that makes you worse than anything you say you are opposing
    • by localroger (258128) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:41PM (#22603900) Homepage
      It's not that the cops are busy with the prank, it's that the cops think they are walking into a violently dangerous situation and conduct themselves accordingly, placing the innocent victims in real danger. It sucks about him being blind but not as much as it would suck to wake up at 2 AM because a bunch of goons have smashed your windows and invaded your home, grab your gun and attempt to defend yourself, and get shot by the cops for your trouble. I have zero sympathy and hope his stay in the pen is as much fun as his pranks are.
  • Thank Ma Bell (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Intron (870560) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:34PM (#22603736)
    Because the phone system was originally a monopoly, it is not designed for network security. This is an example. PBX's can be programmed to report any originating phone number. I don't know the type of line that the swatter was using, but trusting the source to report the caller ID is due to AT&T not having to worry about connecting foreign equipment.
    • Re:Thank Ma Bell (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:51PM (#22604076)
      I see this as less of a caller ID issue and more of a classic 911-prank issue.

      If the caller ID were not available, or were from a cellphone, or didn't make sense, or whatever else, the 911 responder would still have been obliged to send emergency personnel. If a call sounds legit (and often even if it doesn't), the police will respond, regardless of what caller ID says. Ultimately this was a dangerous prank and should be treated as such.

      The caller ID spoofing merely means that it took a bit longer to track down the prankster. You might argue that the insecurity of caller ID gave the prankster the guts to make a fake call in the first place. But then again, pranksters can use pay phones if they want anonymity. In any case the police will respond to the call.

  • Yikes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rary (566291) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:36PM (#22603788)

    When I was a kid and used to phreak..... um, I mean, when I heard about people doing this..... it was all about connecting to long-distance BBSes for free and downloading games. What this kid is doing is just sick.

    There's hackers/crackers/phreaks, and then there's people who are just plain assholes.

    • Re:Yikes! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sumdumass (711423) on Friday February 29, 2008 @04:10PM (#22604350) Journal
      I watched a summer of love special when they talked about flower power and drugs and the california scene.

      Anyways, a common recurring theme I took from that and found it to be true with a lot of stuff is that the first generation doing something, whether that is separated by a few years of age or a real generation, the second seems to take it to an extreme and never gets the point of the fist right in practice. I mention this because the "plain assholes" are typically people who don't get it but want to participate in some way. It is usually what results in insane laws being made about things.
  • I've felt for a long time (since I began to understand Windows security issues) that whenever a teenager is caught for hacking/phreaking/whathavu, that TWO entities should be prosecuted:
    1> the teenybopper;
    2> The company that designed a digital infrastructure so insecure that a teenybopper could hack in and cause those zillions of dollars damage they always claim at trial.
    • So... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:50PM (#22604058)
      If I break in to your house, and make no mistake I could easily do so, should you be prosecuted for not having secured your house well enough? Because unless you have extraordinarily good security, it really isn't hard to get by. You think a pin-tumbler lock and a simple alarm system do anything? Get real, trivial to get around. So should you be held accountable if I break the law and get in to your house just because you don't have superb security?

      I am just trying to understand here, because on /. there seems to be this attitude with regards to digital security that if you can do it, it should be ok to do. It is all on the person who owns the system to make it completely invenerable. So I'm just wondering if you feel the same way about physical security, since I can say with 99.99999% certainty, yours sucks (since almost everyone's does). If you don't feel the same about it, why not? Why should it be ok to break in to a computer but not a house?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I don't think that would be a useful legal trend. First of all, every security device (from software to padlocks to alarm systems) is imperfect. They will all fail at a certain point. They are marketed as providing a level of security: not infinite security.

      Secondly, laws like that would only discourage companies from even trying. In the physical world, no company would be willing to undertake the legal liability for selling padlocks. In software, no company would be willing to sell security software (or an
  • by Chas (5144) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:37PM (#22603804) Homepage Journal
    Calling up and making prank calls isn't phreaking.

    Even spoofing Caller ID, while a possible phreaking tool, is now common enough today that it's trivial for almost anyone to do.

    This is just some stupid punk kid making an ass out of himself and cost the police time and taxpayers money.

    This is equal to screaming fire in a crowded theater.

    Again, making prank calls to the police and emergency services is stupid, not phreaking.
    • by Carnildo (712617) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:59PM (#22604222) Homepage Journal

      Even spoofing Caller ID, while a possible phreaking tool, is now common enough today that it's trivial for almost anyone to do.


      E911 doesn't use Caller ID. It uses the same set of signals that the phone company uses for billing, which are much harder to spoof.
    • by _14k4 (5085) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `t.navillus'> on Friday February 29, 2008 @04:02PM (#22604252)
      Please mod the parent up as high as it can go.

      Having toyed with the telephone networks, back when it was "cool" to do when you were bored with irc... I know the difference between learning something new about the latest release of audix and making prank phone calls.

      A decade later, as a volunteer fireman; looking at the weather report for tonight - forecast 10inches... I would like to think that the calls I go out on tonight are legit and not some punk kid making prank calls. Yes, my fridge is running. As a lieutenant, too, I would like to think that my men (and one manly woman) are rolling for legit reasons, too.
  • At least... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Artaxs (1002024) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:39PM (#22603858)
    In this particular story at least, no one was killed. Considering just how often SWAT teams kill innocents [cato.org] with their no-knock, shoot-first tactics, this kid is lucky he hasn't been implicated in a wrongful death (yet).

    It seems to me that there is a big difference between phone phreaking to get free long-distance calls and spoofing phone numbers to bring SWAT down on an innocent family.

  • by canowhoopass.com (197454) * <rod@NoSPam.canowhoopass.com> on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:40PM (#22603872) Homepage

    Wired is so kind not to identify the juvenile...

    1. East Boston
    2. 17 Years Old
    3. Named Matthew
    4. Blind

    Thanks to this reporting, anyone who knows him now knows what he did. This will follow him around forever.

    Wired could have at least left the first name out and kept the story intact.

  • The good ole days (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cgfsd (1238866) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:40PM (#22603876)
    What ever happened to the good ole days where phreaking used to mean getting free long distance, free sex chat line and messing with the phone company?

    Sending a SWAT team to someone's random house is not a juvenile prank, someone could easily get shot.

    Now having a gay 1-900 line call a buddy back and thank him for his business, now that is a prank.

    Stick to free 1-900 calls and messing with phone switches. Think before sending heavily armed, trigger happy police into a perceived hostile environment.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:40PM (#22603880) Homepage
    Though he may seem like just an ordinary blind 17 year old, he is considered by many to be the most dangerous man alive. If you help us apprehend a known felon, we'll just clear away your record... give you a fresh start.
  • This has happened a few times in Dallas, pretty amusing but pretty dangerous too.

    On a related note, The crew that filmed Dallas SWAT use to hang out at a coffee shop I frequent and they said more often then not when they got deployed it was to a vacant house or the wrong address. It was amusing hearing stories about late night raids on an address that didn't exist or empty houses/buildings.
  • From the summary:

    If he's guilty, the attack is at once the least sophisticated and most malicious of a string of capers linked to Matt, who stumbled into the lingering remains of the decades-old subculture of phone phreaking when he was 14, and quickly rose to become one of the most skilled active phreakers alive.

    Now isn't that interesting? Least sophisticated and most malicious, at the same time? And this from someone who is "one of the most skilled active phreakers alive"?

    This is sounding a lot like a

  • Shouldn't the emergency services be using ANI [wikipedia.org] rather than caller ID?
  • Companies routinely make caller ID lie to people they call. There are services that you can pay to do this. There are legitimate business reasons for it.

    Now, granted, he may be making the ANI lie instead of the caller ID. Although I don't personally have any idea how to do that, I suspect it isn't real hard either.

    So what we have here is a 17 year old Bart Simpson, only he's calling Chief Wiggum instead of Moe, and he's putting people's lives at risk.

    I don't care if he's blind - that doesn't get him some so
  • What a loser (Score:3, Insightful)

    by imsabbel (611519) on Friday February 29, 2008 @04:01PM (#22604238)
    Sorry if you have an ocular deficite, but thats still no reason to fuck with other people.

    What he did relates to "phreaking" like burning down a server rack relates to "hacking".

    There is a word for that kind of people. Its "sociopaths". Dont believe me? Look it up.
  • Pretexting (Score:3, Informative)

    by esocid (946821) on Friday February 29, 2008 @04:03PM (#22604262) Journal

    Complicating matters in Matt's case is that there's no federal law against pretext phone calls. So in court filings in related cases, the feds have invented a novel legal theory just for the blind hacker. Matt, they argue, violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by persuading phone company workers to access their computers on his behalf. He hacked by proxy, using his voice instead of a computer.
    That may be where the complications arise, either that or he was used as an informant by the FBI to prosecute other swatters. Either way he turns 18 in April so they won't have to see if they can try him as a minor.
  • by EntropyXP (956792) on Friday February 29, 2008 @04:12PM (#22604386)
    If this kid had called in a fake crime at someone's house and then the SWAT comes in guns blazing and killed someone, who'd be responsible?

    Years ago a friend's stepdad was killed in Kansas City. The cops followed his stepdaughter (my friend) home from a party where drugs were present. An hour after she went home the cops busted into her house with flashlights and guns. Their uniforms were black. Well, the step-dad hears the ruckus and comes out with his handgun that he kept near to his bed. Without warning the police shot and killed him. AND, there were no drugs in the house and my friend had LEFT the party because drugs had been present. The cops busted into their house for NO legitimate reason. The family won a large lawsuit against the city and the police department for a wrongful death.

    What if something similar to this happened after the blind kid called the SWAT in on somebody? I'd sue the crap out of this kid's family, their cousins, their cousin's cousins and anyone else whose name I had. I'd sue the folks that make the technology that allow 'spoofing' of the calls origin. I've read about phreaking and it could be stopped instantly if telecos went all digital.

    This kid should have the privilege of prison cell for a few years.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday February 29, 2008 @04:54PM (#22604952) Journal

    Geez, you would think that on slashdot people would know the difference, this is prank calling, NOT phreaking. Phreaking is about getting free phone calls, not about causing a nuisance and most certainly NOT about sending swat teams out to third parties. A real phreaker would absolutly at no point consider causing harm to others (other then the phone company offcourse :P ) as even acceptable, let alone for it be the only goal.

    This guy and others like it are at best doing prank calls and at worsed doing real harm to the people around them. How would you like to be really need the emergency services and find that they are out because some lunatic send them on a wild goose chase? How would you like it if swat stood on your doorstep.

    What next, smashing somebodies face in and stealing their mobile is phreaking too?

    Put this guy in jail, and if he is blind, well I am sure he can find a cellmate to show him the ropes. I am sick to death of the bleeding hearts, you do wrong, you go to jail. Just remember the thing about equality, all people should be equal for the law, and that means being blind or whatever doesn't get you out of jail.

  • by NynexNinja (379583) on Friday February 29, 2008 @05:03PM (#22605066)
    It's fairly trivial to setup an asterisk box with a SIP client and make up any outbound caller-ID you want... It's a stretch to say that someone who does this is a "hacker" comparable to what someone could do with switch access... Being able to forward/unforward a phone arbitrarily from within a switch -- this is power. Does anyone remember the "Phone Masters [usdoj.gov]" guys Zibby, Gatsby, etc? -- That's the most recent example of hacking/phreaking that I can think. This is some kid playing around with asterisk and making prank phone calls.
  • by Cervantes (612861) on Friday February 29, 2008 @08:24PM (#22606904) Journal
    So, from reading this article, I can deduce the following:

    We're looking for a blind kid, heavyset, with a shaved head. Lives on the East side of Boston. Has a single mother, older brother, younger sister. His last name starts with W. His birthday is April 7, 1990. His mothers name is Amy Kahloul.

    Hey, Wired, great job of protecting this kids identity! Shit, not only could I track him down, I could probably get a credit card in his name with all that!

    (Of course, I wouldn't, because I like having a phone. )

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