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Communications Hardware

A Look Back at One of the Original Phreaks 98

tmalone writes "The New York Times is running an end of year piece about the most interesting people who have died this year. One of their picks is Joybubbles, also known as Josef Engressia, or 'Whistler.' He was born blind and discovered at the age of 7 that he could whistle 2600 hertz into a phone to make free long-distance calls. He was one of the original phone phreaks, got arrested for phone fraud, and was even employed by the phone company. The article deals more with his personal life than with his technical exploits, but is a very interesting story."
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A Look Back at One of the Original Phreaks

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  • Obligatory (Score:2, Funny)

    by Pojut ( 1027544 )
    "You know...the Phantom Phreak...the King of Nynex?"
  • I thought it was an article about John Draper (a.k.a Captain Crunch) [] Then again he used a whistle and didn't just put his lips together and blow... It's sad to hear about it though...
  • History of Hacking (Score:4, Informative)

    by shawn443 ( 882648 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @04:50PM (#21869650) Homepage
    I'm sure most geeks here have seen this video. But for those who haven't, History of Hacking [].
  • by Cyno01 ( 573917 ) <> on Monday December 31, 2007 @04:54PM (#21869686) Homepage
    Still have my redbox in a drawer somewhere, probably next to my beige box and attempted homemade autodialer. Also still keep redbox tones on my MP3 players, more for nostalga than practicality since i have a cell phone and they havnt worked in 10 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ArikTheRed ( 865776 )
      Heck yeah! 1) Radio Shack tone dialer, 2) replace crystal with 6.5mhz, 3) pwn COCOTs. It wasn't until recently I learned that everyone who made one of these had the same problem as me: no one to call.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ajs318 ( 655362 )
      British payphones have *always* held track of credit in the payphone itself, rather than relying on the exchange to do it {which is just stupidly vulnerable to attacks}. Metering pulses {common-mode with respect to Earth} were sent down the line from the exchange after each unit. If you tried disconnecting the Earth wire to block the pulses, the phone would just cut you off anyway after a preset timeout, equivalent to one unit at the cheapest rate. Nowadays, payphones are smart enough to know, from th
      • There used to be a trick with some payphones in Australia whereby you could make free calls. When you put the coins in they were temporarily held in a device inside the phone (which also registered the value of each coin). After you connected with another phone the coins would be dropped into the safe at the bottom. When you hit the coin return button, a hinge in the device would open and the coins would drop into the coin return slot (and triggered a switch that told the phone that there was no more credit
        • by ajs318 ( 655362 )
          Something similar worked with BT payphones ("Blue Payphone 2", aka "Payphone 500"). If you modified the returned coin chute cover slightly {by forcibly pulling the inward-opening door out and removing the inner plate; after which mistreatment the door would open both ways, thus allowing you to reach into places when the door was opened outward which normally would be blocked off when the door was opened inward}, it was possible to knock 20p coins down from their temporary-storage chute -- coins were cou
  • interview (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kizzle ( 555439 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @04:58PM (#21869744)
    I was involved with an internet radio show a while back that did an excellent interview with him that covered a lot of interesting technical topics. []

    Slight offtopic but there's a guy that just made a graphic novel about the history of phreaking. I'm not sure if Joybubbles is in it but looks neat. []
  • NPR on Joybubbles (Score:5, Informative)

    by dsginter ( 104154 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @05:10PM (#21869876)
    NPR did a bit on Joybubbles [] (Joe's handle) some months ago.

    Very good listen.
  • Sneakers? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TomHandy ( 578620 ) <> on Monday December 31, 2007 @05:17PM (#21869932)
    Just out of curiosity, is the blind character "Whistler" from "Sneakers" based on him?
    • Re:Sneakers? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Albert Sandberg ( 315235 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @05:28PM (#21870024) Homepage
      "Whistler is seen eating a box of "Cap'n Crunch". In the 1970s, "Cap'n Crunch" came with a small whistle in the box. A "phone phreaker" called "Captain Crunch" (John Draper) discovered that this whistle could be used to get free phone calls (one of many components in the practice of "phone phreaking", which digital phone switching-systems has made almost totally obsolete). Whistler is patterned after Joe Engressia, a blind telephone expert born with perfect pitch who was one of the original phone phreakers."

      It seems like it, taken from the trivia page of sneakers from imdb [].
  • "blind faith", that he would be useful as an employee...

    "He was one of the original phone phreaks, got arrested for phone fraud, and was even employed by the phone company. The article deals more with his personal life than with his technical exploits, but is a very interesting story.""
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It used to be common practice that hackers and phreaks that got caught were given a choice:

      Work for us at a good salary or we have you thrown in jail for most of the rest of your life.

      It's not really a blind faith issue (decent pun use though). They realized that anyone good enough to figure out how to circumvent their systems could be a useful asset to their company from both a technical and security standpoint provided they could be "domesticated" so to speak.

      Now they just tend to go apes**t any time som
      • Has it occurred to you that maybe the "Get them to work for US" experiments didn't work out as well as they'd hoped?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Has it occurred to you that maybe the "Get them to work for US" experiments didn't work out as well as they'd hoped?

          In some cases, I'm sure they still had problems. However, as a couple of anecdotal data points, I've known a couple of people that were busted back in the early-mid nineties and given that choice. They both worked out quite well.

          A lot of it, I think, comes down to why they were doing it - exploration and learning vs trying to defraud, etc.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by icegreentea ( 974342 )
          I think the ultimate examples of that worked fabulously well. It got you guys to space and then the moon.
          • Yeah, but those guys didn't manipulate rockets to attack people. They wanted to build rockets, and the only people buying rockets wanted to attack other people.

            After the war we paid them to build even bigger rockets, for pretty much the same purpose, except we wisely realized we could showcase our precision guidance and heavy-lift capability with a seemingly innocuous exploration and science mission.

            Phone phreakers didn't necessarily know enough about the phone system to actually create anything.
  • I called him in 1984 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Christoph ( 17845 ) <> on Monday December 31, 2007 @05:36PM (#21870098) Homepage Journal
    When I was about 14, the Minneapolis City Pages did a story on him. The story said he was listed as "Zxzyx" in the Minneapolis phone book (so that he was guaranteed the last spot) and anyone could call him anytime. I looked in the phone book, and the listing was there, and I called. I was impressed that he had the guts to live completely out in the open (and it worked for him, too).
  • No not in that way... You sick slashdot weirdos. God everytime someone says touch, it doesn't have to have anything to do w/ privates....

    In all seriousness. Here was a guy completely in Stasis opposed to the idea of growing up. It's a great idea. I think I'll give some of his old broadcasts up.

    P.S. I am looking for a way to tactilly replicate water on a touch feedback device. Anyone know of such a thing?
  • Phreaks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by conureman ( 748753 )
    I fondly remember the olden days,(when I was a kid), and Herbert Schwartz showing me the lineman's phones that he'd socially engineered from some Bell Telephone guys. Herbie had a junction box in his back yard there in Livermore, so he could hook on and call his friends in Vienna. By not hooking on to the (correct) lines, nobody got billed for the calls. Way cool. This was back before touch-tone dialing, and it was a while before any sort of security or blocking was instituted anyway, so it was hardly phrea
    • when you imagine the above post read in Jean Shepard's voice ala A Christmas Story.
    • Re:Phreaks (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Viceroy Potatohead ( 954845 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:12AM (#21872140) Homepage
      For some strange reason, this article also made me feel all nostalgic.

      Eh Tee Dee Tee
      Eh Tee Eff Oh
      Eh Tee Ate Six Seven Five Three Oh Nine
      [Limbers up whistling muscles]...hWooooooooooooooooooooooofhhhhhhhhhoooooooooooooooooo.
      Good Evening Cowboy Neil, sending updates to the porn landscape of the Internet to your system. (Please Wait...)
      Eh Tee Aitch Oh
      [No Carrier]

      Yup, I've still got it! (Actually, I don't remember modem codes at all, so I've undoubtedly got them wrong...)

      Seriously, though, it's amazing what telephone technology has done in the last quarter century. I went from a party line (we were two long, one short) to dial phones that you could actually figure out some weird hacks by semi-intelligently flapping away at the hook (or more likely getting a call from a pissed off operator), to carrying something around that's smaller than a wallet which gives you the ability to create video and pictures, play games, do arithmetic, save or generate text, talk to almost anybody on the planet without explaining yourself to some telephone company employee, save an audio message, record an audio message, and a hundred other things. And not only that, it's not screwed to the wall. Really, the achievements in telephony have been pretty remarkable. I wonder what the modern Joybubbles is up to....
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I remember those days I had (have) the whole set of tones, except shaw (#) and star (*). I obtained them from a person who worked at AT&T in the last 60's. The shaw & star weren't in use yet and he couldn't get them.

    In the day this was hot information, technology to separate was hard to come by. Some people could tell the different tones by listening.

    What did I use them for? That would be none of your business.

    All in hertz

    Disconnect 2600

    Key Punch 1100 & 1700 (I don't remember what this does)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      KP and ST were needed for sentinel values due to the in-band signaling nature of the old MF long distance system. KP1 is not key punch, but key pulse. You send it after a supervision wink before you enter routing codes or destination numbers. Very important if you wanted to get into the art of tandem stacking or if you wanted to do anything with a bluebox at all. After putting in the routing codes or destination number, you would send ST.

      There were two KPs, KP1 and KP2. KP1 was used for making domestic
    • but the only use for them was in controlling routing in setting up LD calls. they were on the operator consoles in the mid 60s when I got a tour through NW Bell. looked like ITW lighted buttons. at that time, they were not published in the bell telephone engineering standards pubs that were in places like engineering school libraries.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by neapolitan ( 1100101 )
      I think your tones are off. []

      It was never that really hot information... There were commercially available wristwatches that would dial the phone for you by holding it up to the phone, etc.

      As a prank, when I was in grade school, circa 1990, a friend and I made a BASIC program on our school IBM's that would give a fake login screen that would "allow" you via simple commands to "dial FBI" completely with realistic "modem" dialtone and carrier tones. It would be hilarious to
      • The tones which the GP cited were the in-band signaling tones sent between exchanges, and were the tones used by blue boxes. These are different than those used by a DTMF dialer. IIRC, the way blue boxing worked was:
        1. Dial up a toll-free number - this gets you on the trunk
        2. Generate 2600 hz tone - the foreign exchange hears this and thinks you've disconnected so it disconnects the toll-free number, but the local exchange leaves you connected to the trunk
        3. Use blue box to generate routing tones for new destination
  • Poor Ol' Joe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drwho ( 4190 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @11:12PM (#21871850) Homepage Journal
    I used to regularly phreak calls to Joe in the mid 80s. I remember he had a phone number that ended in either 0000 or 9999, I can't remember which. Anyhow, this guy was cool. He just loved phones, and talking about phones. I remember he used to be able to tell what kind of switch a phone was on by calling it and listening to it ring. He used to be able to do pretty much everything with the phone system, but was against the people like Steve Jobs who made and sold blue boxes for a profit. We used to call Joe on Alliance Teleconferences (us being $LOD$ and friends) and we had a lot of fun. But then, some cranks (I think it might have been MOD) got his number and started harassing him. He went underground to avoid them and I lost all touch with him.

    He was a great guy. I don't know how well he fared once the phone system went digital, but he was someone who made the best out of what life took from him, and what life gave him. That is, his sight was taken but his tone sensitivity was extreme.

    Phone phreaking is a lost art -- an analog art, made of electronics and geeky passion. It was damaged by criminals out for nothing more than free calls, but ultimately destroyed by SS7.

    I've had the idea to use all this wondrous DSP technology and massive amounts of CPU power and storage to recreate the phone network circa 1982 - a phreaker's version, as close to the real thing as possible, where you'd use a blue box to get around, and find loops, etc. Think of it as an audio adventure game. I don't have the DSP talent to make it happen though. But if I ever could get it done, I would dedicate it to the memory of Joe Engressia.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vellmont ( 569020 )

      I've had the idea to use all this wondrous DSP technology and massive amounts of CPU power and storage to recreate the phone network circa 1982 - a phreaker's version, as close to the real thing as possible, where you'd use a blue box to get around, and find loops, etc. Think of it as an audio adventure game. I don't have the DSP talent to make it happen though.

      It doesn't sound all that difficult. You wouldn't really need to know anything about DSPs, just take some code from Asterisk, or another free PBX s
      • by fat_mike ( 71855 )
        Voted 5 for being informative.

        "Yeah dude, just take this stuff but I can't give you any specifics 'cause I'm a hacking fool and just get your DSP's from Asterisk and PBX that shit."

        Do you have any idea what you're talking about? You kids, you scare me and keep me buying MRE's.
    • Thank you for staying cool.
    • Re:Poor Ol' Joe (Score:5, Interesting)

      by anticypher ( 48312 ) <anticypher&gmail,com> on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @02:30PM (#21875536) Homepage
      I used to talk with Joe from time to time back in the mid-'70s and early '80s, I was introduced to him by Draper. Everything I learned about R2 signaling I got from Joe and the other Phreaks on the loops and conferences and by building my own boxes. That knowledge still serves me well, on projects in Africa where R2 is still widely used. Joe always gave without expecting anything in return, and his largess influenced many who started the open source movement.

      SS7 was an absolute necessity, the old inband signaling system was very expensive, too slow to deal with traffic growth, and too exploitable. Now, there is a whole new generation of Phreaks manipulating the SS7 system with relative impunity and ease. You have been reading about the very public exploits of the destructive and immature ones. They insert false info into remote PSAPs (e911 systems) and social engineer an armed SWAT response to a distant victim's house. For the little bit you hear about in the press, there is a large amount going on quietly unseen even to the /. crowd. Last night I got several impossible calls and SMS text messages, from some Phreaks who knew just how to inject the right info. Either that, or GW Bush sent me a New Years greeting from the whitehouse, Putin sent me greetings in Russian from the Kremlin, and the Pope sent greetings from the Vatican switchboard.

      Someday, when the rest of us around Joe's age have passed to greener pastures, the current /. crowd will be reminiscing about the old SS7 exploit crews, and the clever hacks they coded up. Ahh, the good old days when the internet was neutral and still ran IPv4 and websites were popular :-)

      the AC
      • by drwho ( 4190 )
        Anticypher: Hey good to know that phreaking lives on. I know it's possible to fake caller ID, but I guess the rest of that SS7 hackery has passed me by.

        Oh, to the fellow who suggest Asterisk - you're wrong on so many counts. First of all, you need to know that DTMF is not MF. Second of all, it was the BUGS in the ole' phone system which made it interesting, and these aren't going to be duplicated in Asterix. We'd have to re-implement them, and that is a lot of DSP work. It's not just about building a phone
    • I've created pretty much what you are suggesting at 630-485-2995. Check out this link for details: [] My system recreates a switch with a blue boxable trunk group of 24 trunks controlled by 2600 Hz SF and MF digit addressing. You can seize a ringing call with 2600, get the kercheep wink, then dial with a blue box or program to internal recordings, test lines, the PSTN, and the telephone switch collectors network - real mechanical swi
    • I have built something like this at 630-485-2995. It's a boxable private system with connections to the PSTN and other specialized networks. Details at: []
    • I've been running a systen for some time that allows using a blue box, pretty much like the old days of phreaking. Joe tried it a few times.

      More info and a simple Windows blue box program is at: []

      Some of the info reproduced below:

      Check out Phiber created software patches to allow Asterisk PBX software running on a Linux PC to simulate the old 2600 and MF (multifrequency) controlled network of the 50's-60's-70's.

      Remember the Esquire artic
  • I speak modem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday December 31, 2007 @11:31PM (#21871966) Journal
    and discovered at the age of 7 that he could whistle 2600 hertz into a phone to make free long-distance calls.

    I had to actually do something like this with phone modems for testing purposes. We had a bank of modems and to check which modem went to which phone number (people sometimes switched them without telling us) we would have to call the number on a voice phone across the way and then run over to the modem bank to see which lights were on.

    Often the modem lights wouldn't stay on long enough from a mere phone call. Rather than run fast and risky in a crowded, wiry data center, I discovered that if I whistled certain frequencies mirroring the connect sound, the modem would think I was another modem and spend a longer time trying to connect. Thus, by learning to speak modemese, I could walk instead of run.
  • Kudos for the New York Times, that ol' Grey Lady, for publishing such a moving obit. I think we should all recognize the man's genius, that spark which inhabits all hackers: that love of intricate systems, which beckon us to explore hidden worlds, affect their behavior, prodding, probing, and extending ourselves, eventually injecting ourselves into the system. We modern techies take for granted such intimacy with today's technology: truly, Ma Bell was Joe's real mother. Whatever you're hacking, in whatever
  • Phone Phreaking is something that's never, ever going to be possible again. All modern systems are using out-of-band signalling; so playing various tones down the line is approximately as effective as shining lines down the coin slot of a payphone.

    You can do some kinds of interesting things with an ISDN line, because you have access to the D-channel which is the actual, real, live out-of-band signalling channel; but they're still limited, because the exchange is acting as a man-in-the-middle and knows wh
  • Sorry for the duplicate information. Just getting used to the forums here....

    More info may be found at: []

    There is also a simple Windows blue box program at the link to try this with.




    Check out Phiber created software patches to allow Asterisk PBX software running on a Linux PC to simulate the old 2600 and MF (multifrequency) controlled network of the 50's-60's-70's.

    Remember the Esquire article?


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