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CraginS
Defender I

Hacker History - Blast from the Past

Probably the best radio talk show host in the past 50 years was Art Bell. His shows are still so popular there are several sources online to hear his archived shows. Several nights a week I listen to his shows on U7 Radio, Stream 1, through TuneIn.com. Last night was a show from the early-1990s with a four hour interview of famed phreak Captain Crunch, John Draper. Honoring the phone theme, callers identified their location by area code instead of city. One caller was the hacker with handle Seven (7even?) who was told to call in by a friend after he had been mentioned. He and the Captain kind of knew each other but were not really friends. They agreed to meet for coffee in San Francisco.

 

Classic old tech topics came up during the wide-ranging discussion. This show took place during the first few years of the WWW, about 1995. Art, a high-skill HAM radio operator, already had www.artbell.com (now defunct but archived as linked), but he also had an AOL account. Callers complained that http://www.artbell.com could not be reached through AOL or CompuServe. There was a bit of trash talk from callers about “real techies” stooping to have an AOL account. They also spoke of connecting to the net with modems at 14,400 bps, and one bragged of having 28.8 kbps.

 

Captain Crunch talked of his site, hosted on a granddaddy of hosts, The Well, http://www.well.com/user/crunch (again, now defunct). Art was running a video feed from his studio using a color camera with sound, very unusual in those days. When he mentioned it, Crunch asked if it was CU-SeeMe (the first video program for the net, with came form Cornell University), and Art said it was better.

 

There were caller questions about secret phone codes to determine if a line was bing tapped; Art knew of these but did not want them discussed don the air. Art also refused to allow any hint of discussion about possible (government) wire tapping on phones or the net. There was brief talk about ISDN speed and use by companies, but not really available for individuals.

 

One caller asked about the origin pf the word phreak. Captain Crunch explained it came from phone freaks, a name chosen by a group of blind folks, dating back to the 1960s who he met in the 80s. As blind, they really relied on phones for communicating, so they apparently shared tips on how to use phones to their benefit. Another caller talked of using the 2600 tone whistle and also listening for and learning other control tones for phones.

If you can find this particular episode on one of the archive sites, I recommend it. For another Art Bell take on phreaking, you can listen to Art Bell discusses phone phreaking with Kevin Mitnick on Midnight In The Desert

 

Enjoy!

(c) 2021 D. Cragin Shelton

 

(originally published on my blog)

D. Cragin Shelton, DSc
Dr.Cragin@iCloud.com
My Blog
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3 Replies
tmekelburg1
Contributor III

Re: Hacker History - Blast from the Past

I really enjoyed reading Kevin Mitnick's book 'Ghost in the Wires' about this topic. Kevin definitely has a big ego in the book that he tries to down play but it's a fascinating story all the same. To be fair, I might brag a little as well if I had his social engineering and phone phreaking skills though lol.

jmikesmith
Newcomer III

Re: Hacker History - Blast from the Past

I entered the field as a COMSEC engineer in the Canadian military in 1989. As part of my training, I was told to read the just-published The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll. It's about how Stoll, an astronomer-turned-sys-admin, tracked down a $0.75 billing anomaly in his university's computer billing system to a German hacker looking for American military secrets to sell to the Soviets. I haven't read it in decades, but I remember it as a great introduction to the issues and stakes in computer security. Bruce Sterling published The Hacker Crackdown a few years later. It looked into the hacker subculture in the U.S. and law enforcement's early attempts to deal with hackers.

 

But the highlight of my early years is probably the cryptography course taught by Whitfield Diffie in an Ottawa hotel conference room.

 

Mike

CraginS
Defender I

Re: Hacker History - Blast from the Past


@jmikesmith wrote:

I entered the field as a COMSEC engineer in the Canadian military in 1989. As part of my training, I was told to read the just-published The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll. It's about how Stoll, an astronomer-turned-sys-admin, tracked down a $0.75 billing anomaly in his university's computer billing system to a German hacker looking for American military secrets to sell to the Soviets. I haven't read it in decades, but I remember it as a great introduction to the issues and stakes in computer security. Bruce Sterling published The Hacker Crackdown a few years later. It looked into the hacker subculture in the U.S. and law enforcement's early attempts to deal with hackers.

 

But the highlight of my early years is probably the cryptography course taught by Whitfield Diffie in an Ottawa hotel conference room.

 

Mike


Excellent input, Mike!

I still recommend Stoll's book as a first read for everyone in the field. Among other things, it shows that what younger practitioners may think are new attacks and problems have been around for 40+ years. Among other items, while Stoll did not name them as such, he showed the value of log file analysis, described the first use of a honeypot to deal with intruders, and identified the use of daisy-chaining intermediate servers for an attack to obscure the source.

As for Sterling's book, it is a fascinating story, all true, a warning about the potentials for government over-reach, and a description of why the Electronic Frontier Foundation came into being (and why I give them money). 

 

Craig

 

D. Cragin Shelton, DSc
Dr.Cragin@iCloud.com
My Blog
My LinkeDin Profile
My Community Posts