Secrets of the Little Blue Box

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Secrets of the Little Blue Box

Post by Admin on Fri Jul 31, 2009 12:27 am

-----> Courtesy of the Exodus <-----

***** The AAG Proudly Presents The AAG Proudly Presents *****




Secrets of the Little Blue


by Ron

Typed by One Farad


* -A story so incredible it
may even make you *

feel sorry for the phone


(First of four



***** The AAG Proudly Presents The AAG Proudly Presents *****

Dudes... These four files contain the story, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box",
by Ron Rosenbaum.

-A story so incredible it may even make you feel sorry for the phone company-

Printed in the October 1971 issue of Esquire Magazine. If you happen to be in
a library and come across a collection of Esquire magazines, the October 1971
issue is the first issue printed in the smaller format. The story begins on
page 116 with a picture of a blue box.

--One Farad Cap, Atlantic Anarchist Guild

The Blue Box Is Introduced: Its Qualities Are Remarked

I am in the expensively furnished living room of Al Gilbertson (His real name
has been changed.), the creator of the "blue box." Gilbertson is holding one of
his shiny black-and-silver "blue boxes" comfortably in the palm of his hand,
pointing out the thirteen little red push buttons sticking up from the console.
He is dancing his fingers over the buttons, tapping out discordant beeping
electronic jingles. He is trying to explain to me how his little blue box does
nothing less than place the entire telephone system of the world, satellites,
cables and all, at the service of the blue-box operator, free of charge.

"That's what it does. Essentially it gives you the power of a super operator.
You seize a tandem with this top button," he presses the top button with his
index finger and the blue box emits a high-pitched cheep, "and like that" --
cheep goes the blue box again -- "you control the phone company's long-distance
switching systems from your cute little Princes phone or any old pay phone.
And you've got anonymity. An operator has to operate from a definite location:
the phone company knows where she is and what she's doing. But with your
beeper box, once you hop onto a trunk, say from a Holiday Inn 800 (toll-free)
number, they don't know where you are, or where you're coming from, they don't
know how you slipped into their lines and popped up in that 800 number. They
don't even know anything illegal is going on. And you can obscure your origins
through as many levels as you like. You can call next door by way of White
Plains, then over to Liverpool by cable, and then back here by satellite. You
can call yourself from one pay phone all the way around the world to a pay
phone next to you. And you get your dime back too."

"And they can't trace the calls? They can't charge you?"
"Not if you do it the right way. But you'll find that the free-call thing
isn't really as exciting at first as the feeling of power you get from having
one of these babies in your hand. I've watched people when they first get hold
of one of these things and start using it, and discover they can make
connections, set up crisscross and zigzag switching patterns back and forth
across the world. They hardly talk to the people they finally reach. They say
hello and start thinking of what kind of call to make next. They go a little
crazy." He looks down at the neat little package in his palm. His fingers are
still dancing, tapping out beeper patterns.

"I think it's something to do with how small my models are. There are lots of
blue boxes around, but mine are the smallest and most sophisticated
electronically. I wish I could show you the prototype we made for our big
syndicate order."

He sighs. "We had this order for a thousand beeper boxes from a syndicate
front man in Las Vegas. They use them to place bets coast to coast, keep lines
open for hours, all of which can get expensive if you have to pay. The deal
was a thousand blue boxes for $300 apiece. Before then we retailed them for
$1500 apiece, but $300,000 in one lump was hard to turn down. We had a
manufacturing deal worked out in the Philippines. Everything ready to go.
Anyway, the model I had ready for limited mass production was small enough to
fit inside a flip-top Marlboro box. It had flush touch panels for a keyboard,
rather than these unsightly buttons, sticking out. Looked just like a tiny
portable radio. In fact, I had designed it with a tiny transistor receiver to
get one AM channel, so in case the law became suspicious the owner could switch
on the radio part, start snapping his fingers, and no one could tell anything
illegal was going on. I thought of everything for this model -- I had it lined
with a band of thermite which could be ignited by radio signal from a tiny
button transmitter on your belt, so it could be burned to ashes instantly in
case of a bust. It was beautiful. A beautiful little machine. You should
have seen the faces on these syndicate guys when they came back after trying it
out. They'd hold it in their palm like they never wanted to let it go, and
they'd say, 'I can't believe it. I can't believe it.' You probably won't
believe it until you try it."

The Blue Box Is Tested: Certain Connections Are Made

About eleven o'clock two nights later Fraser Lucey has a blue box in the palm
of his left hand and a phone in the palm of his right. He is standing inside a
phone booth next to an isolated shut-down motel off Highway 1. I am standing
outside the phone booth.

Fraser likes to show off his blue box for people. Until a few weeks ago when
Pacific Telephone made a few arrests in his city, Fraser Lucey liked to bring
his blue box (This particular blue box, like most blue boxes, is not blue.
Blue boxes have come to be called "blue boxes" either because 1) The first blue
box ever confiscated by phone-company security men happened to be blue, or 2)
To distinguish them from "black boxes." Black boxes are devices, usually a
resistor in series, which, when attached to home phones, allow all incoming
calls to be made without charge to one's caller.) to parties. It never failed:
a few cheeps from his device and Fraser became the center of attention at the
very hippest of gatherings, playing phone tricks and doing request numbers for
hours. He began to take orders for his manufacturer in Mexico. He became a

Fraser is cautious now about where he shows off his blue box. But he never
gets tired of playing with it. "It's like the first time every time," he tells

Fraser puts a dime in the slot. He listens for a tone and holds the receiver
up to my ear. I hear the tone. Fraser begins describing, with a certain
practiced air, what he does while he does it. "I'm dialing an 800 number now.
Any 800 number will do. It's toll free. Tonight I think I'll use the ----- (he
names a well-know rent-a-car company) 800 number. Listen, It's ringing. Here,
you hear it? Now watch." He places the blue box over the mouthpiece of the
phone so that the one silver and twelve black push buttons are facing up toward
me. He presses the silver button -- the one at the top -- and I hear that
high-pitched beep. "That's 2600 cycles per second to be exact," says Lucey.
"Now, quick. listen." He shoves the earpiece at me. The ringing has vanished.
The line gives a slight hiccough, there is a sharp buzz, and then nothing but
soft white noise.

"We're home free now," Lucey tells me, taking back the phone and applying the
blue box to its mouthpiece once again. "We're up on a tandem, into a
long-lines trunk. Once you're up on a tandem, you can send yourself anywhere
you want to go." He decides to check out London first. He chooses a certain
pay phone located in Waterloo Station. This particular pay phone is popular
with the phone-phreaks network because there are usually people walking by at
all hours who will pick it up and talk for a while.

He presses the lower left-hand corner button which is marked "KP" on the face
of the box. "That's Key Pulse. It tells the tandem we're ready to give it
instructions. First I'll punch out KP 182 START, which will slide us into the
overseas sender in White Plains." I hear a neat clunk-cheep. "I think we'll
head over to England by satellite. Cable is actually faster and the connection
is somewhat better, but I like going by satellite. So I just punch out KP Zero
44. The Zero is supposed to guarantee a satellite connection and 44 is the
country code for England. Okay... we're there. In Liverpool actually. Now
all I have to do is punch out the London area code which is 1, and dial up the
pay phone. Here, listen, I've got a ring now."

I hear the soft quick purr-purr of a London ring. Then someone picks up the

"Hello," says the London voice.

"Hello. Who's this?" Fraser asks.

"Hello. There's actually nobody here. I just picked this up while I was
passing by. This is a public phone. There's no one here to answer actually."

"Hello. Don't hang up. I'm calling from the United States."

"Oh. What is the purpose of the call? This is a public phone you know."

"Oh. You know. To check out, uh, to find out what's going on in London. How
is it there?"

"Its five o'clock in the morning. It's raining now."

"Oh. Who are you?"

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Post by Admin on Fri Jul 31, 2009 12:28 am

The London passerby turns out to be an R.A.F. enlistee on his way back to the
base in Lincolnshire, with a terrible hangover after a thirty-six-hour pass.
He and Fraser talk about the rain. They agree that it's nicer when it's not
raining. They say good-bye and Fraser hangs up. His dime returns with a nice

"Isn't that far out," he says grinning at me. "London, like that."

Fraser squeezes the little blue box affectionately in his palm. "I told ya
this thing is for real. Listen, if you don't mind I'm gonna try this girl I
know in Paris. I usually give her a call around this time. It freaks her out.
This time I'll use the ------ (a different rent-a-car company) 800 number and
we'll go by overseas cable, 133; 33 is the country code for France, the 1 sends
you by cable. Okay, here we go.... Oh damn. Busy. Who could she be talking
to at this time?"

A state police car cruises slowly by the motel. The car does not stop, but
Fraser gets nervous. We hop back into his car and drive ten miles in the
opposite direction until we reach a Texaco station locked up for the night. We
pull up to a phone booth by the tire pump. Fraser dashes inside and tries the
Paris number. It is busy again.

"I don't understand who she could be talking to. The circuits may be busy.
It's too bad I haven't learned how to tap into lines overseas with this thing

Fraser begins to phreak around, as the phone phreaks say. He dials a leading
nationwide charge card's 800 number and punches out the tones that bring him
the time recording in Sydney, Australia. He beeps up the weather recording in
Rome, in Italian of course. He calls a friend in Boston and talks about a
certain over-the-counter stock they are into heavily. He finds the Paris
number busy again. He calls up "Dial a Disc" in London, and we listen to
Double Barrel by David and Ansil Collins, the number-one hit of the week in
London. He calls up a dealer of another sort and talks in code. He calls up
Joe Engressia, the original blind phone-phreak genius, and pays his respects.
There are other calls. Finally Fraser gets through to his young lady in

They both agree the circuits must have been busy, and criticize the Paris
telephone system. At two-thirty in the morning Fraser hangs up, pockets his
dime, and drives off, steering with one hand, holding what he calls his "lovely
little blue box" in the other.

You Can Call Long Distance For Less Than You Think

"You see, a few years ago the phone company made one big mistake," Gilbertson
explains two days later in his apartment. "They were careless enough to let
some technical journal publish the actual frequencies used to create all their
multi-frequency tones. Just a theoretical article some Bell Telephone
Laboratories engineer was doing about switching theory, and he listed the tones
in passing. At ----- (a well-known technical school) I had been fooling around
with phones for several years before I came across a copy of the journal in the
engineering library. I ran back to the lab and it took maybe twelve hours from
the time I saw that article to put together the first working blue box. It was
bigger and clumsier than this little baby, but it worked."

It's all there on public record in that technical journal written mainly by
Bell Lab people for other telephone engineers. Or at least it was public.
"Just try and get a copy of that issue at some engineering-school library now.
Bell has had them all red-tagged and withdrawn from circulation," Gilbertson
tells me.

"But it's too late. It's all public now. And once they became public the
technology needed to create your own beeper device is within the range of any
twelve-year-old kid, any twelve-year-old blind kid as a matter of fact. And he
can do it in less than the twelve hours it took us. Blind kids do it all the
time. They can't build anything as precise and compact as my beeper box, but
theirs can do anything mine can do."


"Okay. About twenty years ago A.T.&T. made a multi-billion-dollar decision to
operate its entire long-distance switching system on twelve electronically
generated combinations of twelve master tones. Those are the tones you
sometimes hear in the background after you've dialed a long-distance number.
They decided to use some very simple tones -- the tone for each number is just
two fixed single-frequency tones played simultaneously to create a certain beat
frequency. Like 1300 cycles per second and 900 cycles per second played
together give you the tone for digit 5. Now, what some of these phone phreaks
have done is get themselves access to an electric organ. Any cheap family
home-entertainment organ. Since the frequencies are public knowledge now --
one blind phone phreak has even had them recorded in one of the talking books
for the blind -- they just have to find the musical notes on the organ which
correspond to the phone tones. Then they tape them. For instance, to get Ma
Bell's tone for the number 1, you press down organ keys F~5 and A~5 (900 and
700 cycles per second) at the same time. To produce the tone for 2 it's F~5
and C~6 (1100 and 700 c.p.s). The phone phreaks circulate the whole list of
notes so there's no trial and error anymore."

He shows me a list of the rest of the phone numbers and the two electric organ
keys that produce them.

"Actually, you have to record these notes at 3 3/4 inches-per-second tape speed
and double it to 7 1/2 inches-per-second when you play them back, to get the
proper tones," he adds.

"So once you have all the tones recorded, how do you plug them into the phone

"Well, they take their organ and their cassette recorder, and start banging out
entire phone numbers in tones on the organ, including country codes, routing
instructions, 'KP' and 'Start' tones. Or, if they don't have an organ, someone
in the phone-phreak network sends them a cassette with all the tones recorded,
with a voice saying 'Number one,' then you have the tone, 'Number two,' then
the tone and so on. So with two cassette recorders they can put together a
series of phone numbers by switching back and forth from number to number. Any
idiot in the country with a cheap cassette recorder can make all the free calls
he wants."

"You mean you just hold the cassette recorder up the mouthpiece and switch in a
series of beeps you've recorded? The phone thinks that anything that makes
these tones must be its own equipment?"

"Right. As long as you get the frequency within thirty cycles per second of
the phone company's tones, the phone equipment thinks it hears its own voice
talking to it. The original granddaddy phone phreak was this blind kid with
perfect pitch, Joe Engressia, who used to whistle into the phone. An operator
could tell the difference between his whistle and the phone company's
electronic tone generator, but the phone company's switching circuit can't tell
them apart. The bigger the phone company gets and the further away from human
operators it gets, the more vulnerable it becomes to all sorts of phone

A Guide for the Perplexed

"But wait a minute," I stop Gilbertson. "If everything you do sounds like
phone-company equipment, why doesn't the phone company charge you for the call
the way it charges its own equipment?"

"Okay. That's where the 2600-cycle tone comes in. I better start from the

The beginning he describes for me is a vision of the phone system of the
continent as thousands of webs, of long-line trunks radiating from each of the
hundreds of toll switching offices to the other toll switching offices. Each
toll switching office is a hive compacted of thousands of long-distance tandems
constantly whistling and beeping to tandems in far-off toll switching offices.

The tandem is the key to the whole system. Each tandem is a line with some
relays with the capability of signalling any other tandem in any other toll
switching office on the continent, either directly one-to-one or by programming
a roundabout route through several other tandems if all the direct routes are
busy. For instance, if you want to call from New York to Los Angeles and
traffic is heavy on all direct trunks between the two cities, your tandem in
New York is programmed to try the next best route, which may send you down to a
tandem in New Orleans, then up to San Francisco, or down to a New Orleans
tandem, back to an Atlanta tandem, over to an Albuquerque tandem and finally up
to Los Angeles.

When a tandem is not being used, when it's sitting there waiting for someone to
make a long-distance call, it whistles. One side of the tandem, the side
"facing" your home phone, whistles at 2600 cycles per second toward all the
home phones serviced by the exchange, telling them it is at their service,
should they be interested in making a long-distance call. The other side of
the tandem is whistling 2600 c.p.s. into one or more long-distance trunk lines,
telling the rest of the phone system that it is neither sending nor receiving a
call through that trunk at the moment, that it has no use for that trunk at the

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