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Blue box

A blue box is an electronic device that plays a 2600 Hz tone and the multifrequency tones that were used by analog long lines. The 2600Hz was known as a supervisory signal, because it indicated the status of a trunk; on hook (tone) or off-hook (no tone). The below MF tones were used to send the switching codes over the trunk line. After calling a long distance toll free line the 2600 Hz tone would be pulsed onto the open line dropping the receiving end of the node but leaving the truck line open and waiting for a new routing signal. The routing signal could be in the form of a regular telephone number with KP being the pulse to start the code and ST to end the code (no need to dial one before your number!).

 NORMAL  FORMAT  FOR TELEPHONE NUMBERS: NYN/NNX-XXXX.  
 WHERE N=ANY DIGIT EXCEPT 1 AND 0; Y=0 OR 1, AND X=ANY DIGIT.

  700  :   1   :   2   :   4   :   7   :  11   :
  900  :   +   :   3   :   5   :   8   :  12   :
 1100  :   +   :   +   :   6   :   9   :  KP   :
 1300  :   +   :   +   :   +   :  10   :  KP2  :
 1500  :   +   :   +   :   +   :   +   :  ST   :
       :  900  : 1100  : 1300  :  1500 : 1700  :

The tone pairs needed to remain on for 1/10 sec. With 1/10 sec. of silence between digits. The 'KP' and ST tones had to be sent for 2/10 sec. On the line there were 2600hz traps that could detect pure 2600 hz signals that would alert the MOTHER technicians that someone was inserting their own tone on the line. To defeat that detection device one sent along with the 2600hz some pink noise (most of the energy on this signal should be above 3000hz). This signal would not make it over the toll network, but should have carried the call as far as the local toll center). The addition of this pink noise was so that the traps won't find 'pure' 2600hz on the trunk. This was not a perfectly safe way to box, but it was meant to slow down discovery so the phreaker could make a few calls from a payphone before being detected and had to move along.

If one had gotten onto a an operator trunk line by putting in the following codes (the XXX = area code) they would get the following types of operators:

 XXX+101   - TOLL  SWITCHING
 XXX+121   - LOCAL OPERATOR
 XXX+131   - INFORMATION
 XXX+141   - RATE & ROUTE
 XXX+181   - COIN REFUND OPERATOR
 XXX+11501 - MOBILE OPERATOR
 XXX+11521 - MOBILE OPERATOR
 XXX+11511 - CONFERENCE OPERATOR

If you knew the jargon (there were manuals available, you could use these operators to help you obtain the necessary information and complete your calls without the local company being aware that you were using the line.

The Blue Box was used as a phreaking tool to gain access to long distance switching systems, and thereby make free phone calls. They say blue boxes no longer work in most western nations, as the switching system has long changed to a fully-digital system that no longer sends signalling tones like the 2600 Hz code. It was a federal crime to use or possess blue boxes, many phreaks would record the tones on an minature audio cassette recorder and take the recorder to a pay telephone to prevent the FBI from tracking their illegal call usage. Often if the phreaks were caught they would be offered jobs working for MOTHER rather than spending time in a federal prison as the phreaks often knew more about how the long lines worked than the engineers who built them.

Black boxes were used to defeat supervision on incoming calls. Someone would call you but their telephone central office would never register that the call would be picked up. There were also devices called Red boxes used on payphones:

  RED BOX FREQ.S: 1700 HZ AND 2200 HZ MIXED TOGETHER

  A NICKEL IS 66 MS ON (1 BEEP). A DIME IS 66MS ON, 66MS OFF,
  66MS ON (2 BEEPS) A QUARTER IS 33MS ON, 33MS OFF REPEATED 5
  TIMES. (MS= MILLISECOND). 

In the early 1970s when the concept was first being explored, a number of people made and sold blue, red and black boxes such as John Draper also known as Captain Crunch. There was an article in Esquire (http://www.webcrunchers.com/crunch/esq-art) magazine that made him famous and put phone phreaking on the map. Others who made and sold blue boxes were Steve Wozniak (who learned the art from Captain Crunch) and Steve Jobs, who would later start Apple Computer.



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