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Appeared on: Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Captain Crunch

1. Page 1
One of the legendary figures of Silicon Valley, maybe the most famous hacker of all times, has made his come-back to action after a long absence, the only difference being that he is now upholding the law. John T. Draper, the fabulous “captain crunch”, the person who had driven the AT&T nuts in the 1970’s, has set up, at the age of 57, the ShopIP company, one that provides counsel pertaining to safety matters

The Captain Crunch tale starts at the end of the 60’s, when he realized that a whistle offered with the “Cap’n Crunch” cornflakes could actually outwit a digital telephone-console. The whistle would produce a 2600Hz sound, a frequency that signaled to the central distributor that the call was over. This way if a person would like to make a long-distance call, what they could do would just whistle in the specific frequency for just one second, and the system would cease charging the caller who was then able to hold the line for hours on end without being charged.

In 1970 he met Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniac (before they founded Apple Computer) and the three of them designed the well-known Blue-Box, an advanced 2600Hz whistle-contrivance. They started selling the aforesaid device door to door, but things got rough for John T. Draper. In October 1971 the Esquire magazine published an article under the title “The secrets of the small blue box.” In the article the function of the apparatus was being described and Draper was being referred to as its moving spirit. So, Captain Crunch was arrested by the FBI and convicted to 5 years of penal internment. Apart from the sentence imposed on him, the court of law denied him the use of a telephone set. When he was released he worked with the then newly founded Apple for a while, but at the end of the 1970s he was charged with violating his parole conditions and was arrested. He was sent to the Pennsylvania Correctional Institution. It was there that he was asked by some of the inmates about his secret on outwitting the telephone network. Being afraid that they would stool on him, he gave away the wrong information. As soon as they found out that their efforts to call free of charge turned out to be fruitless, they beat him to the point that he ended up with permanent afflictions.

2. Page 2

When in prison he designed Easy Writer, the first word- processing program for the IBM PC. The program became a big success (it was given away with the IBM computers by the company itself) turning him into a millionaire…for a short time. He definitely was not the person to remain in the status he had gained. He went bankrupt after some unsuccessful attempts to set up his own business. Ever since, he has been homeless twice. He even became the victim of a robbery in Texas, when he had his lap top stolen, and with it, the unique copy of his autobiography, and due to judicial interdictions (he was banned from using a computer for a long time) he had to emigrate to India, where he worked for a company providing network services.

Now, at 57 he wants to start anew, making use of the Internet development. Things are not easy though, for he is making an appearance in the market at a relatively late time, and in a period of recession not to mention his “hacking” former experience that makes him an a priori suspect. Of course, this come-back of his has once again brought the old debate forward, namely whether it is possible for the outlaws of the past to turn into the sheriffs of the present with the blessings of the informatics industry. Those who claim that the “black hats” (the term refers to hackers in the informatics security industry jargon) are not entitled to becoming “white hats” no matter whether they have shown repentance or not, are many. There are others who say that repentant hackers master the “know-how” needed to make them the guards of cyberspace. “To the question whether black hats can be turned into white ones a straight black and white answer is not possible” Peter Neumann, the computer security guru states in the New York Times. “In general, very few of the black hats that chose to ride on the right road have been exceptionally effective. The naïve conception that hiring a hacker would increase security in the systems of informatics is a mere fable.”

By Pashos Mandravelis.

email to P. Mandravelis

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