Back in the old days, when hackers were men, Blue Boxing was all the rage. If you’re not in the know, Blue Boxing is basically a process of sending tones down old telephone lines to enable free calls around the world. The boxes were the skeleton keys of their day and made a lot of people a lot of money.
This article from Esquire in 1971 described a world of phone phreaks, hackers, and two boys named Jobs and Wozniak who basically paved the way for hackers woldwide. Here’s one of the best quotes in any computer story anywhere, and it was uttered four years before the first personal computer hit the streets.
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 $1,500 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.”
Thermite? Fake radios? Syndicates? Damn. What did I ever do? Maybe act as a broker to buy a hard drive full of pirated car repair manuals.