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Phreaking boxes are devices used by phone phreaks to perform various functions normally reserved for operators and other telephone company employees.
Most phreaking boxes are named after colors, due to folklore surrounding the earliest boxes which suggested that the first ones of each kind were housed in a box or casing of that color. However, very few physical specimens of phreaking boxes are actually the color for which they are named.
Most phreaking boxes are electronic devices which interface directly with a telephone line and manipulate the line or the greater system in some way through either by generating audible tones that invoke switching functions (for example, the blue box), or by manipulating the electrical characteristics of the line to disrupt normal line function (for example, the black box). However a few boxes can use mechanical or acoustic methods - for example, it was possible to use a pair of properly tuned whistles as a red box.
Among the most well-known phreaking boxes were the black box, which tricked switching equipment into believing a call had not been answered when in fact it had, resulting in free incoming long distance calls; the beige box, which is an improvised lineman's handset typically made from a one-piece telephone and alligator clips; the blue box which emulated the in-band signaling tones once used by long distance operators and switching equipment; and the red box, which emulated the tones generated by payphones when coins were deposited.
Today, most phreaking boxes are obsolete due to changes in telephone technology.
List of phreaking boxes
This is not a comprehensive list. Many text files online describe various "boxes" in a long list of colors, some of which are fictional (parodies or concepts which never worked), minor variants of boxes already listed or aftermarket versions of features (line in use indicators, 'hold' and 'conference' buttons) commonly included in standard multi-line phones.
|Blue box||Tone generator, emitted 2600Hz tone to disconnect a long-distance call while retaining control of a trunk, then generated multi-frequency tones to make another toll call which was not detected properly by billing equipment. Obsolete as it relied on use of in-band signalling of the no longer used Signaling System 5.|
|Black box||A resistor bypassed with a capacitor and placed in series with the line to limit DC current on received calls. On some mechanical relay switching systems, separate relays were used to stop ringing on an inbound call and to start billing timers. The black box was intended to trip one but not both relays, allowing ringing to stop but not showing the call as answered for billing purposes. Obsolete with the replacement of mechanical relay exchanges by electronic switching systems.|
|Red box||Tone generator, emitted an Automated Coin Toll Service tone pair (1700Hz and 2200Hz) to signal coins dropping into a payphone. Obsolete.|
|Green box||Tone generator, emits 'coin accept', 'coin return' and 'ringback' tones at the remote end of an Automated Coin Toll Service payphone call. Obsolete as these tones controlled phones designed to rely on manual operator assistance for coin-paid long distance calls.|
|Clear box||Microphone and amplifier, coupled inductively to payphones where the handset microphone (and just the microphone) was disabled until a coin was inserted. An "opaque box" was a variant which also included a keypad. Obsolete as specific to a rarely used post-paid coin phone design which is no longer deployed.|
|Violet box||A resistor (several hundred ohms) which could be clipped directly across the line to make it appear off-hook or in use.|
|Gold box||Diverter. Calls received on one line are forwarded elsewhere using a second telephone line.|
|Beige box||Telephone installer's test handset; a standard telephone set on which the plug has been replaced with a pair of alligator clips.|
|White box||In Australia there was a software program based on the commodore Amiga 500 personal computer called White box which was used for phreaking, it used CCITT#5- (R2) tones to manipulate the phone systems in Australia in a similar way to blue boxing white box screenshot. In other countries white box can be referred to a Portable DTMFtone-dial keypad with speaker which was used to access an answering machine to hear your messages when you were away from home and also could be used on PBX phone systems that required tone dialing & used to generate tones if the telephone is rotary-dial or its keypad is locked.|
|Silver box||Tone-dial keypad with four extra buttons (A, B, C, D) formerly used to indicate priority on military autovon calls. This sixteen-key tone keypad is factory-installed on many amateur radio rigs for controlling repeaters but the extra keys are rarely used.|
|Magenta box||AC ringing current generator, connected directly to a telephone to make that phone ring.|
|Orange box||Caller ID frequency-shift keying generator, connected directly to a telephone to send CID. The combination of a magenta box and an orange box is a vermilion box.|
- Fixer's Box Review - An exhaustive list of phreaking boxes and their flaws
- Glossary of 'box' terms
- The Definitive Guide to Phreak Boxes This is the list that was published on 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, Volume 19 Number 1 (Spring 2002 issue), page 15, on the author's website (ElfQrin.com).