Phantom Access

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Phantom Access 5.7K title page, featuring a confused TIE fighter in front of a Death Star and the post-divestiture AT&T "death star" logo.

Phantom Access was the name given to a series of hacking programs written by Patrick Kroupa (a.k.a., Lord Digital) of LOD. The programs were worked on during the early to mid 80s (1982–1986), and designed to run on the Apple II computer and Apple-Cat modem.


There are a variety of references to the Phantom Access programs in texts from underground Bulletin Board Systems from the 80s,.[1][2][3] Reading the files and messages, it appears that the Phantom Access name was a given to an entire series of programs coded by Lord Digital and apparently for internal LOD use, because the programs were not distributed to the "public" or even most other members of the hacker underground of the time.

Much like Festering Hate, there are references to the programs in a variety of mainstream press articles of the early and mid 90s when MindVox first came online,.[4][5][6] Phantom Access is also where the parent company that launched MindVox, Phantom Access Technologies, took its name from.

Hacking as art[edit]

The overall package is extremely polished and surprisingly professional looking, taking into consideration that Phantom Access was made for internal release, and definitely fell into the black hat category of tools. It was obviously something that would never be commercially released, or apparently, released at all. Yet the attention to detail is stunning. The Phantom Access disks contain graphics, utility programs, extensive, well written and formatted documentation, and sample "sub-modules" which contain instructions for the Phantom Access program itself.

The programs also contain a high level of aesthetics, melting Matrix-style green text screens that spin and fall apart as the next section of the program opens, a collection of strange easter eggs, random poems, and Pink Floyd lyrics. There are endless details contained in the package, which must have taken a tremendous amount of time to add, yet contain nothing that is essential for the program function. After looking at the Phantom Access package as a whole, you are left with the impression of painstaking attention to detail, for no logical reason. It's a package that would never be seen by more than a handful of people from the era, and certainly never sold.

It is quite likely that Phantom Access would have sunk back into mythology and never seen the light of day were it not for the efforts of digital historian and film-maker, Jason Scott, who featured Phantom Access as the first exhibit on, in January 2006.[7] Nearly 20 years after it was written, Phantom Access had made the transition from lost artifact of the past, to finally being made available to anyone who wanted to see what it was all about.[8]

Phantom Access 5.7K[edit]

The Phantom Access disks that were leaked, contained one full Apple II disk side of software and an additional disk of documentation written about the programs.[9] There is another text archive of messages from the era that were apparently posted when Phantom Access was leaked to The Underground BBS in the late 80s.[10]

The programs come on a disk containing something called "ZDOS". As of 2006, there is not a single reference to any disk operating system or variant, for the Apple computer, with any such name. It is unknown if ZDOS was ever a commercial product, or something written specifically for Phantom Access. It is also unknown whether ZDOS is itself some kind of virus. Messages from the era indicate that the Phantom Access leak may contain a virus, and taking into account Festering Hate, it is certainly possible.

%   )=-> PHANTOM ACCESS [5.7K] <-=(   %
%  (C)opyright 1982-86, Lord Digital  %
           (Sub-Module Loaded)
:                                     :
: [Code File]:[Filename For Save]     :
: [Now Testing Code]:[012345]         :
: [Total Codes Scanned]:[1234]        :
: [Valid Codes Scanned]:[99]          :
: [Last Valid Code]:[012345]          :
:                                     :
-:::::::::::[System Status]:::::::::::-
:                                     :
: [SND][PHN][PCN][OCC][RNG][---][SEQ] :
: [%][  Current Function Active  ][%] :
:             [Block]:[-]             :
:      [Audio Duration]:[00]:000      :
:    [Time Left In Audio Test]:[-]    :
\Type [ESC] to Exit After Current Code/

Phantom Access itself appears to be a highly-programmable common interface, which follows instructions contained in a variety of files. At the topmost level it seems to be a toolkit for utilizing all the special functions of the Apple-Cat modem, it scans systems, hacks codes, functions as a blue box, and exports the results into a series of files which can be manipulated using all the other programs in the series.

A quote from the Phantom Access Documentation:

Phantom Access 5.7K is the hacker itself. It could be described as the final processing unit of the instruction sets, but without the utilities it would be useless to the end user, as that is ALL it is. Sub-Modules must already exist prior to usage. This was a necessary compromise, as there is NO memory left on a 64K system once the Slider's and Rotation system are activated.

It uses EXEC files as a form of primitive scripting for the Apple II. Reading through the messages of the era,[11] the scripts are doing direct writes to various registers and parts of memory using the POKE command. The programs regularly check memory to see what is running or loaded and generally seem to take over control of the computer.

Final Evolution[edit]

Lacking an Apple II computer and Apple-Cat modem, in addition to their historical value, perhaps the most useful and interesting part of the Phantom Access programs is the extensive documentation Kroupa wrote.[12] In addition to explaining how to program the sub-modules, the documents provide an extensive overview of phreaking information, information about the other programs in the Phantom Access series (which appear to have been other system penetration tools and rootkits, before the term "rootkit" existed), and the eventual goal of the whole series, which seems to have been turning the entire Apple II computer and Apple-Cat modem into a programmable phreaking box, which could be plugged into the computers Kroupa and other LOD members were abandoning the Apple platform and switching over to (NeXT, Sun and SGI hardware).[13]

From the Phantom Access documentation:

The eventual goal of Phantom Access was to realize a fully automated system for the Apple-Cat modem. The sound sampling and evaluation system has been almost unchanged from revision 4.0 to 5.7 of the series, everything else has been rewritten several times. The final 6.6 revision is a full implementation of the original design (read: it has very little in common with anything in the 5.7 series) with a final processor that is capable of passing data through the Apple-Cat's serial port to an external machine, thus allowing use of the entire Apple computer system as nothing more than a very sophisticated auxiliary modem.

Towards the late 80s, it looks like Kroupa and LOD had exactly one use left for the Apple II: to utilize the entire computer as a host for the Apple-Cat modem. This makes a very strong statement about how highly valued Novation's, Apple-Cat modem was amongst phone phreaks.

This was my solution to working within the Apple's limits. No other modem comes close to having the Apple-Cat's capabilities, but the Apple itself leaves much to be desired.

External links[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ MindVox: Urban Attitude Online Wired Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 5, November 1993
  5. ^ There's a Party in My Mind: MindVox! Mondo 2000, Issue 8, 1992
  6. ^ Trading Data with Dead & Digital by Charles Platt, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, 1994
  7. ^ Introduction of Phantom Access Exhibit, by Jason Scott (Retrieved from
  8. ^ Phantom Access Exhibit, by Jason Scott (Retrieved from
  9. ^ Phantom Access Disk 2 (Documentation) Image (Retrieved from
  10. ^ Phantom Access related messages, from the late 80s (Retrieved from
  11. ^
  12. ^ Phantom Access Documentation (converted to text) (Retrieved from
  13. ^ Voices in My Head: MindVox The Overture by Patrick Kroupa, 1992