Phreaking boxes

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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[edit]

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.

This list of boxes does not include wiretapping "bugs", pirate broadcasting apparatus or exploits involving computer security.

Blue box      Tone generator, emitted 2600 Hz 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 (1700 Hz and 2200 Hz) 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.
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.
Vermilion box      The combination of a magenta box and an orange box.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Rosenbaum, Ron. Secrets of the Little Blue Box. Esquire Magazine October 1971
  • "Glossary of 'Box' terms". Archived from the original on 7 September 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  • Capello, Valerio. "The definitive guide to Phreak Boxes". Retrieved 23 April 2017. published on 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, Volume 19 Number 1 (Spring 2002 issue), page 15 (author's website)
  • Acrylic
  • Steal Three-Way-Calling, Call Waiting and programmable Call Forwarding on old 4-wire phone systems
  • Drain the voltage of the FBI lock-in-trace/trap-trace
  • Lineman's hand set
  • Allows the calling party to not be billed for the call placed
  • Phone microphone amplifier
  • Supposedly shorts every phone out in the immediate area
  • Emulate a true operator by seizing a trunk with a 2600 Hz tone
  • Bread
  • Refers to an old scam in which a phone number will ring in two different locations, only one of which is known by the phone company. Often used by "bookies" to avoid police raids during the 1930's
  • Create a party line from 2 phone lines
  • Tap into your neighbors phone line
  • Renders the attached phone line inoperative; outside calls get a busy signal
  • Use the electricity from your phone line
  • Cheese
  • Connect two phones to create a diverter
  • Manipulate Traffic Signals by Remote Control
  • A telephone pickup coil and a small amp use to make free calls on Fortress Phones
  • Line activated telephone recorder
  • Cause crosstalk interference on an extender
  • Hold button
  • Re-route outgoing or incoming calls to another phone
  • Connect to your neighbors phone line
  • Re-route outgoing or incoming calls to another phone
  • Create a party line from 2 phone lines
  • Dial-out router
  • Gives a greater range to wireless phones
  • Combination Aqua, Chartreuse, and Brown (with 4-way calling)
  • Emulate the Coin Collect, Coin Return, and Ringback tones
  • Generates payphone quarter tones using a Hallmark recordable greeting card
  • Remotely activated phone tap
  • Touch-Tone key pad
  • In-use light Lock, Simulate FBI lock and trace
  • Increases the volume on your handset; for conference calls
  • AM transmitter
  • Connect a remote phone line to another remote phone line
  • Phone tap without cutting into a line
  • External microphone
  • Create line noise
  • External ringer
  • Create a party line from 2 phone lines
  • Tone generator
  • Create a party line from 2 phone lines
  • Allow Touch-Tone dialing on a pulse line
  • Telephone hold button
  • Kill a trace by putting 120 V into the phone line (joke)
  • Tap into your neighbors phone
  • Make free phone calls from pay phones by generating quarter tones
  • Add music to your phone line
  • Cause a neighbors phone line to have poor reception
  • Create the DTMF tones for A, B, C and D
  • Television transmitter
  • Keep the voltage on a phone line high (reduces static)
  • Add hold, indicator lights, conferencing, etc.
  • Combination Beige, Bud, and Day-Glo with enhancements
  • Line activated telephone recorder
  • Reverse the phase of power to your house, causing your electric meter to run slower
  • "See" sound waves on your TV
  • Create a capacitative disturbance between the ring and tip wires in another's telephone headset
  • Keep a payphone from hanging up
  • Portable DTMF keypad
  • Add an extension phone