Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell

Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell

by Phil Lapsley
Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell

Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell

by Phil Lapsley


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Before smartphones, back even before the Internet and personal computer, a misfit group of technophiles, blind teenagers, hippies, and outlaws figured out how to hack the world’s largest machine: the telephone system. Starting with Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary “harmonic telegraph,” by the middle of the twentieth century the phone system had grown into something extraordinary, a web of cutting-edge switching machines and human operators that linked together millions of people like never before. But the network had a billion-dollar flaw, and once people discovered it, things would never be the same.

Exploding the Phone tells this story in full for the first time. It traces the birth of long-distance communication and the telephone, the rise of AT&T’s monopoly, the creation of the sophisticated machines that made it all work, and the discovery of Ma Bell’s Achilles’ heel. Phil Lapsley expertly weaves together the clandestine underground of “phone phreaks” who turned the network into their electronic playground, the mobsters who exploited its flaws to avoid the feds, the explosion of telephone hacking in the counterculture, and the war between the phreaks, the phone company, and the FBI.

The product of extensive original research, Exploding the Phone is a ground-breaking, captivating book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802122285
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/11/2014
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 515,253
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Phil Lapsley co-founded two high technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and was a consultant at McKinsey & Company where he advised Fortune 100 companies on strategy. He holds a Master's degree in electrical engineering and computer sciences from U. C. Berkeley and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Lapsley has been interviewed by NPR and the BBC and quoted in The New York Times and Boston Globe on telephone and computer security issues, and is the author of one textbook, sixteen patents, an Internet standard, and many technical articles.

Table of Contents

Foreword Steve Wozniak xi

A Note on Names and Tenses xv

Chapter 1 Fine Arts 13 1

Chapter 2 Birth of a Playground 14

Chapter 3 Cat and Canary 29

Chapter 4 The Largest Machine in the World 41

Chapter 5 Blue Box 51

Chapter 6 "Some People Collect Stamps" 64

Chapter 7 Headache 85

Chapter 8 Blue Box Bookies 98

Chapter 9 Little Jojo Learns to Whistle 117

Chapter 10 Bill Acker Learns to Play the Flute 135

Chapter 11 The Phone Freaks of America 147

Chapter 12 The Law of Unintended Consequences 167

Chapter 13 Counterculture 185

Chapter 14 Busted 201

Chapter 15 Pranks 218

Chapter 16 The Story of a War 230

Chapter 17 A Little Bit Stupid 249

Chapter 18 Snitch 262

Chapter 19 Crunched 276

Chapter 20 Twilight 296

Chapter 21 Nightfall 311

Epilogue 325

Sources and Notes 337

Acknowledgments 393

Index 399

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

A rocking great read about the unknown teenagers and hobbyists who defied AT&T when it was foolish to do so. In Lapsley's magnificent research he has uncovered what amounts to a secret pre-history of the computer and internet revolutions.”—Tim Wu, author of The Master Switch

“With terrific reporting and story-telling. Phil Lapsley has put voluptuous flesh and bones on the legendary tales of the phone phreaks.”—Steven Levy, author of Hackers and In the Plex

"The definitive account of the first generation of network hackers . . . . At turns a technological love story, a counter cultural history and a generation-spanning epic, Exploding the Phone is obsessively researched and told with wit and clarity. It captures a moment in time that might otherwise have been lost forever."—Kevin Poulsen, author of Kingpin

“Before he was the god of sexy computers, Steve Jobs sold blue boxes to Hollywood stars and Bay Area hippies. Exploding the Phone connects the cultural lines that run from hacking Ma Bell to building personal computers. Here, for your amusement, is the story of the frothy counterculture that helped create today’s connected world.”—Thomas A. Bass, Author of The Eudaemonic Pie and The Spy Who Loved Us

"Seldom are criminals this much fun. Even the phone company had a soft spot for these misfits. They are as well-behaved a band of troublemakers as you are ever likely to meet." – Robert Sabbag, author of Snow Blind

“With verve and technical accuracy, Phil Lapsley captures the excitement of the days when phone hackers explored Ma Bell's cabled paradise of dial phones and electromechanical switches. . . . Here's the intriguing story of those first electronic adventurers.”—Cliff Stoll, author of The Cuckoo's Egg

“A rollicking history of the telephone system and the hackers who exploited its flaws. [Lapsley] weaves together a brilliant tapestry of richly detailed stories … A first-rate chronicle of an unexamined subculture.” –Kirkus Reviews

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