With the introduction of cellular phones, a whole new realm has opened up for phreaks. Unlike a beige box, which requires a physical connection to make a free call on an existing phone line, cellular phone theft requires only a radio scanner.

Even when your cellular phone isn't in use, it must constantly transmit its electronic serial number (ESN) and mobile identification number (MIN) so the cellular network knows where to send an incoming call. With a radio scanner and additional data-capture equipment, a thief can capture and store the ESN and MIN of a legitimate cellular phone. Later, the thief can program the stolen ESN and MIN into another cellular phone. All calls made from this "cloned" cellular phone now get billed to the victim's cellular phone.

(The cellular phone equivalent of shoulder surfing calling card numbers is to sign up for cellular phone service using a fraudulent name. Then just use the service until the cellular phone company cuts you off for nonpayment.)

To prevent cellular phone "cloning," phone companies now use encryption. When a user makes a call with these newer cellular phones, the cellular network asks for a special code. Legitimate cellular phones will be able to supply the proper authentication code; cloned cellular phones will not.

Cable and satellite TV companies face a similar problem: Cable and satellite TV broadcasts often get intercepted by people using special receivers and descramblers. By browsing the Internet, you can even find companies that sell plans, instructions, and actual kits for building your own cable or satellite TV descrambler (for educational or legitimate purposes only, of course!).

The corporations continue to develop more sophisticated methods for protecting their broadcasts, and the video pirates always come up with new methods for cracking the protection schemes. Video pirates often claim that if the broadcasting companies lowered their prices, fewer people would steal their services. Broadcasting corporations make the counter-claim that the cost of fighting the pirates keeps prices artificially high.

The question is, if video pirates and cellular phone cloners disappeared overnight, would corporations lower their prices? If you think so, then perhaps video pirates and cellular phone thieves deserve to be caught. But if you think that corporations would keep their prices the same whether they had to absorb the cost of fighting thieves or not, then video pirates and cellular phone thieves might be considered modern-day Robin Hoods after all.

Be careful if you steal service from the telephone or cable TV companies. Stealing service for yourself is enough to earn you a free trip to the police station, but if you get greedy and try to resell the service to other people, you're really asking for trouble.

Of course, if your government restricts the flow of information, stealing from the telephone and cable TV companies may be the only way to communicate with others and receive news from the rest of the world. Ultimately, you have to decide if you're breaking the law out of greed or rebellion against unfair government laws. And take the consequences.