If you have a telephone, anyone in the world, including the legions of phone phreakers just goofing around with the telephone system, can call you. Steve Wozniak reportedly once called the Vatican and pretended to be Henry Kissinger. Other phone phreakers have attempted to call the Kremlin through the White House hot line and have rerouted a prominent TV evangelist's business number to a 900-number sex hot line. Because a large part of phone phreaking lore involves performing progressively more outrageous acts and then boasting about them, the following phone phreaking stories may or may not be true. Nevertheless, they will give you an idea of what phone phreakers can achieve given the right information. The three stories are "urban myths" circulating around the Internet and are reprinted here verbatim.

The toilet paper crisis in Los Angeles

One thing that was really easy to do was pop into the AutoVerify trunks by accessing the trunks with that "class mark." You couldn't just dial an 800 number that terminates into Washington DC; you also had to pop over to a trunk class marked for "auto-verification."

This is used when a phone user has to reach someone and the line is busy. The normal procedure goes like this: The operator selects a special trunk, class marked for this service, and dials either the last five digits of the phone number, or a special TTC code like 052, followed by the whole seven-digit number. After that, the operator hears scrambled conversation on the line. The parties talking hear nothing, not even a click.

Next, the operator "flashes forward" by causing the equipment to send a burst of 2600 Hz, which makes a three-way connection and places a beep tone on the line so that both parties originally on the line can hear the initial click (flash, in this case) followed by a high-pitched beep. At this point, the parties can hear you, and you can hear them. Usually, the operator announces that it's an emergency, and the line should be released. This is called an "emergency interrupt" and is a service normally reserved for emergencies. It's available today for a $2 fee ($1 in certain areas).

Earlier, I had mapped every 800 number that terminated in Washington DC by scanning the entire 800-424 prefix, which then indicated Washington DC.

That scan found an impressive quantity of juicy numbers that allowed free access to Congressional phone lines, special White House access numbers, and so on.

While scanning the 800-424, I got this dude whose bad attitude caught my attention. I determined to find out who it was. I called back and said, "This is White Plains tandem office for AT&T, which subscriber have we reached?"

This person said, "This is the White House CIA crisis hot line!"

"Oh!" I said, "We're having problem with crossed lines. Now that I know who this is, I can fix it. Thank you for your time—good-bye!"

I had a very special 800 number.

Eventually my friends and I had one of our info-exchanging binges, and I mentioned this incident to them. One friend wanted to dial it immediately, but I persuaded him to wait. I wanted to pop up on the line, using AutoVerify to hear the conversation.

Our first problem was to extract what exchange this number terminated in, because AutoVerify didn't know about 800 numbers.

At that time, all 800 numbers had a one-to-one relation between prefix and area code. For instance, 800-424 = 202-xxx, where xxx was the three-digit exchange determined by the last four digits. In this case, 800-424-9337 mapped to 202-227-9337. The 227 (which could be wrong) was a special White House prefix used for faxes, telexes, and, in this case, the CIA crisis line.

Next we got into the class marked trunk (which had a different sounding chirp when seized) and MF'ed KP-054-227-9337-ST into this special class marked trunk. Immediately we heard the connection tone and put it up on the speaker so we would know when a call came in.

Several hours later, a call did come in. It did appear to have CIA-related talk, and the code name "Olympus" was used to summon the president. I had been in another part of the building and rushed into the room just in time to hear the tail end of the conversation.

We had the code word that would summon Nixon to the phone. Almost immediately, another friend started to dial the number. I stopped him and recommended that he stack at least four tandems before looping the call to the White House.

Sure enough, the man at the other end said "9337."

My other friend said, "Olympus, please!"

The man at the other end said, "One moment sir!" About a minute later, a man that sounded remarkably like Nixon said, "What's going on?"

My friend said, "We have a crisis here in Los Angeles!"

Nixon said, "What's the nature of the crisis?"

My friend said in a serious tone of voice, "We're out of toilet paper, sir!"

Nixon said, "WHO IS THIS?"

My friend then hung up. We never did learn what happened to that tape, but I think this was one of the funniest pranks — and I don't think that Woz would even come close to this one. I think he was jealous for a long time.

To the best of my recollection, this was about four months before Nixon resigned because of the Watergate crisis.

The Santa Barbara nuclear hoax

General Telephone, once the sole phone service for Santa Barbara, used older equipment. Some calls into certain exchanges got routed through inter-region exchanges. A lot of these used the older 2600 Hz–pulse method of signaling.

One of my phone-phreak friends got the bright idea of dialing out on two lines at once to see what happens. Normally, one line would be busy, and the other one would get through. But sometimes, this would jam the lines on both sides of the trunk but still indicate the trunk was free. In telephone talk, this creates a "glare" condition, where one side glares at the other. Calls coming in would just terminate into emptiness, and the trunk would appear to be free to the trunk selector.

Eventually calls came in that terminated to our phone(s). One of my pranky friends said the following to a caller: "What number are you calling? This is a special operator!" The other person said they were calling Santa Barbara and gave us the number. My friend asked, "What area is that in?" then said, "We've had a nuclear accident in that area, please hang up so we can keep the lines open for emergencies only."

Pretty soon, others called—some reporters and other official types. When calls really started to pour in, we broke the connection.

That next day, the Los Angeles Times carried a short news article headlined "Nuclear hoax in Santa Barbara." The text explained how authorities were freaked out and how puzzled they were. The phone company commented, "We don't really know how this happened, but it cleared right up!" Five years later, Santa Barbara replaced that old faulty equipment with newer electronic systems.

The President's secret

Recently, a telephone fanatic in the Northwest made an interesting discovery. He was exploring the 804 area code (Virginia) and found that the 840 exchange did something strange. In all of the cases except one, he would get a recording as if the exchange didn't exist. However, if he dialed 804-840 followed by four rather predictable numbers, he got a ring!

After one or two rings, somebody picked up. Being experienced at this kind of thing, he could tell that the call didn't "supe," that is, no charges were being incurred for calling this number. (Calls that get you to an error message or a special operator generally don't supervise.) A female voice with a hint of a southern accent said, "Operator, can I help you?"

"Yes," he said, "What number have I reached?"

"What number did you dial, sir?"

He made up a number that was similar.

"I'm sorry. That is not the number you reached." Click.

He was fascinated. What in the world was this? He knew he was going to call back, but before he did, he tried some more experiments. He tried the 840 exchange in several other area codes. In some, it came up as a valid exchange. In others, exactly the same thing happened—the same last four digits, the same southern belle.

He later noticed that the areas where the number worked were located in a beeline from Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He called back from a pay phone.

"Operator, can I help you?"

"Yes, this is the phone company. I'm testing this line and we don't seem to have an identification on your circuit. What office is this, please?"

"What number are you trying to reach?"

"I'm not trying to reach any number. I'm trying to identify this circuit."

"I'm sorry, I can't help you."

"Ma'am, if I don't get an ID on this line, I'll have to disconnect it. We show no record of it here."

"Hold on a moment, sir."

After about a minute, she came back. "Sir, I can have someone speak to you. Would you give me your number, please?"

He had anticipated this and had the pay phone number ready. After he gave it, she said, "Mr. XXX will get right back to you."

"Thanks." He hung up the phone. It rang. INSTANTLY! "Oh my God," he thought, "They weren't asking for my number — they were confirming it!"

"Hello," he said, trying to sound authoritative.

"This is Mr. XXX. Did you just make an inquiry to my office concerning a phone number?"

"Yes. I need an identi- "

"What you need is advice. Don't ever call that number again. Forget you ever knew it."

At this point my friend got so nervous he just hung up. He expected to hear the phone ring again, but it didn't.

Over the next few days, he racked his brains trying to figure out what the number was. He knew it was something big — so big that the number was programmed into every central office in the country. He knew this because if he tried to dial any other number in that exchange, he'd get a local error message, as if the exchange didn't exist.

It finally came to him. He had an uncle who worked in a federal agency. If, as he suspected, this was government related, his uncle could probably find out what it was. He asked the next day and his uncle promised to look into it.

When they met again, his uncle was livid. He was trembling. "Where did you get that number?" he shouted. "Do you know I almost got fired for asking about it? They kept wanting to know where I got it!"

Our friend couldn't contain his excitement. "What is it?" he pleaded. "What's the number?"


He never called the number after that. He knew that he could probably cause quite a bit of excitement by calling the number and saying something like, "The weather's not good in Washington. We're coming over for a visit." But my friend was smart. He knew that there were some things that were better unsaid and undone.