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/freek'ing/ "phone phreak" 1. The art and science of cracking the telephone network so as, for example, to make free long-distance calls.

2. By extension, security-cracking in any other context (especially, but not exclusively, on communications networks).

At one time phreaking was a semi-respectable activity among hackers; there was a gentleman's agreement that phreaking as an intellectual game and a form of exploration was OK, but serious theft of services was taboo. There was significant crossover between the hacker community and the hard-core phone phreaks who ran semi-underground networks of their own through such media as the legendary "TAP Newsletter".

This ethos began to break down in the mid-1980s as wider dissemination of the techniques put them in the hands of less responsible phreaks. Around the same time, changes in the phone network made old-style technical ingenuity less effective as a way of hacking it, so phreaking came to depend more on overtly criminal acts such as stealing phone-card numbers.

The crimes and punishments of gangs like the "414 group" turned that game very ugly. A few old-time hackers still phreak casually just to keep their hand in, but most these days have hardly even heard of "blue boxes" or any of the other paraphernalia of the great phreaks of yore.
References in periodicals archive ?
Readers of a certain age might remember the "phone phreaks" of the 1960s and '70s who deviously manipulated telephone technology in order to make free long distance calls, disclose American Telephone and Telegraph secrets and, in general, drive AT&T crazy.
The episode of BBS that focuses on the darker side of the scene--hackers, crackers, phone phreaks, and software pirates--opens with a monologue from a portly aging biker called Bootleg with a great frizzy white beard and long hair, who sits astride a great black Harley taking drags from a cigarette.
Such theoretical musings aside, the first of the book's three parts, "The Evolution of the Hacker," provides a useful synopsis of the main stages in the evolution of hacker culture, from the first "phone phreaks" to the recent "script kiddies," who don't perform "true hacks." "'True hacks' are the result of understanding how things work (or, sometimes, don't work) and taking advantage of those flaws, oversights, or errors in an original way.
For example, in the 1970s, the telephone system used audible tones as switching signals; phone phreaks used their own custom-built hardware to match the tones to steal long-distance services.
Mobile phone phreaks should check out http://www.darkerthan which serves up ring-tone selections of current hits, has specially designed phone graphics, a library of R&B and hip-hop ring tone tunes, and an SMS news service.