Phreaking for fun and profit (Historical Talk)

Brad Swanson

Brad Swanson

Speaker Bio

Brad Swanson (@d1g1t4l_t3mpl4r) is an information security professional, specializing in social engineering and wetware hacking. He got his first computer in January of 1985, and began taking software apart to ‘see how it works’ in February of 1985. In the late 80’s he developed a ‘recreational interest’ in the phone systems. Now that he is old, he likes to collect ‘vintage’ telecom and computer equipment (junk, as his wife refers to it). He is currently the Manager of Threat Intelligence and Incident Response for a SaaS company, and is routinely seen meandering about aimlessly at hacker summer camp, prompting cries of ‘Someone go help that lost old man, he must not know he wandered into Defcon!’. This will be Brad’s 3rd year presenting at Cyphercon.


This talk will be about phreaking back in the late 80’s, up until the mid 90’s roughly. It will cover what phreaking was, why it worked, and why we did it. We will discuss some of the devices used, the theory behind them, as well as some entertaining stories about those devices. We will also talk about the slew of ‘secret’ numbers that existed in the phone system, including but not limited to, ANI, loops, and sweep tones. Finally, we will discuss the decline in phreaking with the newer versions of ESS, as well as how VOIP has brought forth an entirely new generation of folks interested in how the phone systems work.