Blue Box. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

Steve Wozniak Phreaks Out On The History Of Hacking

Apple’s co-founder takes us to back to 1971

Steve Morgan, Editor-in-Chief

Sausalito, Calif. – Feb. 4, 2022

Steve Wozniak aka “The Woz” learned about phreaking from the 1971 Esquire article “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” by Ron Rosenbaum. Halfway through the article, Woz called his friend, Steve Jobs, and read it to him. They were fascinated by the exploits of Joybubbles, Captain Crunch, and the underground telephone hackers who were whistling their way into Ma Bell (AT&T), which was the largest company in the world, employing over one million people and controlling almost all U.S. local and long-distance service, as well as the equipment in most homes and networks.

Woz and Jobs went on to make history by building a blue box, which was digital and more technologically advanced compared to the electronics analog models being used by phone phreaks at that time. “What a trip that was,” says Woz. “I had tricks in there that I never even equaled in my Apple designs, believe it or not.”

Cybercrime Radio: The Woz Gives Us A History Lesson

The Digital Blue Box

Watching Woz give demos of the illegal product in the Berkeley dorms (where Woz was a student), Jobs had the idea that they should be selling the blue boxes — for $150 each. Some students bought as many as 10 and 20 blue boxes at a time. Woz never knew what someone would do with so many units — but he says they did wind up in the hands of some celebrities.

Contrary to various media, the police did not shut down the blue box business, and Woz and Jobs never got in trouble for it. “I never really hacked,” says Woz, referring to malicious activity that typifies cybercrime. “We were doing stuff for fun.”

We asked Woz if the phreaking and blue box experience was the best time of his life, and if Jobs were still alive would he want to talk about it.

“As he (Jobs) got near his death we had a few phone calls in the last couple years of his life and even one right before his death,” says Woz. “He wanted to reminisce, remembering the fun we had. There was a Steve Jobs Zero — before any Steve Jobs you read about — and that was the Steve Jobs I knew for 5 years before Apple. The fun things we did — the pranks, the blue boxes, concerts, normal young kids fun things, even the blue box, every bit of that blue box story — that was the first time he learned you can make money if you have a good product.”

“We built the best one in the world, it was the first digital blue box in the world,” said Jobs in a 1994 interview with the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association. “It was the magic of the fact that two teenagers could build this box for $100 worth of parts and control hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure in the entire telephone network in the whole world from Los Altos and Cupertino, California. If we hadn’t made those blue boxes, there would be no Apple.”

“Most hackers are really white hat hackers and they want to be good,” says Woz.

Steve Morgan is founder and Editor-in-Chief at Cybersecurity Ventures.

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About Steve Wozniak

A Silicon Valley icon, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist for more than forty years, Steve Wozniak has helped shape the computing industry with his design of Apple’s first line of products the Apple I and II. He also influenced the popular Macintosh. In 1976, Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer Inc. with Wozniak’s Apple I personal computer. The following year, he introduced his Apple II personal computer, featuring a central processing unit, a keyboard, color graphics, and a floppy disk drive. The Apple II was integral in launching the personal computer industry. He is listed as the sole inventor on four Apple patents.

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