Month: February 2014

Reading: Exploding The Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell

Written by Phil Lapsley with foreword by Steve Wozniak. It’s a fascinating trip through the days of yore and it triggers memories I have of the time. 

It’s the story on how a bunch of people accidentally or intentionally discovered one of the bigger security flaws of Ma Bell at the time. 

When engineers in the 1930’s and 1940’s were putting the long distance network together so it could be dialed by customers, a choice was made to use audible signalling and keep that signalling in-band. In other words it took the same path the voice portion of the call took. And Ma Bell published quite a bit – she told everyone what the frequency pairs were. 

I can recall too back in the early 1980’s a friend of mine had an Apple II machine with Novation CAT modem in it. The CAT was fully capable of generating ALL the tones used by Ma Bell. Spent many an hour on the 2111 conference with my friend. It was pretty interesting. Even got a demonstration of tandem stacking too. That was funny. It was all possible because of two factors – East Greenwich RI was still on older electromechanical switching systems and RI wasn’t a big target.  So yes, a fair amount of Blue Boxing was done. 

Of course Ma Bell took a heavy hand in all this – to the point of actually violating a few laws itself to try to get a handle on the problem of fraud in the system. It ultimately culminated in a completely separate network being built to handle all the call supervision and signalling. At the time it was SS5 or Signalling System 5. That eliminated the Blue Box capabilities. But you have to remember it took Ma Bell and her Children until the early 1990’s to get all of the network on what was then SS7. So you could still Blue Box from certain locations. 

I should explain the Blue box – in essence Ma Bell used 2600Hz to return supervision, and the combinations of frequencies to move calls around on the network.. The Blue Box was a portable device that could create those combinations. 

My trip through phone systems started with a descendant of the Southern Pacific Railroad which we know of today as Sprint. Back then you dialed a local access number, keyed in a six digit code and then the ten digit phone number you wanted to call. I had gotten a list of about 10 or so of these codes and I spotted something, they met a pattern. 

At the time I had my DC-II modem on my machine – it had the capability of sending DTMF as well as being able to tell when dial tone was present. So I wrote an algorithm with the pattern I’d seen in mind. I let it run for a couple of days. What I had at the end were 500 codes. Let’s just say my friends and I weren’t paying for long distance calls. 

It lay fallow for almost twenty years but then I found myself in a position of understand toll fraud on PBX’s which was pretty hefty. So I helped out in a few office that I worked in to secure the AT&T built PBX’s. I read all about those and the switches within the Bell System too. So I know a thing or two about their capabilities. One tour of a then New England Telephone #5 ESS was enlightening. This was right around the later 1980’s and the time of law enforcement wanting access on the switches to perform investigations. I believe it was call CALEA. I found out on that tour that not only did the cops have access, the switch guys had access too. They could listen in to any call in the digital voice stream. Interesting. 

Then of course I was the beneficiary of the daughter of all fuck ups with then Nynex at the time. I had moved from North Providence and the 401-725 exchange and coming back to Providence. So I called Nynex and requested the move in service. The installer came out, put in the jack and that was that. But month after month for nearly two years I got no bill. I had occasionally called Nynex at the time but the customer service reps would say they have no record of the phone number. Interesting. 

In the last six or so months I called Nynex almost daily to convince them I was calling from that line. Called repair to verify the line. Yup. It’s connected. But billing had no idea. Finally I got a CSR with more than two brain cells and we puzzled it out. Apparently the work order had gone in, but it was never returned to billing. So I paid $140 at the time and then started receiving a monthly bill. 

But the more interesting part this was at the point in time where you could choose your long distance carrier. I went with the default at&t since I rarely made long distance calls. But I did make them on occasion and they never billed. The Nynex CSR had no visibility into the long distance side. 

I found out from a friend in New Jersey what happened. He called me and said he got a call from the VA asking who was calling him from the VA. I understood what happened ; my number ended in 0716, the local VA hospital was on the same exchange in the 70xx  group and they had transposed digits to 7016. The VA was paying for my long distance. Sloppy screw up on Nynex’s part I suppose. 

How to track down a snow scofflaw

So I’ve been posting pictures and videos on Facebook and emailing my city councilor the same of sidewalks that haven’t been plowed on just my street. And of course my phone is acting up and I can’t upload videos to anywhere BUT Facebook. Which is REALLY fucking annoying but I digress.

First I had hit ProvPlan’s web site mapper. But the mapper showed no information for the lots in question that had unplowed sidewalks. Weird. Then I did a little experimentation on Google maps. I noted one of the lots abutted a multi unit building so I just dialed street address on Tell street down until I found that building.

Then I hit this site. All I did was plug in the address and I got the owner information. Now being the enterprising sort I do have a copy of the RI Voter Database on my computer. So I looked up the owners and found out that counter to the claims that many property owners are elderly these people are in their 50’s.

So I packaged it all up in an email and sent it to the councilor. No response thus far. But I think I nailed one of the owners. Now to find out who owns the other lot.

Never piss off we savvy folk – we will find you.

Easy come, Easy Go

So I noted with some amusement my blog stats shot WAY the hell up a few days ago. My best all time was 846 views and that was on a day in April of 2010. I believe it was a post about Fringe that triggered it. This time it was February 12th with 754 views.

Well this time the post that got the attention was about a pediatrician by the name of Michelle Cretella. She’s a homophobic bigot who has both testified in front of legislators and written letters to the editor in the paper, etc. denigrated gay people in Rhode Island.

I think a lot of what propelled it was she was supposed to speak at Providence College (PC). But they rescinded the invitation.

And I noted a lot of the referrals came from shares in PC’s email system. My only tenuous connection to PC by the way is a DJ gig I did for a couple of years back in the mid 1980’s.

But alas, the enhanced stats only lasted a day or two and now we’re back to normal levels. Thanks guys!

Switch to Chirp to program my Baofeng

So the Baofeng software is klunky. You have to make sure the usb cable is plugged in before the software will even let you play. 

Plus when the software first comes up everything is question marks. 

So I had Chirp installed on the machine but hadn’t used it. On a lark I fired it up without the cable connected and lo and behold it came up without a problem. Plus Chirp runs on Linux too which I’m planning to move to in the near term. 

The only thing I can’t do with Chirp is mess with the Radio ID etc. For that you need the Baofeng software. I’m told it’s all  written in Visual BASIC. Maybe I’ll peek under the hood and try to find the source for it. 

Food: Worst Cook in America

So it appears the Cooking Channel has been running a segment of “Worst Cook in America”. 

First thing that struck me is how the people they bring onto the show are pretty clueless. And some are squeamish to boot. It’s awful. If this is representative of a vast stripe of America then I can understand why we’re such a miserable country. 

But some things about the show really grated on my nerves. Yes, it’s a competition but to see who can improve the most. That’s laudable. However the ridiculous time limits imposed, I mean really? Granted they’re choosing dishes which to me are fairly simplistic. 

But the time allotted could get harrowing for beginners like a lot of the people they bring onto the show. But don’t get me wrong, I understand that in cooking in a lot of circumstances cooking time is critical. 

The other thing – first they switch up saying they can’t use notes they’ve taken during the course of the show. Then they say they’re not going to post the recipe. I’d likely do fine with that. If I make a recipe more than once I can usually remember it and the printed recipe is purely for reference. 

But my favorite, the girl who got all squeamish about cutting up a whole chicken. She couldn’t even figure out breast side from back side. 

Then there was the groaning where they’re told they have to make two of the same dish. The contestants were freaking out about it. I’m like, it’s the same process just double the amounts. Problem solved. 

But that brings up something I’ve noted. Growing up my entire family cooked. My mother, father, both grandmothers. They were phenomenal cooks. So a little of that filtered down to me. 

If you came here looking for my take on sexuality in the U.S.

Then you’ll be disappointed to learn I pulled the post down. It was in reference to a couple who taught their kids about sex by demonstrating it. I found that just slightly amusing because of this:

Now my thoughts on sex and sexuality in the U.S. We’re one of the more repressed societies out there. It’s probably due to the Puritan ethic at the founding of this country and the ludicrous religiosity of a good chunk of the citizens of the U.S. 

We’re all human and we all have the same hormones running through our bodies, some more or less than other of course. It’s all part of the genetic lottery. 

And so long as it occurs behind closed doors I really don’t have issue with what you do in your bedroom or even your home for that matter. 

And keep in mind, the U.S. might be repressed but there are interesting statistics coming out recently. The first is that the region with the  biggest consumption  of porn in the U.S. – it’s the south. All that Bible Belt morality falls to the wayside in the confines of ones home. Plus there’s the divorce conundrum; divorce is more prevalent in the south.

I could propose a theory on the divorce issue. In the south you also have what I term the honor society. Not in the good way of course, but that honor means you marry the girl you knocked up even though you’re 17 and have next to nothing. Big old stressor there so the high divorce rate isn’t too big of a surprise. 

And in the U.S. we actually censor movies. It’s not overt – but any movie with nudity is almost always women in full frontal, rarely men. Big double standard there. And then there are the ridiculous FCC rules over broadcast television. From the seven words you can’t say on TV or Radio to the Nippelgate incident. The latter of which did spawn the creation of YouTube. But back to the FCC – they use a thing called community standards. It’s supposed to be representative of the area you live in but it’s never been that. And groups like the Parents Television Council have learned how to game the system in their favor. That needs to change post haste! 

But there’s hope that as the net penetration in the U.S. increases so does the opportunity to learn about people that may not hold the same beliefs and values that you do. And over time, if rates of nones on religious surveys hold true, most of the U.S. will be faithless. Good. That’s one of the biggest issues right there – millennials run about 30% non-believers. And in certain regions of the U.S. like for example the Northeastern U.S. we non-believers are a good quarter of the general population. 

Going down the natural path

I realized something. In my quest for culinary adventure one thing has stood out among all. Using natural ingredients to create really tasty stuff. 

For example – I tend to use exclusively unbleached all purpose flour now. It’s pretty easy to come by, even the local Price Rite carries Gold Medal Unbleached. 

I’ve always loved baking and roasting anyhow. I’ve done Ciabatta bread, banana bread, cranberry orange bread, cheddar biscuits, corn bread, cookies, etc. I’ve also done Strawberry Cake, Peach Upside Down Cake, and my favorite, the Blueberry Crumble. 

Plus I’ve gotten into pickling. First try was with pickled cucumber aka pickles. All natural, just a brine, garlic and dill. Next into the fray was pickled peppers – this one saw 1/3 cup white vinegar added to the brine. And now that I’ve done the pepper I was thinking, maybe I should throw in some garlic and red pepper flakes just for a kick. 

It’s fun using new and different techniques for pickling, bringing, etc. I want to naturally ferment some broccoli and cauliflower too. Maybe some carrots in there too. It’s easy to do too – just make a brine of 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water. Boil it up. Then sterilize jars and lids – pack jars with veggie of your choice and then pour brine in. Let nature ferment it, turn it a little sour and delicious.