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Legendary 70s phreaker returns from obscurity

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Legendary hacking figure Captain Crunch is returning from years of relative obscurity to set himself up as a security consultant.

Perhaps the most well known figure in the digital underground besides Kevin Mitnick, John Draper made his name in 1971 when he discovered that the toy whistle in the Cap'n Crunch cereal box could trick the telephone network into giving him free calls.

Draper's activities as a phreaker, who was able to illegally control the US telephone network, are documented in a seminal article in the October 1971 issue of Esquire, called "Secrets of the Little Blue Box", a reference to an electronic gizmo used to generate the tones necessary for sending commands down the phone network.

Apple founders Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak, who was then a student at the University of California at Berkeley, were so impressed by the article that they sought out Draper. After getting in touch with Draper, legend has it he turned up at Wozniak's dormitory sporting an outlandish moustache and horn rim glasses who announced, "It is I!" A typically flamboyant entrance for Draper, who is well known for his manic intensity and insistent curiosity.

According to the International Herald Tribune, Draper schooled Wozniak and Jobs in the art of making their own 'blue boxes', electronic devices that allow users to gain free and illegal access to the phone network. Legend has it that the two novice entrepreneurs sold the blue boxes door-to-door on the Berkeley campus, several years before they founded Apple Computer.

However the Esquire article also brought Draper to the attention of the FBI.

He was subsequently arrested and sent to prison on a number of occasions for telephone 'phreaking', or obtaining free phone calls. However, Draper did not waste his time inside and while in prison designed EasyWriter, a word processing program developed for Apple machines that came with the first IBM PC in 1981, beating Bill Gates to the punch in doing so.

Latterly Draper has been travelling the world, picking up work that used some of his skills, like living in Goa and designing Web sites for an Indian entrepreneur.

Now Draper has stepped into the spotlight again by joining with a number of partners to set up an security software and consulting firm called, ShopIP.

Draper, now 57, describes himself as a "white hat" hacker and sees the creation of ShopIP as a way he can repay society for his past indiscretions, as he explains in an interview with the International Herald Tribune, where he acknowledges the problems he has in living down his colourful past.

"I'm not a bad guy," he said. "But I'm being treated like a fox trying to guard the hen house." ®

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International Herald Tribune article on Captain Crunch

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