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Phreaking is a slang term for hacking into secure telecommunication networks. The term phreaking originally referred to exploring and exploiting the phone networks by mimicking dialing tones to trigger the automatic switches using whistles or custom blue boxes designed for that purpose. Generally speaking, it was curiosity about how phone networks operated that motivated phreaks, rather than a desire to defraud telecommunications companies.
Phreaking has become synonymous with hacking now that networks have gone cellular and cracking them requires more clearly illegal methods.
Phreaks - a combination of phone and freaks - were a defined subculture in the 1970s. Using relatively low-tech hacks like the plastic whistle from Captain Crunch boxes to the do-it-yourself blue boxes, phreaks maintained a social network similar to that of ham radio enthusiasts. The rising complexity of network security meant that more explicit lines needed to be crossed in order to continue phreaking.
Possibly one of the first phreaking methods used was switch-hooking. It allows the placing of calls from a phone where the rotary dial or keypad has been disabled. It is accomplished by rapidly pressing and releasing the switch hook to open and close the circuit thus simulating the pulses generated by the rotary dial.
Now phreakers are seen as telecommunication hackers, active in phone cloning, bluehacking, network mimicry and other forms of cellular phone hacking.