Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Phone Tapping

I was directed to Matt Blaze's blog by Ockham's Razor's posting of Security Bingo, which is a hoot in itself.

There is a lot of unsecured stuff out there and people can be very naive. The web is a jungle and it is full of hostile creatures. You should not venture out without your sun protection and your beekeepers netting and all the relevant anti-viral injections.

But it was not Matt's general material on security that caught my eye but his recent involvement in evaluating California's electronic voting machines. He effectively found a load of incompetent rubbish that needed to be reinvented from scratch. Apparently the code was so riddled with holes that you didn't even need someone with malicious intent to subvert the process; it was already compromised. And add to that the whole distributed hardware system and you're into serious primeval chaos.

It remains to be seen how successful California (and the rest of the USA) will be in bringing this renegade system to heel. In this context it was very disturbing to see our own Taoiseach ashamed of the pencil and paper method which has served us so well in the past, and which has, at least, some semblance of transparency and traceability so sadly lacking in the sophisto e-versions.

I'm all in favour of using computers where they take the drudgery out of repetitive tasks, or enhance our lives generally, but I would stop far short of endorsing something as being superior to the old methods just because it was electronic.

But what provoked me do this post was this reference of Matt's:

"I was at a conference recently where everyone was asked to recall their first moment of thinking "I rule!" over some technology. It's a surprisingly revealing question; experience the exhilaration of hacker empowerment at a sufficiently impressionable age and you're hooked forever. A disproportionately large fraction of the answers seemed to involve telephony. (Mine was when I discovered you could dial a phone by flashing the hookswitch. I think I was too young to have anyone to call, though)."

Forget your crack cocaine and your heroin. This was the sort of high you got when I was young and it was all positive. Part of the learning process!

He refers to "flashing the hookswitch" - for us is was simply "tapping the phone". Don't forget this was in the days of pulse and not tone dialing. And you really needed some concentration to tap the zeros - ten fast uninterrupted evenly spaced taps, or you had to start the whole process all over again. And you could make international calls. And if you pressed button B you might even get the previous idiot's uncollected refund.

If this sort of stuff turns you on check out this page.

1 comment:

  1. Dial M for Murder26 June 2009 at 22:18

    You really did expand a lot of useless energy and concentration, even if it did improve your hand and eye coordination at the time.

    My understanding is that zero and nine were free numbers and could therefore be dialled in the normal way as part of an otherwise tapped number.