Posted Sat May 29, 2004 3:10 PM
Yes, red-boxing is dead, and it took the phone company way too long to get rid of it.
A proper red box is a phone dialer with its crystal changed to create the signal that used to be used for coins dropping in a pay phone. Amazingly, replacing the crystal in those things with an (IIRC) even more common value than the original one caused one of the keys to change tone to almost exactly the correct PAIR of frequencies as the coin drop tone. As in these pairs of frequencies, which were chosen to avoid harmonics with each other, had the same ratio in two completely different sets of tone signals.
Often, a red boxer could be identified by a savvy phone operator because he wouldn't know the proper cadence of the tone. A single short tone for a nickel, two shorts for a dime, and a long one for a quarter.
And since I had 24 keys to work with, I added some of the "green box" tones (the operator-side tones for controlling pay phones), assorted phone sounds (dialtone, busy, ringback), and the venerable 2600 Hz tone. Basically, using the formula ((f/(15700/256))*256) I can make each key generate any pair of sine waves.
The 2600 Hz tone was the gateway to "blue boxing". When used on an active phone call, it would disconnect your call and terminate phone company billing, while leaving you in communication with the phone company computers. A different set of dual-tone signals from touch-tone was used to send a phone number. I'm not sure if this was the origin of the name of the Atari 2600, but it was definitely the origin of the name of 2600 Magazine.
While red boxing worked through most of the '90s, blue boxing was dead by the early '80s (with long distance code abuse replacing it).
One thing that let blue boxing go as far as it did was the Bell System's arrogant attitude that nobody would be able to generate the tones, because they had to have big (as in a couple of feet tall) coils to generate perfect tones, and would distribute those tones by wire to all the telephone operator stations. What they couldn't see was that nobody needed to generate tones that perfect, since their detection filters had good tolerance for slightly off-frequency tones.