John Draper, the man better known as legendary phone phreak Captain Crunch, is soon to debut the fruits of recent labors: a box designed to thwart hackers.
Crunch played a pivotal role in the phone underground thirty years ago, and paid for it with two spells in the clink. Crunch got his name by discovering that a plastic whistle included in a popular breakfast cereal perfectly reproduced the 2600Hz frequency which unlocked the AT&T phone network. Draper was also the inspiration for the first micro pioneers: Apple co-founders Wozniak and Jobs sold a Blue Box phone from their Berkeley dorm.
But the Crunchman, now 58, is happy to play gamekeeper. The new CrunchBox is a dedicated Pentium III system, running a tweaked version of the secure OpenBSD operating system, and it fits in a 1U rack shelf.
It uses the popular Snort IDS, but with added custom-written heuristics. New exploits can be identified, and authenticated rules sent back to the box within half an hour, Crunch tell us. A final price hasn't yet been set, but Crunch says the box will offer similar functionality to $8,000 boxes on show at the RSA conference last week, for considerably less money.
He's confident enough to put a public version of the new CrunchBox on line, and that confidence is justified, according to his old friend Steve Wozniak.
"He's devoted his life to it for the last few years," Woz told us.
Over lunch after CodeCon recently, Draper modestly played down his own involvement in the phone underground, which he said began when one night, when he received a random phone call from a hacker.
"It was going on before I got involved," he told us.
Over a meal and CodeCon, Draper recounted the story of how he and Woz had dialed the Vatican. It was 4am, and Woz wanted the Pope.
Draper recalls the conversation. "'Is the Pope there? I'm calling from California, and I need to confess!'".
Woz laughs when we tell him the anecdote. Did this reallyhappen?
"I've heard that story so many times," he says, "and read it so many times. So I guess it must be!"
But Woz credits Draper as a true technical pioneer. "He perhaps didn't have the skills of social engineering of someone like Kevin Mitnick, but he did discover a huge amount of technical information himself, the codes and switches," all of which undoubtedly helps secure the new CrunchBox.