EXPLODING THE PHONE
The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell
Grove Press New York
If there were no billing records for fraudulent calls, there was no way to know how many fraudulent calls there were or how long they lasted. And that meant AT&T was gazing into the abyss. Say the phone company catches some college students with electronic boxes. Fantastic! But elation is soon replaced by worry. Is that all of them? Or is that just the tip of the iceberg? Are there another ten college students doing it? A hundred? Are there a thousand fraudulent calls a year or are there a million?
Engineers hate stuff like this.
Bell Labs, filled to the brim with engineers, proposed a crash program to build an electronic toll fraud surveillance system and deploy it throughout the network. It would keep a watchful eye over the traffic flowing from coast to coast, ever vigilant for suspicious calls — not every call, mind you, but a random sampling of a subset of them, enough to gather statistics. For the first time Bell Labs — and AT&T’s senior management — would have useful data about the extent of the electronic toll fraud problem. Then they’d be in a position to make billion-dollar decisions.
The project was approved; indeed, AT&T gave Bell Labs a blank check and told them to get right to work. Tippy-top secret, the program had the coolest of code names: Project Greenstar. Within Bell Labs Greenstar documents were stamped with a star outlined in green ink to highlight their importance and sensitivity. Perhaps as a joke, the project lead was given a military dress uniform hat with a green general’s star on it, an artifact that was passed on from one team lead to the next over the years.
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