Vintage Hacking Tales From T0ne Syndr0me

by Mike Dank (@famicoman)

I had the pleasure of receiving an email from Marcos Duarte (aka T0ne Syndr0me) who read the Hacking History article I wrote in 2013, tracing back some of Philly’s hacking history.

Marcus attended some Philly 2600 meetings back in the late ’90s and sent me a few stories he could recount from the time. Simply put, I found his stories to be fantastic. You can only piece together so much from reading old articles and books. Having a first-hand account is like a breath of fresh air. With his permission, I’m posting both stories below.

Story #1

I found your article while reminiscing about the old days; yet one guy I never forgot was Kepi Blanc. Mind you was about 14-16 when I attended those meetings; I’m 33 now! Lol

So I googled “Kepi Blanc” just to see what the mans up to nowadays (I knew he’d be “somebody” at this point. That’s why I never forgot him; his knowledge and experience at the meetings impressed me enough then, that I figured he’s gotta be doing bigger things, or “evolved” if you will, up to this point… I remember he’d bring a soldering-iron and build things right there at the table in the food court of the train-station haha. I dunno what it was, but he was making a little black box, with a red button at the time. 2600 posted (1997-ish) that meeting were under the Stairwell 7 sign, but they weren’t. They were at the food court so we could actually sit down an chill. If someone new was waiting under the sign (like I once was) with a tiny magazine in his hand, haha…We knew what was up, and would go get ‘em.

It was fun. Cool people I remember; another young guy named “Bellum” also. He introduced me to IRC. I went by “T0ne Syndr0me” at the time. I established the name/handle because I was so focused on phreaking, and phone systems rather than cars and girls, that I literally began hearing DTMF tones regularly, like auditory hallucinations lol! I shit you not ?? So I said to myself “I think I have Tone Syndrome”… This became my handle.

I remember one meeting where another young guy (I forget his name, but he was friends with Kepi) had a cellular-scanner; which he traded with someone (a borrow until the next meeting) for a Lineman’s Handset. I had never seen one before, so he let me use it and said “Point it at anyone you see on a cell phone”… And BOOM I was instantly listening-in on a woman’s conversation down the hall of the station! I was like “woah” ??

Another guy was selling Red Box crystals; I bought one for my Radio Shack Tone-Dialer, for like $5.00.

Story #2

There was a time we were experimenting with the use of the TTY system for deaf/mute users, and since we’re at the payphones, one guy actually needed to make a call… So he’s going around asking if anyone had a quarter, and everyone’s like “Nah, man; I don’t have any change, sorry”… Not to be dicks haha, just nobody had anything. So I sat there baffled like “wtf?” And I said to him “Just red-box the phone!!!” To which he replied: “I know right; I’m at a 2600 meeting; there’s gotta be an easier way to make a phone call!”

Lol So we boxed a payphone only to discover that they’ve changed the ESS; so boxing didn’t always work anymore. On some phones it did, but not as many anymore. So I thought to myself “Aright; how can I help this guy out?” which was when I came up with a solution, proving that Red Boxing still works, Even Today!!

I had the quarter tones recorded in my nifty digital voice-recorder wristwatch (also from Radio-Shack), and figured, if I can’t enter them into the system, then maybe the Operator can do it for me…

So I hit “0” and social-engineered the Operator; saying: “Hi, I’m at a payphone in the city, and it looks like somebody’s vandalized the phone. There’s chewing gum or something all over the keys… So I was wondering: If I give you the number, can you place the call for me?”

She said “Sure; I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the phone number?”

I gave it to her, and she then asked me to deposit 25 cents…

So instead of doing so, I played the recorder tones for her to listen to; convincing her that money was indeed deposited, and low and behold - It worked! She connected the call!

I saved the day, and felt like a badass. 16yrs old, doin’ “big things” at Philly 2600, hahaha.

Do you have any old Philly hacking stories? Let me know!