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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1972, originally in phone phreak, one of a set of technically creative people who electronically hacked or defrauded telephone companies of the day.\n\nThe phreaks first appeared on the US scene in the early 1960s, when a group of MIT students were found to have conducted a late night dialling experiment on the Defense Department's secret network. They were rewarded with jobs when they explained their system to Bell investigators. ... The name "phone phreak" identified the enthisiasts with the common underground usage of freak as someone who was cool and used drugs.

["New Scientist," Dec. 13, 1973]

\nThe ph- in phone may have suggested the alteration, and this seems to be the original of the 1990s slang fad for substituting ph- for f- (as in phat).

n. (context technology English) A person who engages in phone phreaking. vb. (context transitive intransitive English) To engage in phone phreaking.

Usage examples of "phreak".

In high school, one of my all-time favorite pranks was gaining unauthorized access to the telephone switch and changing the class of service of a fellow phone phreak.

Phiber Optik, Acid Phreak, and a third NYC scofflaw named Scorpion were raided by the Secret Service.

He needed to catch Phreak, and force him to divulge the secret antivenin code.

Thereby qualifying to apply for membership in the most highly ultra elite hacker cracker phreaker bulletin board .

Any decent phreaker board expected its members to contribute: passwords, newly discovered bugs, the unlisted dial- in numbers of computer systems.

My friend and another phone phreaker I met shortly thereafter let me listen in as they each made pretext calls to the phone company.

I recognized them and they recognized me--even as a teen, I already had a reputation as a phreaker and hacker because of a big story the LA Times had run about my first juvenile brush with the authorities.

This gives case histories of three major hackers whose activities ranged from phone phreaking to computer viruses.

But my little hobby has given me a certain reputation in the phreaking world.

The losses from this primitive phreaking activity are far, far greater than the monetary losses caused by computer-intruding hackers.

New forms of phreaking are spreading rapidly, following new vulnerabilities in sophisticated phone services.

The above is only a small section of a much larger library of hacking and phreaking techniques and history.

I gawk at the wiretaps, laptop, printer, code busters, phone phreaking equipment, and lots of other jury-rigged contraptions and punch-pads made from parts that must have once belonged to Pacific Bell.

I ask her whether it would be any loss to society if phone phreaking and computer hacking, as hobbies, simply dried up and blew away, so that nobody ever did it again.

Secret Service agents know more about phreaking, coding and carding than most phreaks can find out in years, and when it comes to viruses, break-ins, software bombs and trojan horses, Feds have direct access to red-hot confidential information that is only vague rumor in the underground.