John Draper, AKA Cap'n Crunch

One of the definitive characters of old skool hacking, and the creator of the first word processor used by IBM and Apple, Draper suffered a gaol term for his art. But while he is attempting to repay his debt to society, we consider the industry’s debt to him. The only trouble was getting him on a phone line...

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By  Kate Concannon Published  June 25, 2002

Introduction|~||~||~|One of the definitive characters of old skool hacking, and the creator of the first word processor used by IBM and Apple, Draper suffered for his art. Having figured out how to make free phone calls using a plastic whistle found in a cereal box (which had the convenient talent of tweeting at 2600MHz), Draper invented phone phreaking, for which he was ultimately convicted and gaoled. Decades on, he has tossed in the black hat for the white and set up his own security consultancy — although Draper feels he is seen as “a fox guarding the chickens”. But while he is attempting to repay his debt to society, we consider the industry’s debt to him. The only trouble was getting him on a phone line...

Give us a list of your computer/tech related achievements and tell us about any current projects.

I was the first one to have a FORTH language on an Apple II. I wrote the first word processor for the Apple II called EasyWriter, and I was the first one to implement a word processor on the IBM PC. I even beat out Bill Gates on the bid to have it bundled with every PC sold!

More recently, I developed the Crunchbox, a security ‘appliance’ or a CANNED solution to some serious security problems people are encountering. It stops viruses, trojans, exploits, or any other hostile activity; and to the attacker, the network just vanishes and appears totally disconnected. They have no choice but to move on and hack somewhere else.

Almost any known scan can trigger the IDS. It’s a hardware product, but software is free and open source, making it easier for people to add other capability to it.

Is it hackers who will hold the key to power and influence (the currency, one might say) in our increasingly tech-dependent future? Can we expect an emergence of sinister information-mafia?

Not likely, but their technology is something people should be concerned about. I doubt it because it’s too easy to trace back to the original hacker on specific attacks, regardless if they forge their IP addresses.

||**||Hacking|~||~||~|One commentator described the psychology of a hacker in the following terms: “underlying the psyche of the criminal hacker may be a deep sense of inferiority. Consequently, the mastery of computer technology, or the shut-down of a major site, might give them a sense of power”. How do you react to this character profile? Is it plain sensationalist rhubarb?

Script kiddies do get off on the power they have. They have to be made aware that doing this is going to get them caught, because only a very experienced hacker is going to know how to cover their tracks. More and more honey-pots are out there, sucking in the script kiddies, learning their tricks. Hackers may only be a just a few hours ahead of the security people. Once their tricks are discovered, then we can detect it.

Tell us what you can about the hacker and virus-writer underground. How difficult is it for an upcoming hacker to obtain admittance and acceptance? Is it a fickle society?

I’ve had absolutely no contact with the underground, but I’ve been on the forefront of the war between the viruses and the networks they infect. With special features of the Crunchbox, we’ve been able to identify the source of most of these recent viruses, pinning it down to the PPP IP port of the ISP they are using.

Unfortunately, these ISP’s are in China, and China is not that friendly with us and refuses to help us identify the individual. Email to their ‘abuse’ team falls on deaf ears. Calling their data center on the phone offers no possibility either, because they don’t speak English or want to cooperate.

How much do you consider hackers have contributed to the development of various technologies and applications?

A lot... Look at Apple, and any large company — most were started by hackers. Even AutoDesk.

||**||Getting personal|~||~||~|Where are your loyalties these days? Do you sympathise with white, grey or black hats? Why?

My loyalties right now are to the survival of our company Shopip. I have just as many enemies in the black hat group as on the authorities’ side. I’m not sure how the security community sees us, but we are doing things that nobody else has done.

We put up a demo Crunchbox, put it out in the wild, and give access to anyone who has a valid email address. Of course, we watch and log activity on it all the time, and make that known to those that use it.

What are your personal thoughts on media copyrights and “piracy” via internet-based share groups?

I think Napster was GREAT! And their reaction was to go offshore immediately and continue their great service to spread music across the world. Record companies are already too greedy, and if they were to start offering MP3 files for sale, like charging $3 for albums, everyone would benefit.

Instead, they are pushing the spread of MP3 further underground, where they will have even less control. The world is a big place, and there are many places in the world to locate a web site and server that’s not under control of the DCMA.

Underground scenes seem to accommodate you well, between hacking and raving. Are you an eccentric? How would you describe yourself?

I would say that... I’ve always been a naive and trusting guy. That’s why I like the rave scene. Not only do I get excellent exercise dancing, but I get out and meet very interesting people too — mostly people in the technology field, because they all go to raves.

The media paints a ‘rave’ as a drug and sex orgy, but there is a lot more to a rave then people doing drugs. For instance, take any sporting event, rock concert, or whatever. They all have people doing drugs.

You created EasyWriter so as to create a medium with which to write up the workings of another of your projects. Where did EasyWriter go from there and what word processor do you use today?

I developed it as an internal tool so I could write the FORTH manual. At the time, no word processor existed for the Apple II 40 character toy. Some friends saw the potential, and so did I, so I worked my ass off to commercialise it.

Are you into gadgets? What electronics devices would you sorely miss if they up and went to the park without you for the day?

My laptop. Gadgets? Oh, yeah... One of my favourite TV programs is Robot Wars or BattleBots...

What do you consider the single most significant invention or technological breakthrough for the 20th century? Why?

The Microprocessor... Why? Easy: look around you! You even find them in the humble toaster.

Where is the future of microchip development? Does silicon already have one foot in the grave?

I don’t think silicon will feature in the future of microchips. Perhaps DNA — or possibly some other as yet unknown technology might come out of hiding.


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