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phreaking /freek'ing/ n. 

 [from `phone phreak'] 1. The
art and science of cracking the phone network (so as, for
example, to make free long-distance calls).  2. By extension,
security-cracking in any other context (especially, but not
exclusively, on communications networks) (see cracking).

At one time phreaking was a semi-respectable activity among
hackers; there was a gentleman's agreement that phreaking as an
intellectual game and a form of exploration was OK, but serious
theft of services was taboo.  There was significant crossover
between the hacker community and the hard-core phone phreaks who
ran semi-underground networks of their own through such media as
the legendary "TAP Newsletter".  This ethos began to break
down in the mid-1980s as wider dissemination of the techniques put
them in the hands of less responsible phreaks.  Around the same
time, changes in the phone network made old-style technical
ingenuity less effective as a way of hacking it, so phreaking came
to depend more on overtly criminal acts such as stealing phone-card
numbers.  The crimes and punishments of gangs like the `414 group'
turned that game very ugly.  A few old-time hackers still phreak
casually just to keep their hand in, but most these days have
hardly even heard of `blue boxes' or any of the other
paraphernalia of the great phreaks of yore.

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