John Draper

For other people named John Draper, see John Draper (disambiguation).
John Draper

Draper at Maker Faire Berlin in 2015
Born John Thomas Draper
(1943-03-11) March 11, 1943
Residence Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Other names Captain Crunch, Crunch, Crunchman
Occupation Computer programmer, former phone phreak
Website &

John Thomas Draper (born March 11, 1943), also known as Captain Crunch, Crunch or Crunchman (after the Cap'n Crunch breakfast cereal mascot), is an American computer programmer and former phone phreak. He is a legendary figure within the computer programming world and the hacker and security community. Draper has long maintained a nomadic lifestyle;[1] as of May 2013, he resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.[2]


Draper is the son of a United States Air Force engineer; he has characterized his father as a distant and imposing figure. As a child, he built a home radio station from discarded military components.[3] He was frequently bullied in school and briefly received psychological treatment due to a perceived "chemical imbalance."[4] After taking college courses, Draper himself entered the Air Force in 1964. While stationed in Alaska, he helped his fellow servicemen make free phone calls home by devising access to a local telephone switchboard. After Alaska, he was stationed at Charleston Air Force Station in Maine. In 1967, he created WKOS [W-"chaos"], a pirate station in nearby Dover-Foxcroft, but had to shut it down when a legitimate radio station, WDME, objected. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force as an airman first class[4] or sergeant[5] in 1968. Thereafter, he relocated to the incipient Silicon Valley and briefly held military-related[3] positions with National Semiconductor (as an engineering technician) and Hugle International (tasked with working on an early cordless telephone design) while concurrently enrolled at De Anza College, where he studied part-time through 1972.[6] During this period, he also worked as an engineer/DJ for KKUP in Cupertino, California[7] and adopted the countercultural ethos of the times, including long hair and a predilection for marijuana.[8] Draper is renowned for his lifelong intolerance of tobacco smoke and his poor personal hygiene.[9][10]


While Draper was driving around in his Volkswagen Microbus to test a pirate radio transmitter he had built, he broadcast a telephone number to listeners as feedback to gauge his station's reception. A callback from a "Denny" (identified in a Discovery Channel documentary as Denny Teresi[11]) resulted in a meeting that caused him to blunder into the world of the phone phreaks. Teresi and a large percentage of the phone phreaks were blind.[12] Learning of his electronic capability, they wanted him to build a multifrequency tone generator (the "blue box") to gain easier entry into the AT&T system, which was controlled by tones. The group was previously using an organ and cassette recordings of tones to get free calls, although a blind boy who had taken the moniker of Joybubbles had perfect pitch and was able to identify the exact frequencies.

A Cap'n Crunch bosun whistle

The phreakers informed Draper that a toy whistle that was, at the time, packaged in boxes of Cap'n Crunch cereal could emit a tone at precisely 2600 hertz—the same frequency that was used by AT&T long lines to indicate that a trunk line was ready and available to route a new call.[13] This would effectively disconnect one end of the trunk, allowing the still connected side to enter an operator mode. Experimenting with this whistle inspired Draper to build blue boxes: electronic devices capable of reproducing other tones used by the phone company.

I don't do that. I don't do that anymore at all. And if I do it, I do it for one reason and one reason only. I'm learning about a system. The phone company is a System. A computer is a System, do you understand? If I do what I do, it is only to explore a system. Computers, systems, that's my bag. The phone company is nothing but a computer.

The class of vulnerabilities Draper and others discovered was limited to call-routing switches that employed in-band signaling, whereas newer equipment relies almost exclusively on out-of-band signaling, the use of separate circuits to transmit voice and signals. Though they no longer serve a practical use, the Cap'n Crunch whistles did become valued collector's items. Some hackers sometimes go by the handle "Captain Crunch" even today; 2600: The Hacker Quarterly is named after this whistle frequency.

The expense of sustaining the unbilled phone calls, the redesign of the line protocols, and the accelerated equipment replacement due to the blue box is difficult to calculate, or even to separate from something as complex and dynamic as the telephone long-distance network.

The ubiquity of the 1971 Esquire article precipitated Draper's eventual arrest on toll fraud charges in 1972; he was sentenced to five years' probation. However, it also elicited the attention of University of California, Berkeley engineering student and future Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who located Draper while working as an engineer at KKUP, a public radio station in Cupertino, California.[14] After arranging to meet Wozniak in his dorm room (whereupon the latter noted Draper's disheveled appearance and body odor), he began to teach his phone phreaking skills to Wozniak and one of his friends, Steve Jobs; a phone phreaking business formed by Wozniak and Jobs presaged the eventual emergence of Apple.[15] Draper was a member of the Homebrew Computer Club.[13] By 1977, he provided services to Apple as an independent contractor,[7] where he created the "Charlie Board," a telephone interface board for the Apple II personal computer "that could immediately identify phone signals and lines -- such as ones that made free calls -- something modems were not able to do for a decade... the technology would later be used for tone-activated calling menus, voicemail and other purposes."[15] The board was never marketed due to a litany of factors, including the prohibitive cost of a corequisite AT&T-approved connection interface device, industrial suppression by the aforementioned corporation, Draper's previous arrest and conviction for wire fraud, and Jobs' personal animus against Draper.[3] Draper also wrote the BASIC cross-assembler used by Wozniak in the development of Apple I and Apple II.[16]

Software developer

In 1976 and 1978, Draper served two prison sentences for phone fraud. During this period, "two court-appointed psychiatrists examined... Draper. One concluded he had an 'underdeveloped sense of people' and was 'psychotic'; the other found nothing wrong with him."[15] Draper wrote EasyWriter, the first word processor for the Apple II, in 1979 during a third prison sentence (a year, subsequently reduced to several months) in the Alameda County jail.[15] Under a work furlough program, he had access to a computer at Receiving Studios, a small band practice studio, where he coded much of EasyWriter; however he did take copies of the code "home" to prison overnight to work on it.[17]

Draper later ported EasyWriter to the IBM PC, beating Bill Gates on the bid for the IBM contract; the lucrative deal enabled Draper to buy a Mercedes and a house in Hawaii. However, Draper's company, Capn' Software, posted less than $1 million revenue over six years, and he subsequently sued his software's distributor, Bill Baker, over an unauthorized version of EasyWriter that Baker released without Draper's permission; they eventually settled out of court.

His last major corporate position was with Autodesk in the late 1980s; because of his criminal record and eccentricities, many corporations have demonstrated reluctance to hire Draper in spite of his pedigree and demonstrated qualifications. He spent most of the 1990s enmeshed in the burgeoning rave scene, supporting his itinerant lifestyle by developing websites and writing code in Australia and India, among other locales.[15] A Sydney rave website[18] captures alleged diarised reports from John about some of the rave events he attended in Sydney.

John Draper in Canberra, Australia in 1995

From 1999 to 2004, Draper was the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for ShopIP,[19] a computer security company whose featured OpenBSD-based firewall, The CrunchBox GE, was backed by Steve Wozniak and featured in an article in The Register.[20] Being the first company to feature hackers as security consultants and the first to use OpenBSD, Draper and the company were also featured in an article in The New York Times.[21]

From 2005 to 2010, Draper was the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for media delivery company En2go.[22] He also worked as a senior developer of KanTalk!, a VoIP client.

Draper's software development history includes:

Health and lifestyle

Draper is well known in the hacker community for his itinerant and nomadic lifestyle.[1] A 2007 Wall Street Journal profile described his one-room apartment in Mountain View, California in a state of squalor, littered with trash and miscellaneous electronics and computers.[3] He has since moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, advertising on Twitter in 2013 that he had room for two people to stay with him during DEFCON.[2]

In 2014, Draper elaborated on some of his health issues, including degenerative spine disease and C. Diff, on his blog. Supporters launched a crowdfunding campaign to aide him with his medical bills, raising over $17,000.[23]


In an oft-repeated story, Draper picked up a public phone, then proceeded to "phreak" his call around the world. At no charge, he routed a call through different phone switches in countries such as Japan, Russia and England. Once he had set the call to go through dozens of countries, he dialed the number of the public phone next to him. A few minutes later, the phone next to him rang. Draper spoke into the first phone, and, after quite a few seconds, he heard his own voice very faintly on the other phone. He sometimes repeated this stunt at parties. Draper also claimed that he and a friend once placed a direct call to the White House during the Nixon administration, and after giving the operator President Nixon's secret code name of "Olympus", and asking to speak to the president about a national emergency, they were connected with someone who sounded like Richard Nixon; Draper's friend told the man about a toilet paper shortage in Los Angeles, at which point the person on the other end of the line angrily asked them how they'd managed to get connected to him.[15]

John Draper appears as himself in the unreleased documentary Hackers Wanted.[24]

John Draper's story has also inspired several mentions in popular culture. Elements of the movie Sneakers recall Draper and Joybubbles; the character Erwin "Whistler" Emory portrayed by David Strathairn, as well as Cosmo's experience of offering phreaking services to criminals while in prison, were based on them.[25][26]

John Draper is specifically mentioned as "Captain Crunch" in one scene in Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, in which a hacker mentions that "Cap'n Crunch broke into the national phone system with a plastic whistle."[27]

The recurring Shadowrun character Captain Chaos, a prolific decker (the setting's futuristic equivalent of a hacker), seems to be inspired by John Draper's notoriety as Captain Crunch.

He is portrayed by Wayne Pére in the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley.[28]

Captain Crunch is being searched for by Rockford during a murder investigation on the TV show The Rockford Files, season 5, episode 5, "Kill the Messenger".[29]

In Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, John Draper is key to unlocking one of the mysteries within the story.[30]

See also


  1. 1 2 "John Draper Interviewed Early 1995". Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  2. 1 2 "Twitter / jdcrunchman: @_defcon_ I have room for 2". 2013-05-15. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Rhoads, Chris (2007-01-13). "The Twilight Years of Cap'n Crunch". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  4. 1 2 Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who … - Phil Lapsley – Google Books. 1972-05-04. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  5. The release of a revised AFR 39-36 on October 19, 1967 renamed Airman Third Class, Airman Second Class and Airman First Class to Airman, Airman First Class and Sergeant respectively. This returned Sergeant to the rank structure as the first step in the NCO tier as a retention move but required achievement of a 5-skill Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) level. No changes to the respective insignias were made. Technical Sergeant Spink, Barry L. (1992). A Chronology of the Enlisted Rank Chevron of the United States Air Force, February 19, 1992. Air Force Historical Research Agency.
  6. "John Draper". LinkedIn. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  7. 1 2 "Stories of Apple – Captain Crunch on Apple – An interview with John Draper". Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  8. Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who … - Phil Lapsley – Google Books. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  9. RHOADS, CHRIS (January 13, 2007). "The Twilight Years of Cap'n Crunch". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  10. Lapsley, Phil (2013). Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-2061-8.
  11. TLC Hackers: Computer Outlaws (AVI), Phreak Vids
  12. "Phone Phreaks: The Fascinating Story of the World's First Hackers –".
  13. 1 2 Wozniak, S. G. (2006), iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-06143-4.
  14. The Woz..., The Real Captain Crunch: Stories, Web Crunchers.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Chris Rhoads (January 13, 2007). "The Twilight Years of Cap'n Crunch". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  16. Captain Crunch on Apple — An interview with John Draper, Stories of Apple, 2008-12-04
  17. EasyWriter, Stories, WebCrunchers.
  18. "Sydney Rave History". Sydney Rave History.
  19. John Leyden (2001-02-07). "Captain Crunch sets up security firm".
  20. Andrew Orlowski (2002-02-27). "Woz blesses Captain Crunch's new box".
  21. John Markoff (2001-01-29). "The Odyssey Of a Hacker: From Outlaw To Consultant". The New York Times.
  22. Marty Graham (2008-01-15). "Wozniak Backs Captain Crunch in Net Video Startup". Wired (magazine).
  23. "Fans raise cash to help phone phreaker John Draper, aka Cap'n Crunch". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  25. Sneakers at the Internet Movie Database
  26. "Sneakers (Film) – TV Tropes". TV Tropes.
  27. "Captain Crunch – SOLDIERX.COM".
  28. "Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) – Full Credits –". Turner Classic Movies.
  29. "The Rockford Files – Season 5, Episode 5: Kill the Messenger –". CBS Interactive.
  30. "Ready Player One".
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