Spy vs. Spy

Working ever harder to make sure you never actually pick up your telephone again: Software Service Aims to Outfox Caller ID

The service, the first commercial version of a technology known mainly among software programmers and the computer-hacker underground until now, was introduced nationwide on Wednesday by a California company called Star38.

For $19.99 a month and as little as 7 cents a minute, customers can go to the company’s Web site (www.star38.com), log in and then type the number that they want to call and the number that they want to appear on the caller ID screen of the recipient’s phone.

For an additional fee, they can also specify names that can appear along with their telephone numbers.

Update: Wow – a surprising reaction and fallout in this Sept 4 article, perpetuating the image of the hacker/technophile as criminal – Citing Threats, Entrepreneur Wants to Quit Caller ID Venture

Three days after the start-up company Star38 began offering a service that fools caller ID systems, the founder, Jason Jepson, has decided to sell the business. Mr. Jepson said he had received harassing e-mail and phone messages and even a death threat taped to his front door – all he said from people opposed to his publicizing a commercial version of technology that until now has been mainly used by software programmers and the computer hackers’ underground.

[…] He said that since he did not know specifically who was threatening him, he thought it would be fruitless to seek help from the police. “I don’t want to go to the cops, who might not know what a hacker is,” he said.

The reaction against Star38 is the type of friction that can arise between for-profit software companies and hackers who resent the commercialization of technology they believe should remain free.

“In most countercultures, there is an aspect of selling out,” said Caleb Sima, the co-founder of Spi Dynamics, an Atlanta-based online security company. “People who make money off technology are deemed to have sold out. Anyone who has a unique idea and is making money is going to get badgered.”

While network security consultants and some other technology professionals are known to have a cottage industry involving the use of caller ID spoofing, Mr. Jepson said the nature of the threats he had received made him conclude they had come from so-called phishers – people who use caller ID spoofing and online techniques to trick people into handing over confidential information.