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The Cuckoo's Egg

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  4,981 ratings  ·  413 reviews
A sentimental favorite, The Cuckoo's Egg seems to have inspired a whole category of books exploring the quest to capture computer criminals. Still, even several years after its initial publication and after much imitation, the book remains a good read with an engaging story line and a critical outlook, as Clifford Stoll becomes, almost unwillingly, a one-man security force ...more
Paperback, 394 pages
Published 1991 by Pan Books (first published 1989)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Brian Rosenblat
I really enjoyed this book. Loved the references to Berkeley, the hacker chase, but most interestingly, it takes you back to an earlier time in computing (in 1989)- which I thought was a fascinating reminder of what things were like. For example, I love the explanation of 'electronic mail.' At this point, I think most people have forgotten what the 'e' in email stands for.

Also, a favorite passage, as he explains what the "Internet" is:

"At first, DARPA's network [the Internet] was simply a tes
...more
Eric Lin
Great book. The FBI was incredibly frustrating to read about. Not many people would have been persistent enough to stick with this. I'm impressed with how diligently the author worked to track this guy down.

One small gripe though - the author seemed way too self conscious about his political identity add a result of cooperating with the guys in suits. Was he trying to spin it as an internal struggle between who he was, and who this experience made him become? Not buying it, Cliff.
Nick
I read this book first around sixth grade and again last month. It was wicked good the first time and so-so the second time. I think as I've gotten older and wiser and more discerning, and as technology has progressed, this book hasn't aged well.

Here's the synop: Cliff Stoll is an astrophysicist who knows just a little something about computers (obviously a lot). He's living at UC Berkeley in the early days of the internets. One day he discovers a 75 cent accounting error (this is back before AO
...more
Rob
Executive Summary: A truly excellent and fascinating tale of hacking in the early days of the internet.

Full Review
I'm fascinated with computer crime. I have for as long as I can remember being interested in computers. Somehow I had never managed to read this book.

I'm glad I finally got around to it. It might be my new favorite. Cliff Stoll tells an engaging and personal story of his discovery of computer networks, security exploits and computer crime that reads more like a spy novel than a te
...more
Rafael
Por razones laborales he estado revisando temas de seguridad informática, eso me llevó a releer un texto que escribí y publiqué en Revista Red hace como diez años. Los temas de seguridad han evolucionado y hoy estamos inmersos en temas muy interesantes de biometría para autenticación de usuarios, como platicaba hace unos días con mi amigo Enrique Daltabuit, experto nacional en el tema. Sin embargo el texto de hace diez años tiene vigencia en la medida en la que comenta un libro fascinante, uno d ...more
Mike
Cliff Stoll is an astronomer at Berkley who has been assigned to the IT department. His first assignment is to reconcile a 75 cent variance in their billing records. Astoundingly, this leads into a year long search for hackers trying to steal military secrets. And it's all true.

It happened during the mid-1980's, so the technology is a bit dated at this point, but it doesn't really distract from this fascinating story. fifty pages into the book, I assumed that the 75 cent mystery would be solved
...more
Jonathan Leblang
Interesting book, especially since I worked at MITRE at the time, and had first-hand knowledge of the method the hacker used to go through the systems. Also met him at a security conference -- he gave a nice presentation.
Jonathan
Here is the story of how I came to read The Cuckoo’s Egg: I purchased it at a library book sale because it looked interesting, tossed it in a box because I didn’t have time to read it, and promptly forgot about it.

Then I got married, and we got real bookshelves instead of boxes, and I put the book on the shelf because it was hardbound and hardbound books show that you are a serious, thoughtful person.

Then my Uncle Steve came over from Florida and started telling me about a book he had read, a tr
...more
Brian
(5.0) So much fun! (may need to be a little computer-geeky to really love it)

Crazy cool true story about an astronomer-turned-sysadmin at Berkeley in the 1980s who decides to track down a 75 cent accounting discrepancy in server usage, and turns into a year-long hunt to track down a sneaky computer spy operating for the KGB. Covers several severe holes in Unix security, but emphasizes that the weakest link in security is almost always from human operators.

Very engaging read, tore right through i
...more
Mister E
This is one of the books that really defined my life.

While in the astrophysics program at Berkalurk, young Clifford Stoll is asked to look into an extra couple cents being charged for their computer use. What follows is the discovery of an East German (Cold War era mind you) hacker using Berkeley's computer network to enter private miliary networks.

This is one of the most realistic novels on hacking you could find. Forget the deck's of Gibson and the 3D, motorcycle racing or Stephenson, this is
...more
Rebecca Huston
This is a compelling, enjoyable read about what is hacking, and how a systems engineer caught and shut down an espionage ring. Told by the engineer himself, Cliff Stoll's story is full of technical details, but also a great deal of wit, and not a little sarcasm. A seventy-five cent discrepancy alerted him that someone was poking about where he shouldn't be, and task of tracking down who it was led him to the Air Force, the Army, the NSA and the FBI, among other entities. For anyone who remembers ...more
Marieke
I read this in 1998... My dad had given me a copy so I could understand better what he did for work. It was weird to read...I kept thinking of the gifts he had brought me from his business trips to San Francisco and New Mexico when i was a kid. Anyway, it's a good book. Not the most literary writing, but that doesn't really matter. It's a real-life thriller about one of the first major hacking cases of the Information Age. It's intense. I won't tell you whodunnit. You have to read it yourself.
Philipp
I've seen this book pop up a few times on lists like "recommended reads for programmers" and always wondered why - I didn't know it was such a extremely fascinating read! I tried to read it in one evening but had to stop at 4am.

It's the story of how one US astronomer turned computer programmer ("astroinformatician"?) found a 75 cents bill for computing time he couldn't make sense of, how he traced that bill, found an intruder on his system, and how it took him months to untangle the web of syste
...more
James Swenson
Highly recommended, especially for anyone who's been a computer aficionado for a while. The Cuckoo's Egg is a real-life spy thriller that takes us back to the pre-Internet era of networked computing. The author, on his first day at work as a network administrator, is assigned to track down a 75-cent error in the accounting system that bills users for their computer time. It turns out that the 9 seconds in question were used by a hacker passing through. Gradually, Stoll's life is taken over by th ...more
Wilson Lanue
For some years after its 1989 debut, The Cuckoo's Egg was the book to read about computer hacking (or, more specifically, counter-hacking). But this superb read is much more than the memoir of an astronomer who followed a 75-cent accounting "error" to a Soviet spy and sudden fame as the world's top computer security expert.

It's the story of a sincere Berkeley liberal who came to see conservative establishment types as fellow human beings, to the confusion of those closest to him. Candid, thought
...more
Bjoern
I've read this book already several times over the last decades (in the german translation), but this new reread was every bit as enjoyable as all the times (5-7, i don#t really know and still i'm every time surprised about the afterword with it's second story... oops spoilers! :D) in the past. Cuckoos Egg still is one of my favorite books, mainly because of the weird mixture of computer talk, spy story, historic episode and truly mind boggling circumstances described.

Cliff Stoll simply found a
...more
Joan Szechtman
THE CUCKOO’S EGG is a quirky tale of computer hacking and espionage. When the grant money ran out, Stoll, an astronomer at the Keck Observatory at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab (LBL) suddenly had a choice—collect unemployment or develop programs in LBL’s basement for the astronomers who still had grants. He chose to program. One task Stoll was assigned had nothing to do with astronomy, but rather to keep track of computer usage. In other words, he had to work on the accounting software. He soon stum ...more
Elli
I really appreciated this book, and Cliff Stoll is an excellent storyteller. I think he's fabulous. He and wife are a combination to be remembered! It was almost like a musical portrayal, building up the pressure, adding the proper elements to ease and balance and really coming into a crashing ending which I haven't quite reached yet.
It's also sort of like a movie I would have loved to have seen. I can just imagine the full hippie scene..."Be Polite Now" to the "expensive suits with no sense of
...more
Jared
Feb 13, 2008 Jared rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: computer geeks, network security geeks, and mystery lovers
This book is an entertaining, true-story look at tracking hackers down in the early days of computer networking. It's a must-read for computer and network security professionals to demonstrate the importance of logging, auditing, and persistence in catching clever black-hats.

Cliff Stoll, an astrophysicist, had to take a job running computers for the Lawrence Berkeley Lab when the funding ran out for his research. One of his first assignments was to track down the source of an accounting error th
...more
Tracey
Borrowed this from my brother a few months ago & it seemed a fitting follow-up to Cryptonomicon.

Published in 1989, it details Stoll's attempts at tracking down a hacker who has broken into the Lawrence Berkeley Labs computer system. As Stoll fell into the role of systems manager almost by accident (he was an astronomer by training) he does an excellent job of covering the then-current state of networking at a fairly basic level. Anyone with general computer knowledge should be able to follo
...more
D.
Aug 29, 2010 D. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Geeks, anybody with an interest in computer networking and security.
Very interesting and insightful account of a hacker's attack (from the good guys' perspective) which was hardly taken seriously in a time way before the Internet as we know it. I do agree with some of the other reviewers stating little Cliff is a bit too whiny about not being supported by the various "three-letter agencies" in his crusade against this spy and it does get a bit repetitive after a while. Same goes for the parts about his personal life, although it was interesting to see how far hi ...more
Deanna
This book really surprised me. For a true story, it was actually a very good read. What that means is that it was written like you'd expect a fictional story to be told. And, despite all of the astronomy and computer/network jargon, you can truly enjoy the story. Oh, by the way... Don't forget to write down the cookie recipe on page 155!
Matt
Surprisingly good, and reasonably exciting. Though I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who hadn't heard of ARPANET or UNIX. It describes 80's computing concepts well, but there's a lot of jargon for people with no previous interest in 80's computing.
Stephen Adams
This book is a must-read for any system admin/computer tech. I've never had so much fun reading terminal output than when I had this book in my hands. Cliff Stoll tells the story of how, through a simple accounting error, he discovered that a hacker was trying to find his way into government computer systems. In a time where there were no such thing as "computer crimes" he goes from local police, to FBI, to the CIA trying to find somebody who can help him track down this guy. This book is simply ...more
Mike Ivanov
I read this book by the hot overhead spotlight of my airplane seat on business trips back and forth between California and DC to meet with acronym agencies and defense contractors. I think that made a good setting for getting absorbed in this very unique book. It's a thriller, yes, but it happened, out there in primordial cyberspace: the first encounter between a system administrator and a ghostly attacker. Lucky for us, the system administrator was Cliff Stoll. Upon finding himself thrust into ...more
Maxim
This firsthand account of a major hacking incident from the 1980s is really interesting. Once you get into the story, it's a page turner, like a good mystery novel. I found it interesting to compare and contrast the network and computing environment of the '80s with that of today, but it's equally intriguing as a psychological study of the author, a conflicted anti-establishment liberal trying to do the right thing but wondering if he's become a turncoat by cooperating with the federal authoriti ...more
Silveryjessica
I first read this at the very beginning of the personal computer era, around 1990. I was riveted. I literally--I don't mean this figuratively, I mean literally--could not put it down. I was actually working at Borders and brought it up front to the registers when it was my shift up there. I probably sold more copies of this book than anyone else in America just by ignoring customers because I was so riveted. I recently re-read it a few months ago and was blown away at how quaint it was. It's har ...more
Julie
Like its title, this book is one thing masquerading as something else. What could have been a boring-as-watching-paint-dry primer on computer security is actually a completely absorbing, real-life thriller full of smoke, mirrors and real-life spies. The author does a fantastic job of explaining how he traced a computer hacker for nearly a year in a way that even a person like me who barely distinguishes computer code from Morse code can completely understand what is going on. And even though the ...more
Jasmine
I'm lending this to as many people as I possibly can.

1. All the fun of a mystery/thriller and all of the grounding of a biography. It felt vaguely Robin Cook-like, made less terrifying and more exciting by the fact that it takes place in our world, not in a near-alternate history.
2. So that's why we're not supposed to use dictionary words as our passwords. I mean, yeah, I knew dictionary attacks existed- I just didn't realize what form they took.
3. Security. It's... yeah, I'll fix this after the
...more
Noah Preszler
Reads like a (neo-)noir novel. More like Jeff Lebowski than Sam Spade, a Deadhead with long hair, left-leaning politics, and a bicycle rather than a car, the dogged protagonist perseveres against budget constraints, bosses who continuously threaten to pull the plug, entirely unhelpful TLA government agencies, and colleagues who find his chase to be a waste of time to eventually bring down a German hacker selling US military secrets to the Soviet Union. And it all starts his first day on the job ...more
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Funny. I just heard about this book the first time yesterday 3 54 Nov 15, 2011 01:09AM  
Computer 1 14 Aug 30, 2011 10:05PM  
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