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The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  6,626 Ratings  ·  520 Reviews
Before the Internet became widely known as a global tool for terrorists, one perceptive U.S. citizen recognized its ominous potential. Armed with clear evidence of computer espionage, he began a highly personal quest to expose a hidden network of spies that threatened national security. But would the authorities back him up? Cliff Stoll's dramatic firsthand account is "a c ...more
Paperback, 399 pages
Published September 13th 2005 by Pocket Books (first published 1989)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Brian Rosenblat
May 20, 2012 Brian Rosenblat rated it really liked it
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 test
...more
Nick
Mar 19, 2008 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Otis Chandler
Apr 01, 2011 Otis Chandler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Otis by: Brian
Super fun book - the story of a sysadmin chasing a hacker during the early internet, but it reads almost like a thriller - fun and fast.

I think I learned more about the early internet from this book than anything I've ever read before. I had heard of the words Arpanet and Milnet, but really didn't know what they were - simple networks of computers. And apparently, with very poor security! Impressive how easy it was for the hacker to get root access back then.

Internet security has come a long wa
...more
Eric Lin
May 17, 2012 Eric Lin rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Jonathan Leblang
Jan 02, 2014 Jonathan Leblang rated it really liked it
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.
Rafael
Oct 02, 2008 Rafael rated it it was amazing
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
Rob
Mar 27, 2013 Rob rated it really liked it
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
Bill DePhillips
Mar 02, 2017 Bill DePhillips rated it really liked it
Recommended to Bill by: Kevin B.
Shelves: own
Engaging chase story in the world of 80s computer networks. He's definitely not a real writer but Stoll does a good job presenting himself as a likable everyman. Lots of Bay Area references. Would've been five stars but the conclusion was a bit anti-climactic after months of methodical build.
Jonathan
Sep 22, 2009 Jonathan rated it liked it
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
Nick Black
The first "infosec true crime" book I ever read, and thus possibly a major influence on my life's work to this point (although surely not so much as WarGames). It's not as good as Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown, but better than most anything else along these lines. Cliff Stoll, astronomer-turned-network-monitor, is still around (last I checked, writing the abominable Silicon Valley Snake Oil), but let's be honest: he was never a computer scientist at heart, ignored decade's-old methods in thi ...more
Robert
Aug 11, 2011 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cliff is an excellent storyteller and has done a great job sharing this true story. Perhaps too good of a job. Although it's consistently well-written, it is frustratingly slow at times. I don't hold that against him because it happens to be appropriate for conveying a hint of what he felt as he went through this. Like him, I kept feeling like there was a breakthrough or resolution just around the corner, only to find myself strung along to a longer road ahead.

As someone who's been through more
...more
Mike
Dec 23, 2006 Mike rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Computer geeks
Good old school hacker tale. If you are a techno geek and familiar with the likes of emacs, dot matrix printers and old school bbs boards, this is for you.

Its also a really interesting breakdown of intrusion techniques, much of which holds true today.

Philipp
Jan 25, 2013 Philipp rated it it was amazing
Update August 2016: Here's an amazing video of the author showing off his self-built warehouse of Klein bottles including self-built trash warehouse robot

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 c
...more
Wilson Lanue
Jul 07, 2012 Wilson Lanue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mister E
Oct 17, 2009 Mister E rated it it was amazing
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
Mike
May 06, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joe Soltzberg
Aug 24, 2015 Joe Soltzberg rated it really liked it
Overall it was a great book. It had every element I wanted. It was non-fiction about computers and hacking that was written like fiction. Perfect! The book is an excellent read for anyone interested in a good detective story or has any interests in computers. My only complaint would be that the book gets a bit repetitive and monotonous in the middle. But this is to be expected, as that's likely how any real investigation goes. Would definitely recommend. I can't believe I hadn't heard of this bo ...more
Marieke
Jun 01, 2011 Marieke rated it really liked it
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.
Anand
Jul 04, 2016 Anand rated it it was amazing
Amazing read. Its so unbelievable that the security issues and hacking, have not changed much in the past 30 years. And so is the govt policies related to computer security and encryptions.
Stephanie
Dec 09, 2015 Stephanie rated it really liked it
How did I miss this? A thoroughly enjoyable read.
OJ
Jan 09, 2017 OJ rated it really liked it
Shelves: security
Great reading for those that have had nothing to do with security, and as enjoyable for those that do. A good retelling of a real-life trace of hacking. Worthy reading.
Joan Szechtman
Apr 10, 2012 Joan Szechtman rated it really liked it
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
Bjoern
Mar 15, 2011 Bjoern rated it it was amazing
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
Tracey
Dec 21, 2007 Tracey rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
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
Yatikesh
Feb 25, 2014 Yatikesh rated it liked it
I have always been highly interested in the techno-thriller genre and have quite a collection of such novels in the 'currently reading' or 'to be read' stages. After Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, I needed something a little less taxing on my brain and decided to go ahead with The Cuckoo's Egg.
The book is based on the author's encounter with a German hacker way back in the 80's. It starts with the author, an astronomer at The Lawrence Berkeley lab, getting intrigued by a 75 cent error thrown b
...more
James Swenson
Mar 30, 2012 James Swenson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jared
Jan 29, 2008 Jared rated it really liked it
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
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
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Funny. I just heard about this book the first time yesterday 3 54 Nov 15, 2011 01:09AM  
Computer 1 15 Aug 30, 2011 10:05PM  
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“VI was predecessor to hundreds of word processing systems. By now, Unix folks see it as a bit stodgy—it hasn’t the versatility of Gnu-Emacs, nor the friendliness of more modern editors. Despite that, VI shows up on every Unix system.” 1 likes
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