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

4.2  ·  Rating details ·  7,560 Ratings  ·  581 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 Gallery Books (first published 1989)
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Robert A. Yaffee, Ph.D. I suspect that it shows that he appreciates older literature. Or Brian, you might be correct.
After all, "bailiwick" is commonly found in contemporary…more
I suspect that it shows that he appreciates older literature. Or Brian, you might be correct.
After all, "bailiwick" is commonly found in contemporary textbooks.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Brian Rosenblat
May 20, 2012 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
Mar 19, 2008 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
Otis Chandler
Apr 01, 2011 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
Eric Lin
May 17, 2012 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.
(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
Jonathan Leblang
Jan 02, 2014 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.
Mar 27, 2013 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
Oct 02, 2008 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
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-of-cs
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
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
Sep 22, 2009 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
Mar 02, 2017 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.
Aug 11, 2011 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
Oct 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
As well as a gripping techno-thriller, it's also a sweet romance, and includes a great chocolate-chip cookie recipe. Stoll never sets out to be a hero, he's just a problem-solving grad student, who becomes really dedicated to solving one particular problem.

I wonder how dated it seems now?
Dec 23, 2006 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.

Wilson Lanue
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Mister E
Oct 17, 2009 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
Rebecca Huston
Mar 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: california
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
May 06, 2015 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
Joe Soltzberg
Aug 24, 2015 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
Jun 01, 2011 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.
Jul 04, 2016 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.
Mar 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
I adore the author. He has a great website --worth checking out. Love his passion!
Dec 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
How did I miss this? A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a computer history book about the Internet before web and before anyone really called it internet. A book about security when people didn't really think about it at all. I mean I thought today is bad, but back in those days things were ridiculous.

Weird to see Unix before Linux took over the world, when people were dialing through telephone lines and copper wires, when fiber optics was a wild new thing coming in the next years to transatlantic cables perhaps, when rlogin and telnet was a
Camilla Severns
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A thrilling nonfiction book that is very hard to put down. (full review in a few days)
Ivan Brunello
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very well written.
Easy to read, tech lingo is limited to the bare minimum to understand the story.
Words are choosen carefully, to avoid boring the non-techies.
But people working in IT can easily understand all the real tech part.

And the "heathen" part (no spoiler, you'll find out when you get there) is a great little pearl I find great.
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating tale of computer forensics before computer hacking was even a thing.
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This was very interesting seeing the birth of cyber crime detection. I am not a computer person, in fact I think computers don't like me. Therefore, there were chunks of technical mumbo-jumbo that had me completely lost. However, overall I found this written in easily understood language, even for a computer noob.
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fun account of the author's attempt to track down a hacker breaking into Lawrence Berkeley Lab during the mid-80s. Stoll is quirky, upfront about his strengths and weaknesses and how he thinks through a problem, and the account is punctuated with lots of mini-tangents about his hippy lifestyle. It all works. The book is arguably longer than it needs to be (it gets tiresome reading for the umpteenth time that the hacker got traced to such-and-such a location or that Stoll really wanted ...more
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Funny. I just heard about this book the first time yesterday 3 56 Nov 15, 2011 01:09AM  
Computer 1 16 Aug 30, 2011 10:05PM  
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“Of course. NSA is rumored to tape record every transatlantic telephone conversation. Maybe they’d recorded this session.” 2 likes
“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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