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The Cuckoo's Egg

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  8,352 ratings  ·  642 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
Kindle Edition, 326 pages
Published May 23rd 2012 by Doubleday (first published 1989)
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4.21  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,352 ratings  ·  642 reviews


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Brian Rosenblat
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Han
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book about hackers and computer security told in a way that you do NOT have to be a geek to understand. Amazing that so much has changed since the early 80's in terms of technology, yet the tactics for both hackers and security are fundamentally unchanged.

This book is told as a humorous narrative of Cliff's life helping track down a computer hacker. Being an astronomer working at Berkley, and being a self-described "left wing nut", he ends up brushing shoulders with the FBI, CIA, NSA,
...more
Philipp
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Bill
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Robert
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
...more
Kaethe
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?
Mike
Dec 23, 2006 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

3 no 7
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Cuckoo's Egg" by Clifford Stoll was fascinating the first time I read it in 1989, and when I saw it on one of the “books to read” lists on Goodreads, I eagerly reexamined it. It is still compelling today, just in a different manner. The technology has changed, but the crime and the chase have remained the same. The incredibly cat and mouse chase through what was then just the beginnings of the internet still kept me on the edge of my seat, remembering dial-up, dot matrix printers, and long d ...more
Charlotte
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book.
The wild thing is that it's a true story, and that it's still relevant and really interesting 30+ years after it occurred. A definite mark of quality, in my eyes.
Some things have changed a lot; six-letter, all lower-case passwords aren't considered safe anymore, and most people are familiar with the internet. However, it calms my occasional anxiety of the future that nerds basically are unchanged since at least the 80's.
This is a definite recommendation for anyone eve
...more
Wilson Lanue
Jul 07, 2012 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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Michael
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
...more
Joe Soltzberg
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Elyse Walters
Mar 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I adore the author. He has a great website --worth checking out. Love his passion!
Stephanie
Dec 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How did I miss this? A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Martti
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Aloibaf
This one is a must read for all Unix and Linux fans! It's not just very interesting to read the vivid descriptions of hacker-hunting through Unix commands, but one also learns about the inner working of early computer networks and communication technology. What I liked best about the book, is that Cliff is such a sympathetic person, which is described to the reader by little tales of him and his girlfriend ('sweetheart') sewing together, planting tomatoes or by him burning his shoes accidentally ...more
dejah_thoris
Written like a crime thriller, Stoll's memoir chronicles how he discovered and tracked one of the first hackers through MilNet. The 1988 technology (Tymnet, print-outs, beepers) will be nostalgic for some readers and amazing to others. Yes, later Millennials, this was the early internet with bulletin boards, 200 baum modems, and all. Read your technology and information security history. This chase through networks and tracing physical phone lines may astound you.
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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
“Cliff, I’d like to take over, but our charter prevents it. NSA can’t engage in domestic monitoring, even if we’re asked. That’s prison term stuff.” 2 likes
More quotes…