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

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  12,394 ratings  ·  1,021 reviews
Cliff Stoll was an astronomer turned systems manager at Lawrence Berkeley Lab when a 75-cent accounting error alerted him to the presence of an unauthorized user on his system. The hacker's code name was "Hunter" -- a mystery invader hiding inside a twisting electronic labyrinth, breaking into U.S. computer systems and stealing sensitive military and security information. ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 1st 2000 by Gallery Books (first published 1989)
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Karson It's US national security establishment lingo. People use it relatively frequently in the DC world when talking about what is or is not in their area …moreIt's US national security establishment lingo. People use it relatively frequently in the DC world when talking about what is or is not in their area of expertise or authority (which are naturally things people in that world talk about a lot). If I remember correctly, the word shows up in Stoll's book almost entirely in quotations from spooks.(less)

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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
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
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.
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
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.
...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
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
...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
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
Marty Fried
Jul 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-long-ago
I read this back in the 1990s, I believe. I remember enjoying it a lot more than I expected, but I was a computer programmer and there weren't many books like this back then.

The author is a true Berkeleyite, smart and a little crazy. He was an astronomer doing something like making lenses for the well known Lawrence Labs, a high-tech haven. Now, he makes bottles that don't hold anything and are of interest mainly to mathematical nerds, etc. He pretty much lived in his own world, but for a while
...more
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
Tony Dutton
A good read but a bit lackluster for me
Yevgeniy Brikman
The good

* Very fun read about chasing hackers... Including deep-dives on how to monitor the hacker (printing their sessions on... paper... seriously), actual scenes of tracing calls ("keep him on the line, we've almost got him!"), and run-ins with the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

* Written in 1989, it's a wonderful throwback to an era when the Internet and email had just started to appear. Amazing to see how many of the technologies and decisions from more than 30 years ago are still with us: lots of fun c
...more
3 no 7
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mike
Dec 23, 2006 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

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
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
Michael Richards
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
Sakthi
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: computing
Clifford narrates something as boring as tracking an intruder by patiently recording his every keystroke and simultaneously going through a frustrating ordeal of convincing all the three-lettered agencies to take action, scintillatingly and keeps our attention unwavering for 400 pages. There are some aww-inducing sentences like "And the :-) is a crude smiley face. You look at it sideways, and it smiles at you.", reminding you how old this book is. Beyond the hide and seek that unravels between t ...more
Aloibaf
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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. ...more
Luisa Knight
This hooks you very quickly, and the chase stays intriguing throughout its abundant twists and turns! You learn a bit about computers too, and hacking, and once finished, determine that you’ll probably be changing your computer passwords regularly.

Cleanliness: one f-word, several b*tch/b*st*rd, sh*t, and quite a number of d*mns. There is blasphemy. Mentions the word fornication. There is a couple who are not married but living together and the guy explains how he likes the non-commitment.
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?
...more
Bill
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: perk, own, friend-rec
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. ...more
Satyajeet
Apr 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’d recommend "The Cuckoo's Egg" if you have the slightest interest in computer security, Unix, Emacs or San Francisco of the Eighties. Read my review here. ...more
Autumn Beck
Mar 06, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 ⭐️ interesting read. Very archaic language and concepts about early computers and internet. Most wouldn't be able to get I to it but I enjoyed it. ...more
AltLovesBooks
I'm usually super into tales about the early days of computers, technology, the internet, and gaming, but I think this one was a miss for me. The author was an astrophysics student at UC Berkeley who accidentally discovers a hacker while trying to explain a 75 cent(!!!) discrepancy in the computer time books. Rather than shut the guy out, Stoll spends months meticulously tracking the hacker's moves through the early 'net and creating a web of connections within basically every letter agency acti ...more
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Funny. I just heard about this book the first time yesterday 3 58 Nov 15, 2011 01:09AM  
Computer 1 16 Aug 30, 2011 10:05PM  

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Clifford Paul "Cliff" Stoll is an astronomer, author and teacher. He is best known for his investigation in 1986, while working as a systems administrator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that led to the capture of hacker Markus Hess, and for Stoll's subsequent book The Cuckoo's Egg, in which he details the investigation. ...more

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“Of course. NSA is rumored to tape record every transatlantic telephone conversation. Maybe they’d recorded this session.” 3 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
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