50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
_The Cuckoo's Egg_ has everything most fictional detective novels wish that they had: a personable detective who does not mean to get involved as deeply as he does, federal agencies who cannot seem to take action, and a criminal mastermind who has everybody stumped until he encounters our detective. The best part of this whole book is that it really happened-- a feat that fictional mysteries can never match.
I knew Stoll's work through the more technical article "Stalking the Wily Hacker" and was pleasantly surprised to see how well Stoll was able to translate the technical side into a book-length narrative. IMO, this is significantly better than other more recent books about computer crime and still worth a read today (both for information and entertainment). Highly recommended.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
It starts with a 75-cent discrepancy in an account for computer time and ends with the arrest of a small group of German hackers. The journey from this start to the end is one of the most amazing in all of computing. Along the way, it involves the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, all branches of the United States military and the Soviet KGB. Fortunately, in the end the good guys emerge victorious, but it is hard to feel very comfortable about it.
This is a story about unauthorized access into computers, where the trespassers are after military and economic data. All information considered of value is sent to the Soviet KGB in exchange for money and drugs. A major undercurrent of the story is the lack of cooperation between the American federal agencies and how they refuse to commit themselves to anything. In the aftermath of the tragedy of 9-11, this is unsettling, as it appears that the lack of communication between the different agencies is where the real failure occurred on that terrible day.
Cliff Stoll is a combination computer programmer and astronomer who was the primary actor in the events that led to the apprehension of the hackers. A self-admitted California hippie type, he started being anti-government and yet ended up lecturing to some of the most governmental of institutions. In the end, he gives some of the best arguments as to why unauthorized access to computers is a serious crime. As a scientist, he understands how all benefit from the free flow of information and mutual trust and how hackers destroy that, forcing all into a state of perpetual paranoia.
This is one of the best popular books on computing that has ever been written. While there are some passages that require a bit of computer expertise to understand, they are very few and not essential to the understanding of the story. It also leaves you wondering as to how many other systems have been entered where the tracks are either nonexistent or have been ignored.
41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 1999
This was the second computer security book I read and it was like adding flame to a fire because it increased my curiosity and prompted me to want to know more about it, so I ended up reading Cyberpunk by Katie Hafner and John Markoff to get a more inside look. If you start reading it then you'll probably finish it the same day. It talks a scientist that stumbles on a mistake in the accounting part of his job as a scientist at Lawrence Berkely Lab and he makes the mistake into a chase through cyberspace. In the book the author takes on the role as a modern day Sherlock Holmes and in the end he realizes that it was only elementary.
Dealing with the CCC (Chaos Computer Club), Hunter (the main hacker), and the different networks will really make you think and keep you on your toes. Read it and see for yourself just how intense the experience will be. I advise you to get some sleep before you start because you probably won't be getting any anytime soon.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 1997
This book suceeds on many levels. Its a well written suspenseful spy novel that evolves very smoothly and engages the reader very early on. It is also an excellent description of computer / telecommunications technology that most anyone can understand, since he goes to the trouble to stop and explain, in laymens terms, UNIX utilities, daemon outputs, satellite technology, and microwave-oven protocol (check out the sneaker-melting fiasco on p 269). Stoll proves to be hell-bent on capturing the rogue user despite the lack of support from superiors and government agencies, and the toll it takes on his personal life. His frustrated accounts of his treatment at the hands of federal agencies as he petitions assistance from the FBI, the CIA, the NSA (among others) in capturing this potentially dangerous mole are testaments to the power of beaucracy in this country. However, he still manages to humanize the employees of these otherwise caricatured federal agencies by describing them as real people who want to help, rather than just surly trench-coated spies. I especially enjoyed reading about Stoll's low-tech solutions to slowing the hacker as he rifled through delicate documents by jangling keys over the connector to resemble static (simply cutting the line would have tipped the hacker off). This is a very enjoyable book, and I'd also recommend the reader try to find a videocassette copy of the NOVA TV special on PBS. Although it loses a lot of the book's details in the attempt to condense into one hour, it allows the viewer to see and hear the author, one of the quirkiest, most entertaining techno-goobers you'll come across.
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2001
Cliff Stoll was an astronomer, but he became the systems manager at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. When he took the position, he discovered a 75-cent accounting error that indicated there was either (1) a bug within the code of the accounting program, or (2) unauthorized users on his system.
Science is precise, and therefore Stoll began an investigation that ended up changing the intelligence community. His extensive testing and experiments revealed not only unauthorized access, but also the flaws of computer security. He studied the methods, the data path, and the signals (both false and true) through an electronic maze that eventually led him to "Hunter."
Early in his exploration, he discovered a six-second-time delay between transmission and receipt. It took three seconds for the data link from New York to reach Berkeley. What happened to the extra three seconds? Stoll reevaluated his findings, and eventually found the three missing seconds. It was the transmission time from Europe to New York.
The Cuckoo's Egg is Stoll's incredible story that eventually led to Hunter, a group of computer hackers and spies who were connected with the KGB and operating out of Germany. They had used our own services to piggyback onto valid signals. They jumped from system to system randomly to meet their goal. They obtained entrance to highly classified government sites.
This is the suspenseful, true story of one scientist's ingenious methods that brought down a spy ring. I read this book when it was first released and treasure my copy. Clifford Stoll had included his e-mail address, and graciously responded to my questions.
This book is not out-of-date. It opened the door to the world of computer investigations. The story is fascinating, and the writing is excellent. Five stars.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2010
Cliff Stoll's "The Cuckoo's Egg" (TCE) is the best real-life digital incident detection and response book ever written. I know something about this topic; I've written books on the subject and have taught thousands of students since 2000. I've done detection and IR since 1998, starting in the military, then as a consultant and defense contractor, and now as director of IR for a Fortune 5 company. If you're not an incident detector/responder, you're probably going to read TCE as a general enthusiast or maybe an IT professional. You'll like the book. If you're a security professional, you'll love it.
I first read TCE 20 years ago when it was first published, but I was a high school student who couldn't appreciate the content. Now, as an IR team leader, I recognize that Cliff probably shares 25 IR lessons in the first 50 pages! I plan to write a separate article explaining these, and I encourage my team to read the book. I think TCE would form an excellent text for a semester-long course on IR, and I might teach such a course at some point.
TCE is an important book because it is a first-hand account of an intrusion, from the victim's discovery of the event to the prosecution of the offender. Two and a half decades since the events took place, some aspects of intrusions have changed and others have stayed the same. I don't see another author stepping forward to explain all of the personal and professional heartache and obstacles suffered while defending his enterprise against persistent adversaries. Today the threat of a lawsuit and the desire to protect company and professional interests would likely preclude such a story, and probably with good reason!
On a human note, I found Cliff Stoll to possess the single most important characteristic of a good incident responder: he took the intrusion personally, and it made him angry! All the best security professionals I know take compromise personally and react emotionally to the thought of intruders violating their enterprise. Cliff Stoll was effective because he was smart, yes, but he was exceptionally effective because he cared.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 1998
I read this after I had finished reading Takedown by Shimomura. I found that even though the core objective was the same, i.e. tracking cyber criminals, Stoll delves much deeper into the technical aspects of hacking. A lot of net-working concepts would not be understandable by lay people. I guess non-IT guys would find it pretty boring. Once again the Unix OS has been discussed in fine detail in some chapters. Overall a very good read for the those who breath and sleep computer networks.
Thanks Gauri dear, for this neat Book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 1998
I've read numerous books on computer hacking, and this one, while a bit dated (most of the events occurred in the late 80s), is still the best, period. No other account does such a good job of combining an entertaining, suspenseful narrative with solid technical detail. Stoll hooks you from page one and never lets go. I read this book in two days flat, and I even skipped a few hours of work to finish reading it. It's that good. This should be a model for other authors writing about hacking and computer crime.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 1997
This is a story of a young astronomer who was ignoring his proper
job and playing with computers too much, who discovered some alarming
hacking into US defence computers and decided to track down the
Stoll is a persistent thoughful and imaginative investigator and
occasionally puts his scientific training to good use, for example
when he theorises on the location of the hackers based on their
I found this utterly enthralling, and it is the only book where I
have literally read it through from start to finish unable to put it
down, which in my case meant getting to bed at 5.30 in the morning.
As well as a fascinating story of hacking and detection, the book
contains wry anecdotes of the total gulf between Unix, VMS and Apple
Mac users. Although the story is 10 years old, these attitudes still
prevail to this day. And of course Unix still RULES!!!!
The age of the story is revealed when a mini-computer is described
as being powerful because it musters 10 MIPS. These days that won't
support a mail program :-)
The book also relates in intimate detail the dreadful buck-passing
that went on for months before the US powers finally did something.
Interspersed with the main story are some bits and pieces of
Stoll's own life and this reader found it a little sad how he devoted
so much time to catching the hackers whilst fully aware that his
girlfriend was missing him at home, and then in a wistful series of
postscripts we learn they split up - perhaps there was some
This is the best of all of these books on computer crime - a must!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2001
Coming from a programming world for the DoD, but having had the Cliff Stoll mindset as a teenager, I, too, evolved to appreciate the work of the DoD. Cliff melds Berkeley academia with cloak-and-dagger black world US agencies in the pursuit of capturing a hacker. The story-telling is superb and Cliff's dedication in enlisting the assitance of communications experts and sysadmins is a tribute to his resourcefulness. I loved this story because Cliff is so down-to-earth in his exploits. This story really shows what can be done on a shoe-string with ingenuity and a good boss. Kudos to the DOE for hanging in there when the three-character agenicies chanted "not my balliwick" like the Dali Lama chants a mantra. Thank goodness someone stepped up to the plate and solved very intriguing computer break-in problems. I think the best part of Cliff's book was the philosophy that we should fight to protect an open and collaborative internet, maintain trust, and maintain privacy of data.
Buy this book - I guarantee you won't put it down.