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The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage Paperback – September 13, 2005
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A sentimental favorite, The Cuckoo's Egg seems to have inspired a whole category of books exploring the quest to capture computer criminals. Still, even several years after its initial publication and after much imitation, the book remains a good read with an engaging story line and a critical outlook, as Clifford Stoll becomes, almost unwillingly, a one-man security force trying to track down faceless criminals who've invaded the university computer lab he stewards. What first appears as a 75-cent accounting error in a computer log is eventually revealed to be a ring of industrial espionage, primarily thanks to Stoll's persistence and intellectual tenacity. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
A 75-cent discrepancy in billing for computer time led Stoll, an astrophysicist working as a systems manager at a California laboratory, on a quest that reads with the tension and excitement of a fictional thriller. Painstakingly he tracked down a hacker who was attempting to access American computer networks, in particular those involved with national security, and actually reached into an estimated 30 of the 450 systems he attacked. Initially Stroll waged a lone battle, his employers begrudging him the time spent on his search and several government agencies refused to cooperate. But his diligence paid off and in due course it was learned that the hacker, 25-year-old Markus Hess of Hanover, Germany, was involved with a spy ring. Eight members were arrested by the West German authorities but all but one were eventually released. Although the book will be best appreciated by the computer literate, even illiterates should be able to follow the technical complexities with little difficulty. Literary Guild selection.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
At the time the events depicted in this book were taking place, I was starting my career as an IT professional. My first assignment involved supporting a Bellcore (Bell Labs) developed application running on AT&T Unix (sorry Cliff, I'm a "heathen" though I appreciate BSD too!). I got to experience working with DEC PDP-11/70s, 11/34s, VAX 8650s, Decwriters, and RP06/RP8x DASD. Some of that stuff was considered dated at the time and by today's standards they are prehistoric. So, I can relate to Cliff's experience, except for the part of having to track down an international spy, LOL. I missed out on that, thank goodness!
I look at this book differently now than I did in 1989. Even if the reader doesn't care about the origins of the Internet or the finer points of Unix system administration and telecommunications, the depiction of the government's response to the situation is interesting and informative. Of note is the revelation that a particular agency was aware of existing security vulnerabilities but did nothing to address them because they were likely exploiting the vulnerabilities themselves.
This time around, I had more interest in the personal drama surrounding the incident. I could more easily identify with, and laugh at, some of the crazy personalities involved. And, I could empathize with Cliff over the disruption it was causing in his personal life. I also appreciate Cliff's commentary on the philosophy and ethics of computing and how a few bad apples can spoil it for everyone. These concepts are still relevant today despite advancements in technology. After all, the weakest link in the system is the same today as it was back then.
I would recommend this book to anyone getting started in Information Technology and to old school Unix guys and gals who have ever fixed a paper jam on a Decwriter.
Anyway, a lot of sysadmins learn their trade because they are thrown into the fire without any prior experience, as happened to the author of this book, and it's entertaining to see him, a computer novice, teach himself what he needed to know to track down a hacker and to educate the U.S. military people in the process. I also found it interesting that, despite the fact that the author was basically a liberal, "anti-establishment", ex-hippie, he nonetheless felt such a sense of pride in his computer network that he was offended that a hacker should be in there mucking around, and this feeling of "ownership" and "responsibility" for his network spurred him on to try to catch the guy.
If you don't know anything about computers, you'll enjoy the book because, not only does the author explain concepts in layman terms, but as others have pointed out the book itself reads like a spy novel of sorts, and there's also quite a bit of humor thrown in, so it's quite entertaining overall.
Anyway, this is a highly interesting read and I'm just sorry it took me so long to stumble upon it...technology outdated now, but story still works.