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Book Review: "The Cuckoo's Egg" By Clifford Stoll

Title: “The Cuckoo’s Egg”

Author: Cliff Stoll

Published: 1989


Back when computer security was not taken seriously (and was mostly nonexistent), “The Cuckoo’s Egg” is a story of a young Berkeley astronomer who unexpectedly ends up chasing a hacker through restricted U.S. military and intelligence networks. The chase starts off small when the author, Clifford Stoll, notices a 75 cent accounting error for paid computing time on the Lawrence Berkeley Lab network. Eventually, Cliff uncovers that a hacker has been taking advantage of their system; stealing passwords, creating new accounts, and becoming the ultimate “superuser”. Using the technical skills of the day (terminals, teleprinters, telecom tracing, etc.) Cliff tracks the hacker across the country and around the world as the insub uses Lawrence’s network to try to break into America’s most secret organizations.


Whenever you have read a truly good book, there is always the feeling that you wish you could call up the author and chat with them personally about all the details of their story. Readers will feel this way about Clifford Stoll. Right from the start, you cannot help but like the zany, fresh out of-grad-school astronomist. He brings a good sense of humor to the seriousness of hacker hunting, and possesses an admirable determination to hunt down the “human nuisance” spying on American systems.

Therefore, “The Cuckoo’s Egg” is not so much a story about hunting hackers, but is rather the story of Clifford Stoll himself. Who knew that an astronomer would make such a talented hacker hunter? Throughout the book, we see Cliff’s transition from a systems operator/astronomer to someone who starts dealing with the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Airforce. It’s an incredible journey that all takes place within the span of one year!

Anyone can read this book easily without having a background in computing or cybersecurity. It should be classified as a mystery novel, for the anticipation to find out who is hacking America’s systems is so thrilling. From the prior book review on “Tribe Of Hackers”, a majority of cybersecurity professionals chose “The Cuckoo’s Egg” as their favorite infosec book. This says much about the quality of Clifford Stoll’s experience, for it has inspired later generations of infosec professionals. For anyone who enjoys spy novels or thrillers, it is a wonderful read!



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