Book Review: The Cuckoo's Egg

About a year ago a colleague recommended the book The Cuckoo’s Egg (Wikipedia) by Cliff Stoll. Welp, I finally got around to reading it and boy is it good!

This book reads like a journal of Cliff’s experience working at Lawrence Berekely Lab in the 1970’s. Like many computer administrators at the time, Cliff began his career as a scientist in a completely different field (astrophysics). Cliff’s first project as computer guy is to figure out why the accounting records aren’t balanced. One small discrepancy quickly morphs into a “high speed” chase of a skilled hacker who’s leapfrogging through public and private computer centers looking for military secrets.

This book is a great look into the start of the internet and some considerations that security professionsals deal with (openness and trusting your users versus securing your facility). It also is a window into the history of the supercomputing and technology at this time. Cliff is able to clearly and simply explain the technical details of all the different techniques (hardware, software, and social connections) he uses to try and solve the case.

It’s a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend it for anyone who works with computers (particularly those in HPC and supercomputing). It’s also a great perspective for anyone trying to get a sense of the ‘Berkeley hippie,’ a culture which still exists today.

P.S. In searching for an appropriate link to this book, I naturally sought out Cliff’s personal website. Unfortunately, it could not be found. Fortunately, I found a delightful website where he makes and sells Klein bottles with his son.


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