Profile of Cliff Stoll, whose memoir The Cuckoo’s Egg, which traces the first known case of state-sponsored hacking, inspired a generation of cybersecurity pros. (Andy Greenberg / Wired)

 The book is a classic tale of the early days of computer security. When Cliff Stoll started work on his first programming project in the summer of 1981, he expected a simple text-based game. He got much more—a glimpse of an organization bent on world domination that would be the next great American challenge. Stoll worked for the CIA for ten years, building a career as a system administrator and computer security expert. In 1986, he took over the computer security group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. But when the Soviet Union fell in 1989, Stoll wrote a book about what he’d learned—and it became the bestseller ever published about computer security.

What is a Profile of Cliff Stoll’s memoir The Cuckoo’s Egg? 

The FBI agent Cliff Stoll discovered the first computer-based Soviet intelligence operation in the United States. Cliff Stoll was a computer science professor at UC Berkeley in the late ’80s. In 1989, he helped crack the U.S.’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, ARPANET.   This led him to uncover and close down one of the Soviet Union’s first cyber espionage efforts, Cuckoo’s Egg. And though Stoll eventually became a professor of physics at UCLA, he continues to teach about computers and security. His story of how he discovered this operation inspired a generation of cybersecurity pros, but it’s only now that we are learning the full details of what happened.

How Cliff Stoll Discovered the First Known State-Sponsored Computer Hack?  

Back in 1979, Cliff Stoll, then a computer systems administrator at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, noticed that a hacker had broken into his department’s computer system. Stoll’s suspicions were confirmed when he noticed the hacker sought confidential information about the upcoming Space Shuttle mission. Stoll’s boss sent him an internal memo requesting that Stoll find out who the hacker was and stop him from further damaging the system.

How can Cliff Stoll’s memoir The Cuckoo’s Egg inspire a generation of cybersecurity pros?

The Cuckoo’s Egg accounts for Stoll’s experiences working for Bell Labs in the 1970s and 1980s. While there, he discovered something that has become a part of popular culture: a series of messages from an unknown source that was transmitted to the mainframe computer, known as the “Cuckoo,” via a floppy disk. While his supervisor believed it was a prank, Stoll knew it wasn’t and began analyzing the messages, which became the basis for a book and a film. He’s the man who inspired thousands of hackers to take the law into their own hands to stop computer crimes.   The book has been credited with inspiring a new generation of security professionals. The Cuckoo’s Egg is still being referenced in the field, as seen in a quote by Mark Litchfield. Today, a book like this would inspire millions to start learning about cybersecurity.  


In conclusion, in the book, Cliff Stoll tells of his early career as a computer programmer at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where he developed a program that allowed scientists to share information through networks. In his book, he shares his experiences and stories of his time at Los Alamos and how he was fired after publishing a paper about computer security’s dangers. His memoir chronicles his life as a self-proclaimed “computer nerd” and how his passion for technology and computers led him into the world of cybercrime.


1. What was Cliff Stoll’s life like before The Cuckoo’s Egg? 

Stoll grew up in San Diego, California, and went to San Diego State University. He was a Navy and National Security Agency (NSA) systems analyst.

2. How did The Cuckoo’s Egg come to be? 

Stoll was working at the NSA when he was assigned a project called “Sentry,” which was designed to protect government computers from attack. The NSA wanted to hire someone to help them with the project, so they advertised for a new employee. Stoll applied and got the job.

3. What was it like to work on the Sentry project? 

Stoll had never done anything like it before, so he was unsure what to expect. He soon learned that the project would require him to break into computers belonging to the Soviet Union.

4. How did Stoll react to the news? 

Stoll was shocked and appalled. He felt that it was unethical, illegal, and immoral. He considered resigning but realized he could use the situation to his advantage. He decided to turn the job into a game.

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