The Cuckoo’s Egg

I’m reading The Cuckoo’s Egg by Cliff Stoll, a nonfiction computer/ mystery story. In 1986 the author and others searched for a hacker who broke into several poorly-secured research and defense computer networks.

For you old-school computer people, this book might make you feel nostalgic. It contains references to FORTRAN and COBOL and Telnet, and it harks back to a world where Ataris were big stuff.

UPDATE: After finishing the book, I remain a fan. The hacker and his accomplices, all Germans, actually sold some UNIX source code to the KGB. None of them did jail time, but several were convicted and punished in other ways.

One thing strikes me, looking back on how people used computers more than 20 years ago: a password was just that, a pass WORD. The hacker discovered some passwords in American military computers by trying every word in an electronic dictionary until the right word worked.

Even to a non-expert, it seems quaint that late-eighties computer security people called for a big change: Make your password something that doesn’t appear in the dictionary!

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5 Responses to “The Cuckoo’s Egg”

  1. Charles Isaac Says:

    Try reading “The Adolescence of P-1”
    http://www.amazon.com/Adolescence-P-1-Thomas-J-Ryan/dp/0671559702

  2. Kyle Kelley Says:

    An interesting note on passwords. The idea behind them came about in the mainframe days. their sole purpose was for accounting and budgeting. When your department needed to do some processioning then you would sign into the mainframe with a password and the people that paid the electric bill would know what department to charge then.

    This somehow developed into the standard method of securing computers, even though the original plan had nothing to do with security.

  3. cbridges6159 Says:

    Interesting, Kyle. That’s consistent with what happened in The Cuckoo’s Egg. They started looking for the hacker when they couldn’t account for a 75 cent charge.

  4. kyle kelley Says:

    I saw a review of this book on slashdot, and I was thinking about buying it. Maybe I’ll just borrow it from you when your done.

    I have the art of intrusion by kevin metnik, its a non-fiction book about similar subject matter. One of the more overlooked, yet most effective ways of bypassing security is through people instead of through the computer systems.

  5. cbridges6159 Says:

    Reminds me of Orson Scott Card’s cyberpunk short story “Dogwalker.” The narrator makes a living using his special skill of guessing people’s passwords based on their character.

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