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Essay/Term paper: The cuckoo's egg: cliff's persistence

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Information Technology

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The Cuckoo's Egg: Cliff's Persistence

By Clifford Stoll

"The Cuckoo's Egg" is a story of persistence, love for one's work and is just
plain funny! The story starts out with Clifford Stoll being "recycled" to a
computer analyst/webmaster.

Cliff, as he is affectionately called, is a long-haired ex-hippie that works at
Lawrence Berkeley Lab. He originally was an astronomer, but since his grant
wore out, he became a mainframe master. He was glad that instead of throwing
him out into the unemployment office, the Lab recycled their people and
downstairs he went, to the computer lab.

A few days after he becomes the master of the mainframe, his colleague, Wayne
Graves, asks him to figure out a 75cent glitch that is in the accounting system.
It turns out that a computer guru, "Seventek" seems to be in town. None of his
closest friends know that. The Lab becomes suspicious that it might be a hacker.

To fill you in who Seventek is, he is a computer guru that created a number of
programs for the Berkeley UNIX system. At the time, he was in England far from
computers and civilization. The crew does not what to believe that it would be
Seventek, so they start to look what the impostor is doing. Cliff hooks up a
few computers to the line that comes from the Tymnet. Tymnet is a series of
fiber-optic cables that run from a major city to another major city. So if you
were in LA and wanted to hook up to a computer in the Big Apple you could call
long distance, have a lot of interference from other callers and have a slow
connection, or you could sign-up to Tymnet and dial locally, hop onthe optic
cable and cruise at a T-3 line. The lab had only five Tymnet lines so Cliff
could easily monitor every one with five computers, teletypes, and five printers.

That was the difficult part, where to get all that equipment. At graduate
school they taught Cliff to improvise. It was a Friday, and not many people
come to work on Saturday. Since it was easier to make up an excuse than to beg
for anything, he "borrowed" everything he needed. Then programmed his computer
to beep twice when someone logged on from the Tymnet lines. The thing is, since
he was sleeping under his desk, he would gouge his head on the desk drawer.
Also, many people like to check their E-mail very late at night, so not to get
interference. Because of that his terminal beeped a lot! The next day, he was
woken up by the cable operator. Cliff said that he must have smelled like a
dying goat. Any way, the hacker only logged on once during the night, but left
an 80 foot souvenir behind. Cliff estimated a two to three hours roaming
through the three million dollar pieces of silicon that he calls a computer.
During that time he planted a "Cuckoo's egg." The cuckoo is a bird that leaves
its eggs in other bird's nest. If it not were for the other species ignorance,
the cuckoo would die out. The same is for the mainframe. There is a
housecleaning program that runs every five minutes on the Berkeley UNIX. It is
called atrun. The hacker put his version of atrun into the computer through a
hole in the Gnu-Emacs program. It is a program that lets the person who is
sending E-mail put a file anywhere they wished. So that is how the hacker
became a "Superuser." A superuser has all the privileges of a system operator,
but from a different computer. Cliff called the FBI, the CIA, and all the other
three lettered agencies that that had spooks in trench coat and dark glasses
(and some of them had these nifty ear pieces too!) Everyone except the FBI
lifted a finger. The FBI listened but, they stated that if they hadn't lost
millions of dollars in equipment, or classified data, they didn't what to know
them. The hodgepodge of information between the CIA, NSA,and Cliff began to
worry his lover, Martha. A little background on her. She and Clifford have
know each other since they were kids, and lovers since they turned adults. They
didn't feel like getting married because they thought that was a thing that you
do when you're very bland. They wanted freedom. If they ever wanted to leave
they would just pack their bags, pay their share of the utilities and hightail
it out of there. Well back to the plot. She too was an ex-hippie and she hated
anything that had to do with government. The spook calls were killing their

When Cliff wanted to trace a phone call to the hacker, the police said. "That
just isn't our bailiwick." It seemed that everyone wanted information, wanted
Cliff to say open with his monitoring system, but nobody seemed interested in
paying for the things that were happening.

When Cliff found the hacker in a supposedly secure system, he called the system
administrator. The hacker was using the computer in their system to dial
anywhere he wished, and they picked up the tab. The guy was NOT happy. He
asked if he was to close up shop for the hacker and change all the passwords.
Cliff answered no, he wanted to track the guy/gal. First Cliff strategically
master minded a contrivance. He would ask for the secure system's phone records,
which would show him (theoretically) where the hacker is calling to. Then that
night, Cliff became the hacker. He used his computer to log in to his account
at Berkley and then he would Telnet to the hacked system, try the passwords and
see what he could see. Boy was he ever surprised! He could call anywhere, for
free!! He had access to other computer on the network also, one sensitive at

The next day, Cliff called the sys administrator, and told him about his little
excursion. The guy answered. "Sorry Cliff, we have to close up shop. This
went right up the line, and well, the modems are going down for a long time."
This irritated Clifford. He was so close! Anyway his life went back to semi-
normal. (Was it ever?!) Then unexpectedly his beeper beeped. To fill you in,
he got him self a beeper for those unexpected pleasures. He was in the middle
of making scrambled eggs for Martha, who was still asleep. He wrote her a note
saying "The case is afoot!!J", leaving the eggs still in the pan.

The hacker didn't come through the now secure system, but through another line,
over Tymnet. He called Tymnet and got them to do a search. They traced him
over the "puddle" (the Atlantic) to the German Datex Network. They couldn't
trace any further because the German's network is all switches, not like the
computerized switches of the good ol' US of A! There would have to be a
technician, there tracing the wire along the wall, into the ground, and maybe on
to a telephone pole. Not only that, the Germans wouldn't do anything without a
search warrant.

Every minor discovery was told about six times to the different three letter
agencies that were on the case. Mean while, since this was no longer a domestic
case, and was remotely interesting for the FBI, they took the case, out of pure

The CIA affectionately called the FBI the "F entry". Now that the guys at the F
entry were in, there was work to be done. They got a warrant, but the guy who
was to deliver, never did. This was beginning to be serious. Every time Cliff
tried to get some info on what is going on across the puddle, the agencies
clamed up.

When the warrant finally came, the Germans let the technicians be there to
midnight German time. As soon as the fiend on the other side raised his
periscope, they would nail him.

The problem was, to trace him, well, he needed to be on the line for about two
hours! The kicker is that he was on for mostly two to three minute intervals.
That is when Operation Showerhead came into effect!! Martha came up with this
plan while in the shower with Cliff…First make up some cheesy files that sound
remotely interesting. Then place them in a spot that only he and the hacker
could read. Recall that the hacker was after military files. They take files
that were all ready there, change all the Mr. to General, all the Ms to corporal
and all the Professors to Sergeant Major. All that day they made up those files.

Then they pondered what the title should be, STING or SDINET. They chose
SDINET because STING looked too obvious. Then they created a bogus secretary,
under the address of a real one. Cliff put enough files on the directory so
that it would take the hacker at least three hours of dumping the whole file
onto his computer.

In one of the files it said that if you wanted more info, send to this address.
Well one day, Cliff was actually doing some work, for a change, when the real
secretary called to say that a letter came for the bogus secretary. Cliff ran
up the stairs, the elevator was too slow. They opened it and she read it aloud
to Cliff who was in utter amassment. Then he called the F entry. They told him
not to touch the document and to send to them in a special envelope. He did.

Cliff was at home one day and all of a sudden his beeper beeped. Since he
programmed it to beep in Morse code, he knew where the hacker was coming from
before he physically saw him on the screen. Martha groaned while Clifford
jumped on his old ten speed and rode to work. When he got there, the hacker
just started to download the SDINET files from the UNIX. He called Tymnet and
started the ball rolling. That day the hacker was on for more than two hours,
enough for the trace to be completed. Though he knew that the FBI knew the
number, they wouldn't tell him who the predator was.

For the next few days, Clifford expected to get a call from the Germans saying,
"You can close up your system, we have him at the police station now." That
didn't happen. He got word, though, that there was a search of his home, and
they recovered printouts, computer back-up tapes, and disks, and diskettes.
That was enough evidence to lock him up for a few years. Then one day, they
caught him in the act. That was enough, he was in the slammer awaiting trail.

Clifford's adventure was over, he caught his hacker, and was engaged to Martha.
They decided to get married after all. He returned to being an astronomer, and
not a computer wizard. Though many people though of him as a wizard, he himself
though that what he did was a discovery that he stumbled on. From a 75cent
accounting mishap to Tymnet to Virginia, to Germany. What a trace!

At the end of the story, poor Cliff was sobbing because he grew up!! L To him
that was a disaster, but the wedding coming up, and his life officially
beginning, he forgot it soon. Now he lives in Cambridge with his wife, Martha,
and three cats that he pretends to dislike.


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