The he became a mainframe master. He
The Cuckoo’s Egg: Cliff’s PersistenceBy Clifford Stoll”The Cuckoo’s Egg” is a story of persistence, love for one’s work and is justplain funny! The story starts out with Clifford Stoll being “recycled” to acomputer analyst/webmaster.Cliff, as he is affectionately called, is a long-haired ex-hippie that works atLawrence Berkeley Lab. He originally was an astronomer, but since his grantwore out, he became a mainframe master. He was glad that instead of throwinghim out into the unemployment office, the Lab recycled their people anddownstairs he went, to the computer lab.A few days after he becomes the master of the mainframe, his colleague, WayneGraves, 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 hisclosest 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 ofprograms for the Berkeley UNIX system. At the time, he was in England far fromcomputers and civilization. The crew does not what to believe that it would beSeventek, so they start to look what the impostor is doing.
Cliff hooks up afew computers to the line that comes from the Tymnet. Tymnet is a series offiber-optic cables that run from a major city to another major city. So if youwere in LA and wanted to hook up to a computer in the Big Apple you could calllong distance, have a lot of interference from other callers and have a slowconnection, or you could sign-up to Tymnet and dial locally, hop onthe opticcable and cruise at a T-3 line. The lab had only five Tymnet lines so Cliffcould easily monitor every one with five computers, teletypes, and five printers.That was the difficult part, where to get all that equipment.
At graduateschool they taught Cliff to improvise. It was a Friday, and not many peoplecome to work on Saturday. Since it was easier to make up an excuse than to begfor anything, he “borrowed” everything he needed. Then programmed his computerto beep twice when someone logged on from the Tymnet lines. The thing is, sincehe 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 getinterference.
Because of that his terminal beeped a lot! The next day, he waswoken up by the cable operator. Cliff said that he must have smelled like adying goat. Any way, the hacker only logged on once during the night, but leftan 80 foot souvenir behind. Cliff estimated a two to three hours roamingthrough 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 leavesits 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 ahousecleaning program that runs every five minutes on the Berkeley UNIX.
It iscalled atrun. The hacker put his version of atrun into the computer through ahole in the Gnu-Emacs program. It is a program that lets the person who issending E-mail put a file anywhere they wished.
So that is how the hackerbecame 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 otherthree 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 FBIlifted a finger. The FBI listened but, they stated that if they hadn’t lostmillions of dollars in equipment, or classified data, they didn’t what to knowthem. The hodgepodge of information between the CIA, NSA,and Cliff began toworry his lover, Martha. A little background on her.
She and Clifford haveknow each other since they were kids, and lovers since they turned adults. Theydidn’t feel like getting married because they thought that was a thing that youdo when you’re very bland. They wanted freedom. If they ever wanted to leavethey would just pack their bags, pay their share of the utilities and hightailit out of there. Well back to the plot. She too was an ex-hippie and she hatedanything that had to do with government. The spook calls were killing theirrelationship.
When Cliff wanted to trace a phone call to the hacker, the police said. “Thatjust isn’t our bailiwick.” It seemed that everyone wanted information, wantedCliff to say open with his monitoring system, but nobody seemed interested inpaying for the things that were happening.When Cliff found the hacker in a supposedly secure system, he called the systemadministrator. The hacker was using the computer in their system to dialanywhere he wished, and they picked up the tab. The guy was NOT happy. Heasked 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 strategicallymaster 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 thatnight, Cliff became the hacker.
He used his computer to log in to his accountat Berkley and then he would Telnet to the hacked system, try the passwords andsee what he could see. Boy was he ever surprised! He could call anywhere, forfree!! He had access to other computer on the network also, one sensitive atthat.The next day, Cliff called the sys administrator, and told him about his littleexcursion. The guy answered. “Sorry Cliff, we have to close up shop. Thiswent 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 middleof making scrambled eggs for Martha, who was still asleep. He wrote her a notesaying “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 himover the “puddle” (the Atlantic) to the German Datex Network. They couldn’ttrace any further because the German’s network is all switches, not like thecomputerized switches of the good ol’ US of A! There would have to be atechnician, there tracing the wire along the wall, into the ground, and maybe onto a telephone pole. Not only that, the Germans wouldn’t do anything without asearch warrant.
Every minor discovery was told about six times to the different three letteragencies that were on the case. Mean while, since this was no longer a domesticcase, and was remotely interesting for the FBI, they took the case, out of pureboredom.The CIA affectionately called the FBI the “F entry”. Now that the guys at the Fentry were in, there was work to be done. They got a warrant, but the guy whowas to deliver, never did. This was beginning to be serious.
Every time Clifftried to get some info on what is going on across the puddle, the agenciesclamed up.When the warrant finally came, the Germans let the technicians be there tomidnight German time. As soon as the fiend on the other side raised hisperiscope, they would nail him.The problem was, to trace him, well, he needed to be on the line for about twohours! 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 thisplan while in the shower with CliffFirst make up some cheesy files that soundremotely interesting. Then place them in a spot that only he and the hackercould read. Recall that the hacker was after military files.
They take filesthat were all ready there, change all the Mr. to General, all the Ms to corporaland 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 choseSDINET 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 sothat it would take the hacker at least three hours of dumping the whole fileonto 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 realsecretary called to say that a letter came for the bogus secretary. Cliff ranup the stairs, the elevator was too slow.
They opened it and she read it aloudto Cliff who was in utter amassment. Then he called the F entry. They told himnot 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 heprogrammed it to beep in Morse code, he knew where the hacker was coming frombefore he physically saw him on the screen.
Martha groaned while Cliffordjumped on his old ten speed and rode to work. When he got there, the hackerjust started to download the SDINET files from the UNIX. He called Tymnet andstarted 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 thenumber, 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.” Thatdidn’t happen. He got word, though, that there was a search of his home, andthey 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, theycaught 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, andnot a computer wizard. Though many people though of him as a wizard, he himselfthough that what he did was a discovery that he stumbled on.
From a 75centaccounting 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 himthat was a disaster, but the wedding coming up, and his life officiallybeginning, he forgot it soon. Now he lives in Cambridge with his wife, Martha,and three cats that he pretends to dislike.