May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Home Switchboard Unix Administration Red Hat TCP/IP Networks Neoliberalism Toxic Managers
(slightly skeptical) Educational society promoting "Back to basics" movement against IT overcomplexity and  bastardization of classic Unix

Softpanorama 91a (vol.9, No.2) March-April, 1997

Computer Humor

The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll

Review picked up on the Internet
and adapted for
by Nikolai Bezroukov

Computer Humor Collection Manifest of the Softpanorama IT Slacker Society Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society Classic Computer Humor "Linux Sucks" Humor Collection Best Russian Programmer Humor Top 10 Classic Unix Humor Stories
ARE YOU A BBS ADDICT? Object oriented programmers of all nations -- encapsulate BSD Logo Story The Cuckoo's Egg The Evolution of a Programmer, from High School to CEO The Perl Purity Test THE TOP 25 THINGS PROGRAMMERS SAY


The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll is a book about a German student, a hacker actually. This hacker had a strange hobby breaking into military sites. Bad guys from KGB forced him to bring some US military documents. The hacker did not know that KGB guys already obtained everything they wanted using girls and vodka instead of Internet. These backward Russians usually rely on good old tricks. Anyway, even if they obtained something useful it was almost always lost in the huge bureaucratic machine KGB was, or left by drunken agents somewhere in the subway.

Cliff Stoll, an astronomer turned UNIX system administrator, (this kind of disaster happen with astronomers quite often nowadays) works at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. He was going over some accounting logs when he found a 75-cent accounting error (girls should beware dating former astronomers).

Cliff  discovered that the  hacker had broken into several of the lab serves and alerted the CIA/FBI. Since no one would listen to him because the hacker hadn't stolen more than a million dollars or "How to make an A-bomb" FAQ, he started his chase of the hacker alone. Cliff hooked up his computer in such a way that every time the hacker logged into one of broken accounts, his beeper would ring. He tried to imitate Sherlock Holms and even got a logbook where he put all the information. But now when his PC was hooked he could not play Red Alert in his working hours anymore. That made him very uncomfortable and he tried to pursue the hacker with double energy forgetting all his other duties and responsibilities. 

But for some reason hacker just stop coming. But Cliff patiently waited and his patience was eventually rewarded. At last the hacker broke in again and tried to log on by using one of the old stolen passwords. This was the day Cliff was waiting for. The FBI/CIA was finally interested, but they only took information from Cliff, never giving any back. They never treated him well and Cliff was always left out in the cold in his own investigation. All this time Cliff had no choice but blindly follow their instructions. He felt like a pawn.

Since the hacker always tried to get documents from army bases, Cliff made up hundreds of fake military documents and planted them in the computers in the lab. Imitating military documents was a pretty dull job,  as most of them are usually so stupid. But Cliff was diligent and worked around the clock. Some of these fakes were actually much better than the originals. Poor former astronomer did not realize that CIA penetrated and manipulated KGB on such a massive scale that all the mess was probably initiated by CIA request to get some additional funding from the Congress.

The hacker was delighted to get Cliff's documents as now he was free to break into something more interesting then military sites and sent Cliff a thank you letter. Unfortunately, it was intercepted first by FBI and then, of course, had found its way to CIA. Bad guys from FBI/CIA were incensed that the hacker does not want to break into military sites anymore and decided to catch him no matter what. And they did.

All-in-all, he had spent the whole year chasing the hacker. With a miserable result of catching a kid in Germany instead of discovering his own planet. Tragically he was unable to go back to astronomy or even to UNIX system administration. All he wanted was to be interviewed or to chase other hackers. Basically he sacrificed for this moment of fake glory his love life and his job at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Now he was good only for interviews. He will never discover a new planet. His beeper used to ring when he was with his girlfriend, and eventually she got really mad at him. His life and his career were ruined and out of desperation he became a security consultant, the most lowly and despicable job in IT.

The main idea of the book is that every time the hacker breaks into the system, it is like a cuckoo laying an egg and leaving it to naive Unix administrators like Cliff to hatch: instead of closing the loophole and forgetting about the problem they can spend days and nights imitating Sherlock Holms. Few are good in this tricky "catch the perpetrator" business. And after hatching several eggs it's too easy to lose all your Unix sysadmin qualification and turn into a security cuckoo who just give interview after interview about fake events and fake accomplishments. There is nothing more miserable or more useless then a former Unix system administrator who lost his qualification and turned into a security consultant. This is the dark side of the story.

On a positive side the book could serve as a warning for young people. It teaches us what could happen to young Unix administrators if they have too much zeal in chasing hackers instead of fixing the problem and moving on and, especially, in giving interviews about their fake accomplishments in this area. Like in stock trading, too much zeal in propagating fake facts make them no good. Just look at those poor CNBC talking heads. They look as sleazy as security consultants. Any intelligent Unix administrator knows that all this IT security business is to a large extent a self-serving sham. Those clueless and highly paid careerists deceive public and policymakers exaggerating both the necessity and value of their work. Like investment gurus defraud 401K investors and rich seniors by selling them crappy mutual funds or annuities they defraud rich and helpless old corporations with senile IT management into installing expensive but useless devices like ISS appliances which can never catch a frog to say nothing about hacker.  All they can do is to imitate their usefulness by producing glossy PDF reports about fake intrusions each month.

There is also an aura of mystery about the whole story as you never know whether the author actually had written the book, whether events took place as described and who is who on the Internet.



Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers :   Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism  : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy


War and Peace : Skeptical Finance : John Kenneth Galbraith :Talleyrand : Oscar Wilde : Otto Von Bismarck : Keynes : George Carlin : Skeptics : Propaganda  : SE quotes : Language Design and Programming Quotes : Random IT-related quotesSomerset Maugham : Marcus Aurelius : Kurt Vonnegut : Eric Hoffer : Winston Churchill : Napoleon Bonaparte : Ambrose BierceBernard Shaw : Mark Twain Quotes


Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 :  Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method  : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law


Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

Classic books:

The Peter Principle : Parkinson Law : 1984 : The Mythical Man-MonthHow to Solve It by George Polya : The Art of Computer Programming : The Elements of Programming Style : The Unix Haterís Handbook : The Jargon file : The True Believer : Programming Pearls : The Good Soldier Svejk : The Power Elite

Most popular humor pages:

Manifest of the Softpanorama IT Slacker Society : Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society : Computer Humor Collection : BSD Logo Story : The Cuckoo's Egg : IT Slang : C++ Humor : ARE YOU A BBS ADDICT? : The Perl Purity Test : Object oriented programmers of all nations : Financial Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : The Most Comprehensive Collection of Editor-related Humor : Programming Language Humor : Goldman Sachs related humor : Greenspan humor : C Humor : Scripting Humor : Real Programmers Humor : Web Humor : GPL-related Humor : OFM Humor : Politically Incorrect Humor : IDS Humor : "Linux Sucks" Humor : Russian Musical Humor : Best Russian Programmer Humor : Microsoft plans to buy Catholic Church : Richard Stallman Related Humor : Admin Humor : Perl-related Humor : Linus Torvalds Related humor : PseudoScience Related Humor : Networking Humor : Shell Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2012 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2013 : Java Humor : Software Engineering Humor : Sun Solaris Related Humor : Education Humor : IBM Humor : Assembler-related Humor : VIM Humor : Computer Viruses Humor : Bright tomorrow is rescheduled to a day after tomorrow : Classic Computer Humor

The Last but not Least Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand ~Archibald Putt. Ph.D

Copyright © 1996-2021 by Softpanorama Society. was initially created as a service to the (now defunct) UN Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP) without any remuneration. This document is an industrial compilation designed and created exclusively for educational use and is distributed under the Softpanorama Content License. Original materials copyright belong to respective owners. Quotes are made for educational purposes only in compliance with the fair use doctrine.

FAIR USE NOTICE This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to advance understanding of computer science, IT technology, economic, scientific, and social issues. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided by section 107 of the US Copyright Law according to which such material can be distributed without profit exclusively for research and educational purposes.

This is a Spartan WHYFF (We Help You For Free) site written by people for whom English is not a native language. Grammar and spelling errors should be expected. The site contain some broken links as it develops like a living tree...

You can use PayPal to to buy a cup of coffee for authors of this site


The statements, views and opinions presented on this web page are those of the author (or referenced source) and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of the Softpanorama society. We do not warrant the correctness of the information provided or its fitness for any purpose. The site uses AdSense so you need to be aware of Google privacy policy. You you do not want to be tracked by Google please disable Javascript for this site. This site is perfectly usable without Javascript.

Last modified: March 12, 2019