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A Book Report on the Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll - a Cuckoo's Fledgling

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A Book report on "The Cuckoo's Egg" by Cliff Stoll

A Cuckoo's Fledgling

Although the 1980s are not generally thought of as a decade of innocence, there were, however, a few pockets of juvenile utopia. One such example was the rapidly expanding "online" community, with its assortment of up-and-coming networks that were, to many technically inclined users, a virtual "McDonald's Play Place" with slides, ball pits and winding tubes to explore, all rapped in a security blanket of innocence. Not until a bully invaded, did another bastion of delayed-maturity, Cliff Stoll, find that "Big Bother" was not eager, or perhaps unable, to repel the invader on his behalf. This led Cliff to take responsibility and stand up to his assailant, causing a transformation throughout many facets of his life. The Cuckoo's Egg is the story of Cliff Stoll's maturation into an adult, mirrored by the loss of innocence and youthful-trusting-openness taking place in the network community at the time, catalyzed by a hacker halfway around the world, and necessitated by a nonchalant attitude among the governmental agencies supposed to be responsible for computer security.

A question all parents, and some elder siblings, ask at some point is, "when should I let Jr. stand on his own?" and while it was only a case of bureaucracy not being equipped to quickly respond to a situation, this lack of response forced a man out of his comfort zone, gave him something to care about, and eventually made for an interesting book. It could even be hypothesized that Cliff's decision to marry was aided by the paradigm shift he experienced during the course of his hacker chase (Stoll 356). The delay of intervention on the part of the government agencies forced Cliff Stoll to leave the sidelines of his life, take responsibility, and become "pro-active-almost rabid-about computer security" (370).

At the beginning of his story, Cliff portrays himself as an academic dreamer (1), literally a start gazer; he seams to be fumbling though life without a cause to get behind, and for that matter not really looking for one. Then when he starts chasing a hacker, thinking that he, "...might learn about phone traces and networks" (35), he struck a blow to a "tar-baby" that would not let him go back to his life of indifference. The entanglement in pursuit of the hacker was elongated, significantly, by the fact that the government did not have contingencies in place to respond to computer crime, coupled with the simple fact that without a quantitative dollar value they did not take losses seriously. One of the first requests for assistance made of the FBI was answered with the reply, "Look, if you can demonstrate a loss of more than a million dollars, or that someone's prying through classified data, then we'll open an investigation. Until then, leave us alone" (42), a brush off worthy of and older brother, the equivalent of saying, "stop whining, you bother me kid". Cliff responds admirably to this snub, continues his research, and really starts getting down in the trenches, sleeping under his desk, and communicating with other agencies.

The first time Cliff begins to realize that he is changing is just after a call to Zeke Hanson at the NCSC, part of the NSA. Somewhat discouraged by the inaction of the various agencies cliff paces the halls at Lawrence Berkeley Labs. It is here that he realized that no one but himself is driving him to catch this intruder, for the first time in his life he cares about something, on his own, that truly matters. In his own words Cliff states, "Now, nobody was telling me what to do, yet I had a choice: should I quietly let things drop? Or do I take up arms against this sea of troubles?" he continues, "Staring



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