At Wired, Andy Greenberg visits with Clifford Stoll, 30 years after he wrote the original book on computer hacking, The Cuckoo’s Egg. Stoll discovered what is believed to be the very first state-sponsored computer hacker.
He starts reminiscing, telling a story about his hacker hunting that isn’t in the book.
After Stoll helped German police trace the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s hacker to an address in Hanover, they arrested the intruder—a young man named Markus Hess. The police found that Hess, along with four other hackers, had together decided to sell their stolen secrets to the Soviets.
What he didn’t mention in the book is that he later met Hess in person. When Stoll was called to the German town of Celle near Hanover to serve as an expert witness in the case, as he tells it, he ran into Hess in the courthouse bathroom, coming face to face with the hacker he’d chased online for a year. Hess recognized Stoll, and began asking him in English why he had so doggedly pursued him. “Do you know what you’re doing to me?” Hess asked, according to Stoll’s 30-year-old memories. “You’re going to get me sent to prison!”
Stoll says he simply told Hess, “You don’t understand,” walked out of the bathroom, and testified against him.
At this point in the story, Stoll becomes silent and his face twists into a pained expression. Slowly, I realize that he’s angry. Then Stoll tells me what he really wanted to tell Hess: “If you’re so smart, if you’re so brilliant, make something that will make the internet a better place! Find out what’s wrong and make it better! Don’t go screwing with information that belongs to innocent people!” Stoll says.