The publisher’s blurb for The Cuckoo’s Egg says it is about “how one ingenious American trapped a spy ring paid in cash and cocaine”. It is actually about the cost and benefit of being relentlessly curious.
Clifford Stoll spent months tracking a hacker across the globe. He undertook the delicate, secretive dance of watching the hacker. Driven by a relentless curiosity to discover the identity of the intruder, he came up with several ingenious solutions to technical problems and combating the combined apathy of his co-workers, his boss, and the United States government.
Because he was curious enough to notice little inconsistencies in his computer network, he found a hacker. Because he was curious enough to track the hacker’s movements, he discovered his methods and location. Clifford’s relentless curiosity led him to accidentally become one of the country’s foremost expert on computer security. It was a wonderful accomplishment, and it was all driven by his drive to know. He started with a question and worried at it until it unraveled into a story that transformed his life.
Like all great accomplishments, it came with a cost. It took a toll on his relationships. Several times he dashed off in the middle of the night or interrupted dates with his girlfriend to get to the lab and watch printouts of the hacker’s activities. Because of his curiosity, he accomplished great things. Because of his curiosity, he suffered personally.