Clifford Stoll

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Clifford Stoll
Born Clifford Paul Stoll
(1950-06-04) June 4, 1950 (age 68)
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater SUNY Buffalo (BS)
University of Arizona (PhD)
Thesis Polarimetry of Jupiter at large phase angles (1980)
Doctoral advisor Martin Tomasko

Clifford Paul "Cliff" Stoll (born June 4, 1950) is an American astronomer, author and teacher. He is best known for his investigation in 1986, while working as a systems administrator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that led to the capture of hacker Markus Hess, and for Stoll's subsequent book, The Cuckoo's Egg, in which he details the investigation.

Stoll has written a total of three books as well as technology articles in the non-specialist press (e.g., in Scientific American on the Curta mechanical calculator and the slide rule).

Early life

Cliff Stoll attended Hutchinson Central Technical High School in Buffalo, New York. He earned a B.S. in Astronomy in 1973 from the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and went on to receive his PhD from University of Arizona in 1980. Cliff was married to Martha Stoll in the late 1980s, but they later divorced[citation needed].


During the 1960s and 1970s, Stoll was assistant chief engineer at WBFO, a public radio station in his hometown of Buffalo, New York.[1]

In 1986, while employed as a systems administrator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Stoll investigated a tenacious hacker--later identified as KGB recruit Markus Hess--who stole passwords, pirated multiple computer accounts, and attempted to breach US military security. After identifying the intrusion, Stoll set up a honeypot for Hess, eventually tracking him down and passing details to the authorities. It is recognized as one of the first examples of digital forensics. At the time, gaining cooperation from law enforcement was a challenge due to the relatively new nature of the crime.[2] He described the events of his investigation in The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, and the paper "Stalking the Wily Hacker".[3] Stoll's book was later chronicled in an episode of WGBH's NOVA titled "The KGB, the Computer, and Me", which aired on PBS stations in 1990.[4]

One of Stoll's Klein bottles

In his 1995 book Silicon Snake Oil,[5] and an accompanying article in Newsweek[6] Stoll called the prospect of e-commerce "baloney". Stoll also raised questions about the influence of the Internet on future society, and whether it would be beneficial. He made various predictions in the article, e.g., about e-commerce (calling it nonviable due to a lack of personal contact and secure online funds transfers) and the future of printed news publications ("no online database will replace your daily newspaper"). When the article resurfaced on BoingBoing in 2010, Stoll left a self-deprecating comment: "Of my many mistakes, flubs, and howlers, few have been as public as my 1995 howler ... Now, whenever I think I know what's happening, I temper my thoughts: Might be wrong, Cliff ..."[7]

Stoll sells blown glass Klein bottles through his company Acme Klein Bottles.[8] He was an eighth grade physics teacher at Tehiyah Day School, in El Cerrito, California,[9] and later taught physics to home-schooled teenagers.[10] Stoll was a regular contributor to MSNBC's The Site. Stoll is an FCC licensed amateur radio operator with the call sign K7TA.[11]


  • Clifford Stoll (1989). The Cuckoo's Egg. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-370-31433-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Clifford Stoll (1995). Silicon Snake Oil — Second thoughts on the information highway. ISBN 0-330-34442-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Clifford Stoll (2000). High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian.

Notes and references

  1. WBFO Alumni
  2. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  3. Clifford Stoll (May 1988). "Stalking the wily Hacker". 31 (5). Association for Computing Machinery.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The KGB, the Computer, and Me" Nova episode
  5. Clifford Stoll (1995). Silicon Snake Oil. McMillan. ISBN 0-330-34442-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Clifford Stoll: The Internet? Bah! Newsweek, February 27, 1995
  7. Curmudgeonly essay on "Why the Internet Will Fail" from 1995 BoingBoing, February 26, 2010
  8. Peterson, Ivars (February 14, 2001). "Immersed in Klein Bottles". Science News. Retrieved December 1, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Clifford Stoll: Clifford Stoll on Everything – 18 minutes with an Agile mind. TED conference February 2006
  11. Stoll's callsign at

External links