The KGB, the Computer, and Me

Sat 09 December 2023 by R.L. Dane

Last night, I re-watched The KGB, the Computer, and Me, a 1990 episode of NOVĪ› chronicling Cliff Stoll's efforts to catch a West German hacker who was using the Lawrence Berkeley Labs' computer systems to hack into military computers in the late 1980s.

I say re-watched, because I actually saw it as a teenager when it first aired on October 3, 1990. While I was surprised by the lack of technical detail in the program upon re-watching it (which shouldn't be surprising, as it's a public TV show, not a technical conference keynote), I realized that a lot of the technical details I had remembered were actually from Stoll's Book, The Cuckoo's Egg, which I read in High School soon after seeing the TV program.

I was surprised to realize that the TV show didn't even mention UNIX, but it did, however, teach the very basics of hacking, what a security exploit was (even though it didn't use that term), and even the concept of superuser -- which I vaguely remembered learning from that show.

Most of the show I either already vaguely remembered, or were honestly not that interesting to me now (e.g., social aspects, international intrigue), but what really surprised me was the fact that the concept of the "honeypot" (not a term used up to that point) was actually invented by Stoll's girlfriend over a dinner conversation about how to keep the hacker active on the system long enough for him to be traced through the mechanical telephone switching equipment in Hanover.

That was quite startling, in a pleasant way. To me, it felt like a musician discovering that Beethoven's fifth was actually composed by Beethoven's wife on a napkin during dinner, as a kind of joke.

Now I want to re-read The Cuckoo's Egg, as it was my first exposure to UNIX concepts, and also, the emoticon (:-)).