Markus Hess

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Markus Hess
Born (1960-01-01) January 1, 1960 (age 64)
Known forComputer security hacking

Markus Hess is a German hacker who was active in the 1980s. Alongside Dirk Brzezinski and Peter Carl, Hess hacked into networks of military and industrial computers based in the United States, Europe and East Asia, and sold the information to the Soviet KGB for US$54,000.[1] During his time working for the KGB, Hess is estimated to have broken into 400 U.S. military computers.[2] The hacked material included "sensitive semiconductor, satellite, space, and aircraft technologies".[3]

Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory[edit]

Hess's hacking activities were discovered in 1986 by Clifford Stoll, an astronomer turned system administrator of the computer center of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) in California. Stoll's first job duty was to track a 75-cent accounting error in the LBL system.[4] Early in his investigation, Stoll discovered that the LBL computer system was compromised and that the hacker had obtained root, or system privileges. Such a security compromise was more important than the accounting error. Stoll eventually discovered how the hacker broke in and identified the hacker's activities on the system. LBL management considered attempting to seal off the system from this hacker, but Stoll and his colleagues convinced LBL's management that this would not be effective. Ultimately, they installed a honeypot to ensnare the hacker.[5][6]

Getting in[edit]

Hess' initial activities started at the University of Bremen in Germany through the German Datex-P network via satellite link or transatlantic cable to the Tymnet International Gateway.[7] Tymnet was a "gateway" service that a user called into that routed them to any one of a number of computer systems that also used the service. Tymnet was one of a number of services available that provided local telephone numbers, where directly accessing the computer would have been a long-distance call. Users normally used packet switching services like Tymnet for their lower costs. Once he accessed Tymnet, Hess branched out to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and to the Tymnet Switching System. It was through this switching system that he accessed the LBL computers.[8]

Hess was able to attack 400 U.S. military computers by using LBL to "piggyback" to ARPANET and MILNET.[9] ARPANET was a civilian wide area network created by the Department of Defense, which would later become what is now known as the Internet. MILNET was its military counterpart.


The facilities that Hess breached included:[10]

Tracking Hess and his capture[edit]

Stoll, with the help of local authorities, traced the call to a Tymnet switch in Oakland, California. Because the call came from Oakland rather than Berkeley, it was obvious that the hacker was not working local to the university. Tymnet officials helped LBL trace the various calls, even though the hacker attempted to conceal their origin. Enlisting the aid of AT&T and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Stoll eventually determined that the calls were being "piggybacked" across the United States, but originated from Hanover, Germany.[11]

Stoll trapped Hess by creating records of a bogus military project conducted on LBL computers; according to The Cuckoo's Egg, he and his girlfriend conceived this plan while showering, giving it the unofficial name of "Operation Showerhead". While the bogus information was convincing, the primary goal was simply to keep the hacker connected long enough to trace his connection, and with the hope that the hacker might send a written request for further information listed as available in hard copy. This simple technique worked: a request for the additional information was received from a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania address.[12]

At the time, this type of hacking was unheard of, and it was a considerable challenge to get the cooperation of the FBI and the West German government. Eventually, the West German authorities were able to break in and arrest Hess. Hess went to trial in 1990, and Stoll testified against him. Hess was found guilty of espionage and was given a 20-month suspended sentence.[13][14]

Literature and films[edit]

After Hess's capture, Stoll wrote about his efforts to track and locate Hess in a technical paper "Stalking the Wily Hacker" for the journal Communications of the ACM[15] and a book The Cuckoo's Egg[12] for the general public. The Cuckoo's Egg was adapted into a 1990 Nova episode "The KGB, The Computer, and Me".[16]

"23", a semi-fictional 1998 German movie about the incident, merges Hess with another hacker into a single character, David.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2 W. Germans Get Suspended Terms as Computer Spies". Los Angeles Times. Reuters. 16 February 1990. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  2. ^ Goodchild, Joan. "10 Infamous Hacks and Hackers". CIO. Archived from the original on 2018-02-20. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  3. ^ Piore, Adam (2012). "Digital Spies: The Alarming Rise of Electronic Espionage". Popular Mechanics. 189: 52.
  4. ^ "The Spy Who Hacked Me". Infosecurity Magazine. 2011-10-31. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  5. ^ Ramirez, Jessica (8 March 2010). "The History of Computer Hacking". Newsweek. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  6. ^ "Astronomer Cliff Stoll Stars in the Espionage Game, but for Him Spying Doesn't Really Compute". Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  7. ^ Clifford Stoll (May 1988). "Stalking the Wily Hacker" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 31 (5). Association for Computing Machinery: 487. doi:10.1145/42411.42412. S2CID 6956966.
  8. ^ Clifford Stoll (May 1988). "Stalking the Wily Hacker" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 31 (5). Association for Computing Machinery: 487. doi:10.1145/42411.42412. S2CID 6956966.
  9. ^ Clifford Stoll (May 1988). "Stalking the Wily Hacker" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 31 (5). Association for Computing Machinery: 486. doi:10.1145/42411.42412. S2CID 6956966.
  10. ^ Kremen, Stanley H. (1998). "Apprehending The Computer Hacker: The Collection and Use of Evidence". Computer Forensics Online. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  11. ^ Markoff, John (1989-03-03). "West Germans Raid Spy Ring That Violated U.S. Computers". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  12. ^ a b Clifford Stoll (1989). The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-24946-2.
  13. ^ "Hackers Convicted of Selling Computer Codes to Soviets". Associated Press. 15 February 1990.
  14. ^ "Hackers found guilty of selling computer codes". New Straits Times. 17 February 1990. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  15. ^ Clifford Stoll (May 1988). "Stalking the Wily Hacker" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 31 (5). Association for Computing Machinery: 484–497. doi:10.1145/42411.42412. S2CID 6956966.
  16. ^ "Stoll to star in Nova adaptation". Computerworld. 17 September 1990. Retrieved 1 December 2015.

Further reading[edit]