It’s said that each man’s death diminishes us all in some way. But some passings take a bigger piece than others. The death of Barnaby Jack is one of those, having left a major hole in the security community and let a lot of air out of the room.
Jack, who died suddenly on July 25 of as-yet unknown causes, was one of the rare people who seemed perfectly suited to his role in life. He enjoyed an outsized reputation among his peers in security circles as a brilliant, creative and prolific researcher and always seemed genuinely happy and grateful that anyone wanted to talk to him about his work. His research had a youthful curiosity to it, and his presentations at conferences always had the kind of mischievous glee that you see in a nine-year-old boy who wants to show you how he built a remote controlled helicopter out of Legos and paper clips. On stage, Jack was smart, funny and charismatic. In person, he was all of these things, but magnified.
It was never difficult to find him at a security conference. One only had to look for the table of people at the bar laughing loudest and wiping tears from their eyes and he’d be in the middle of it, telling a story. To the untrained ear, Jack’s Kiwi accent could be indecipherable at times, but if you listened closely, you’d certainly learn something new about security–or whatever topic he was discussing at the moment. You might also find yourself dragged along to a dinner that lasted six hours and only ended when they swept you out the door.
If you need direct evidence of the love and respect that Jack elicited from his friends and colleagues, know that Black Hat, where he was scheduled to speak next week and where he had done some of the more notorious talks in recent memory, will not replace his talk. Rather, the organizers plan to leave the room open and allow people to come in and share their memories of Jack and what he meant to them. If you’ll be in Vegas, find that room and listen.
Consider what some of the smarter folks in security have said in the wake of Jack’s death today.
“Barnaby Jack was a world-class researcher and great friend. Will miss you,” Mark Dowd of Azimuth Security wrote.
Some of Jack’s friends have established a fund in his memory that will help the family pay memorial expenses and also provide funds for future hackers, tinkerers and programmers.
I can’t pretend to have known Jack well; we only met a few times over the years. But I know this: We’re all richer for having him as part of the community. And we’re all the poorer now that he’s gone.