How Barnaby Jack Lived Is More Important Than How He Died

by Bill Brenner on March 25, 2014

Last summer, my industry was wounded by the death of famed hacker Barnaby Jack. In January, we learned that he died of an overdose, including a mix of heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs.

People made a lot of stupid comments back then, especially those responding to The Register‘s article. One jackass called him a loser who wouldn’t be missed.

Mood music:

I didn’t know Barnaby as well as some of my infosec friends did, but I always enjoyed talking to him. He was friendly, fun and brilliant. I was a huge fan of his work, and when I think of the important business he had before him, I want to punch the idiot who called him a loser. As for whether he is missed, I know people who were pretty close to him who are still devastated.

I mention all this to set you up for an article from Metro scribe Donna Chisholm. Unlike the sensationalized crap written in January, this article does him justice.

Oh, it doesn’t skate around the dark stuff. Chisholm writes:

On a Thursday afternoon, alone in bed in his comfortable top-floor apartment, opposite The Ritz in San Francisco’s Nob Hill, Barnes died of an accidental overdose of heroin, cocaine and prescription medicines.

The scope of the tragedy is laid bare. But the balance of the article focuses on what’s really important: how he lived.

She writes of the 2010 Black Hat presentation that sent his star soaring:

He became world famous in 2010 when, at the annual Black Hat convention on computer security at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas — despite its name, it’s where the white hats gather — he showed, with all the flair of a Vegas magician, how he could remotely hack into an ATM. Bank notes flew all over the stage, his peers cheered, and Barnes stood at the podium and nearly pissed himself laughing.

She writes about his shift from ATM hacking to exploiting weaknesses in heart pacemakers and insulin pumps. “As he did with the ATMs, he first bought the devices and took them apart to see how they worked, and talked to patients about how they used them,” Chisholm explains.

Was his partying the result of a hidden pain, a hole in his soul? Perhaps. But we all have those holes. We’re all broken in some fashion. Some of us try to numb the pain with drugs. Others turn to excessive spending and binge eating. Some find the balance needed to control temptations. Some don’t.

That’s what being human is about: facing struggle after struggle, making mistakes and, hopefully, overcoming obstacles.

Barnes had his struggles, to be sure. But it didn’t stop him from doing the kind of work that will benefit countless people for generations to come.

Others will build on his work. What he started can’t be stopped. Thank God for that.

Barnaby Jack lived well. He was a blessing to those around him and a master at his craft.

That matters far more than how he died.

Barnaby Jack

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