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Black Hat 2013: Remembering Barnaby Jack

A big topic of conversation in Las Vegas this week is the death of famed hacker Barnaby Jack, who was scheduled to give a presentation on how to hack into pacemakers and implanted defibrillators from 30 feet away. His speaking slot will instead be a celebration of his life and work.

"Black Hat will not be replacing Barnaby's talk on Thursday, Aug. 1," event organizers said in a statement. "No one could possibly replace him, nor would we want them to. The community needs time to process this loss. The hour will be left vacant as a time to commemorate his life and work, and we welcome our attendees to come and share in what we hope to be a celebration of his life. Barnaby Jack meant so much to so many people, and we hope this forum will offer an opportunity for us all to recognize the legacy that he leaves behind."

Barnaby was director of embedded security research at IOActive. In a statement, CEO Jennifer Steffens expressed the company's sorrow but also its determination to celebrate his legacy:

"This is an extremely sad time for us all at IOActive, and the many people in our industry that Barnaby touched in so many ways with both his work and vibrant personality. But as a personal friend of Barnaby's for many years I know he'd want sadness to quickly turn to celebration of his life, work and the tremendous contributions he's made spanning well beyond his widely acclaimed professional accomplishments."

His death has hit the security community hard. He is known for his hacking prowess, particularly the 2010 presentation in which he hacked into an ATM machine and got it to spit out money. But in the security community he was family, the guy who always had a smile and could make us laugh. He lived life to the full and his sunny attitude rubbed off on everyone around him.

The week is young, but many glasses have already been raised in his honor.

I had a few conversations with him over the years that I'll always be grateful for. The importance of his work can't be overstated, particularly his focus on hacking implanted medical devices. I suspect his work on that front will lead to advancements that will someday save lives. Some might call that statement hyperbole. But I believe it.

My friend Dave Marcus of McAfee summed it up best in an interview he gave for an article in The Washington Post: "He was a hacker's hacker. He had the kind of skills the rest of us wish we had."

But he was never full of himself, and he never took himself too seriously.

I came here half expecting to see a lot of long faces, which would certainly be understandable. But instead I'm seeing a lot of laughter as people remember his antics.

I think that's how he would have wanted it.

Barnaby Jack