Young cryptographer ends own life

Len Sassaman, a highly-regarded 31 year-old cryptographer who helped create secure communication systems, ended his own life on Sunday.

Len Sassaman, a highly-regarded 31 year-old cryptographer who helped create secure communication systems, ended his own life on Sunday. 

“Just got off the phone with the embassy. Having to talk to a consul about my husband's suicide is the worst conversation I've ever had,” Sassaman’s wife, Meredith Patterson confirmed on Twitter Sunday evening. 
 
There was an outpouring of condolences and disbelief from friends and colleagues on Twitter as news spread of Sassaman’s death.   
 
"Very sad to hear about Len Sassaman passing away. Terrible news," high-profile former hacker Kevin Mitnick wrote. 
 
Sassaman, who regularly speaker at the DefCon and BlackHat security conferences, was a victim of depression, according to Patterson.
 
“Depression is a terrible thing. It blinds people to how worthwhile they are and how much they're loved,” she wrote.
 
The former engineer for Anonymizer, which obscures a user's IP address, was a well-known “cypherpunk” who maintained the open source Mixmaster remailer software. The Mixmaster protocol was designed to protect against traffic analysis and offer users a way to send email anonymously. 
 
Sassaman’s work focussed on “attacking and defending anonymous communication systems, exploring the applicability of information-theoretic secure systems for privacy solutions, and designing protocols which satisfy the specific needs of the use case for which they are applied”, according to his profile at the computer security and industrial cryptography research department of Belgium’s Leuven University. 
 
At the 2009 BlackHat conference Sassaman and well-known security researcher Dan Kaminsky demonstrated various manners of attacking the X.509 public key infrastructure certificate authority. 
 
An obituary posted on Facebook by Sassaman’s friend and fellow hacker Pablos Holman recounted the pair’s early work on crypto-systems after they met in 1999.
 
“We were reimagining our world, riddled with cryptosystems that would mathematically enforce the freedoms that we treasured.  Anonymous remailers to preserve speech without fear of retribution; onion routers to ensure nobody could censor the internet; digital cash to enable a radically free economy.”
 
While much of their work was an academic “geek utopia exercise”, Sassaman liked to “get his hands dirty”, which led to numerous visits from Federal agencies over remailer abuse, according to Holman. 
 
Len, you are, in fact, an inspiration to those of us who inspired you.  You made something great of your life. You left a lot behind for us. Thanks for letting me be a part of it all.

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