Top hacker dies days before scheduled Black Hat talk

Barnaby Jack was noted for his research on security flaws in ATMs and medical devices

Noted hacker Barnaby Jack, known for exposing vulnerabilities in ATM machines and medical devices, died in San Francisco Thursday, just days before he was scheduled to speak on deadly security shortcomings in medical implants at next week's Black Hat security conference.

The San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Jack's death to Reuters, but wouldn't disclose the cause.

At the time of his death, 35-year-old Jack was director of embedded device security at IOActive, a security firm that specializes in industrial, supply chain, and medical device security.

IOActive had no immediate comment on Jack's death. In a statement issued Friday morning, Black Hat organizers expressed regret at Jack's sudden passing.

"Everyone would agree that the life and work of Barnaby Jack are legendary and irreplaceable," show organizers said. "Barnaby had the ability to take complex technology and intricate research and make it tangible and accessible for everyone to learn and grow from."

The statement went on to add that Black Hat will leave the time slot for Jack's speech vacant to commemorate his life and work. "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," the statement noted.

Jack, a former security researcher at McAfee and Juniper, was perhaps best known for a demonstration at Black Hat three years ago on how exploiting security flaws made ATM machines from Triton and Tranax dispense money on demand.

The talk, titled "Jackpotting Automated Teller Machines," had been postponed from an earlier Black Hat conference to give the ATM vendors time to fix the flaws.

At a security conference in Melbourne last October, Jack demonstrated how wireless protocols used in modern pacemakers and other implantable devices, could be made exploited to deliver lethal shocks to users of the devices. In a video demonstration, Jack showed how an attacker, from 50 feet away, could use a laptop computer to get a pacemaker to deliver a lethal 830-volt shock.

As a researcher at McAfee, Jack showed how insulin pumps from medical device vendor Medtronic could be exploited wirelessly and made to deliver fatal doses of insulin to someone wearing the device.

Jack was scheduled to speak on "Implantable Medical Devices: Hacking Humans" at next week's conference in las Vegas. The talk was expected to highlight how, common bedside transmitters could be used to search for, interrogate and exploit individual medical implants from up to 300 feet away.

Numerous security researchers and hackers today took toTwitter to express their feelings at Jack's passing.

Dave Marcus, chief architect of advanced research and threat intelligence called Jack "one HELLUVA hacker" in a tweet, while Jay Radcliff, a security researcher who has also done considerable work on medical devices added that "While we didn't see eye to eye on several things, I am sad to hear the news that @barnaby_jack has passed away."

"Lost but never forgotten our beloved pirate, Barnaby Jack has passed," IOActive said in a tweet. "He was a master hacker and dear friend. Here's to you Barnes!"

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His email address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Read more about cybercrime and hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Topic Center.

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