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New Zealand hacker Barnaby Jack was found dead in San Francisco on Thursday, July 25, days before he was due to attend a Black Hat Hacking conference in Las Vegas, where he would outline his much-touted method of finding the weak points in pacemakers. Jack was going to show how it was possible to exploit a pacemaker and remotely kill someone. He was 36.
An investigation into the death is underway, but the coroner said it could take up to a month to know the cause of death. The news has shocked Jack's friends. Upon hearing the news, security expert Dan Kaminsky assumed Jack had created a hoax. "God, the stories," he said. "Nobody causes such hilarious trouble like Barnaby Jack."
The black hat community was also surprised by Jack's death and hope people will remember his accomplishments. "Everyone would agree that the life and work of Barnaby Jack are legendary and irreplaceable," said Trey Ford, the general manager for the conference Jack was preparing to attend.
Jack was well known among hacking communities for many things. At another black hat computer conference in 2010, he dropped jaws after he remotely hacked two ATM’s and caused them to empty their contents onto the stage without a bankcard or a bank account. This feat is known as “jackpotting” and takes an incredible amount of knowledge to do. Considering that banks spend millions each year on security to prevent this kind of thing happening, it’s a testament to Jack’s expertise that he was able to bypass these defenses.
As well as being able to internally fry your body, Jack knew how to tamper with wireless insulin pumps too, altering the amount of insulin delivered to the body or preventing the patient from receiving insulin at all. Another way he could wirelessly murder people. In an age where people hack cars, nuclear power plants, and electric power grids, it wouldn’t be surprising if some twat decided to wirelessly blow up another person’s heart. Despite sounding like an Inspector Gadget and James Bond mash-up, Jack has used his knowledge to help medical companies improve their devices. For example, Medtronic Inc had Jack outline their security flaws and then brought in security firms to alter the way they design their products.
Jack also showed concern about hospital’s out-of-date software, which aren’t kept up with the latest security protection. Malware could easily infect hospitals’ heart monitors, causing them to stop functioning and leading to patients’ deaths. As well as medical devices, Jack also worked on protecting cars from malware infections. He recognized a particularly malicious virus could exploit a car, leading to consequences that range from something as light as ruining the lighting to cutting the brakes.
When talking about his hacking, Jack told the BBC he hoped “it will promote some change in these companies and get some meaningful security in these devices."
Barnaby Jack’s genius was that he uncovered potential security threats and helped plug them before anyone else had a chance to realise how to exploit these dangerous loopholes. He was a leader in finding lifesaving devices’ vulnerabilities, and his death came as a shock. Hopefully, his dedication to saving people’s lives will have an impact on electronic equipment manufactures and encourage them to ensure their devices are secure.
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