Barnaby Jack, the director of embedded device security for services firm IOActive, passed away a week before last summer’s Black Hat gathering, where he was scheduled to present on vulnerabilities in pacemakers. The topic made headlines in October when it was revealed that doctors replacing former Vice President Dick Cheney’s heart defibrillator in 2007 modified it so it couldn’t be hacked by terrorists out to kill him. In testimony from all over the globe, colleagues said Jack was an inspiration and asset to the security community for presenting his research in a way that was compelling and engaging for everyone. He was honored with a posthumous lifetime achievement award at the annual Pwnie Awards, held during Black Hat.
Aaron Swartz, 26, took his own life. A co-founder of social news website Reddit, and a well-known online political activist and programmer, as well as a founder and former director of the nonprofit Demand Progress, a political action group that advocates for civil rights and liberties, he faced 35 years behind bars after he was accused by federal prosecutors of using his access to MIT’s network to steal millions of academic papers so they could be distributed for free. Over-zealous prosecution of prodigies working around obstacles that stymie innovation – such as the three-decade-old Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) – has given rise to moves to reform the law, which critics believe is outdated and has enabled unnecessarily aggressive prosecutions. “Aaron’s Law,” introduced in the House by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), would limit the ways in which people can be charged under existing legislation, though it is stalled.