Young cryptographer ends own life

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Mon Jul 4 09:21:48 PDT 2011

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.

    Liam Tung (CSO Online (Australia))

    b 04 July, 2011 09:06

Len Sassaman, a highly-regarded 31 year-old cryptographer who helped create
secure communication systems, ended his own life on Sunday.  bJust 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,b Sassamanbs 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 Sassamanbs 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.
bDepression is a terrible thing. It blinds people to how worthwhile they are
and how much they're loved,b she wrote.
The former engineer for Anonymizer, which obscures a user's IP address, was a
well-known bcypherpunkb 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. 
Sassamanbs work focussed on battacking 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 appliedb, according to his profile
at the computer security and industrial cryptography research department of
Belgiumbs 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 Sassamanbs friend and fellow hacker Pablos
Holman recounted the pairbs early work on crypto-systems after they met in
bWe 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
While much of their work was an academic bgeek utopia exerciseb, Sassaman
liked to bget his hands dirtyb, 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.

Tags: Meredith Patterson, Len Sassaman, Defcon, cryptographer, black hat,

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