Thursday, January 03, 2008

In Memoriam: Jim Anderson, computer security pioneer

Many of us learned over the past few days that Jim ("J.P.") Anderson, one of the pioneers of computer security, passed away on November 17 2007. A tribute by Gene Spafford (Spaf) sums up a few of his many accomplishments.

It's in keeping with Jim's personality that even his closest friends only learned of his passing six weeks later (and others who were not his close friends, like me, a bit after that). Jim was an intensely private and self-effacing man. Several times my friend Dan Thomsen tried to convince Jim to write a paper about the impact of the seminal "Anderson Report" as one of the "classic papers" for ACSAC; Jim wouldn't hear of it.

Another time, Robin Roberts, a long-time friend of Jim's, organized a dinner in Jim's honor. When he found out he was the guest of honor, he refused to attend. The dinner went on without him, and several people shared memories of working with Jim.

Although I only knew him slightly, my personal experiences with Jim were similar to those described in Spaf's tribute. I recall a call out of the blue from a government agency inviting me to come in and talk about some research work I had done and how it could apply to their needs. I couldn't figure out how they had found me and why they considered my work so important until I showed up at the meeting. Jim was there - he head read or heard of my work, and saw the relevance to his client's needs. So he played the consummate matchmaker. The fact that my work built on Jim's foundation was obvious, but Jim's role was as a mentor to a (relatively) young researcher.

The computer security field has lost another one of its great innovators, and America has lost a selfless gentleman who worked behind the scenes to ensure that our government had the best advice available.


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