Digital Memorial Tribute: Martin Zimmermann
By: Jane Ginn, MSIA, MRP
It has been two months since the passing of the late Martin Dipo Zimmermann, my friend and colleague and a great contributor to the state-of-the-art in cybersecurity. His untimely death by heart attack at a young age was a loss to all of us in the information technology field. I will try, in this short article, to convey some of the most important things I learned about the man as I worked with him on developing the Cyber Threat Intelligence Network.
Martin grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark. His family also had a flat outside of Paris where he spent a lot of time as a youth. He was, so I’m told, a sensitive young man, with a great facility for languages and computers. He excelled at Thai boxing and computer games and, as a young man, was proud of his stint as a disk jockey at some of the local clubs. In his early career he worked in the family business in the steel industry. During that time he realized he had a real affinity for the security aspects of computer science and taught himself everything he could about networks, computer technology and programming languages. People who knew him at that time realized he was compulsive about solving the most pressing problems, often having to do with a computer breach or hack, sometimes to the point of neglecting his own health and well-being.
This very dedicated problem-solving attitude served Martin well has he moved into consulting services. As a bachelor he had total freedom to travel to client sites where he used his advanced penetration testing skills and analytical prowess to quickly and effectively solve client problems. He worked for several different firms, quickly advancing through the ranks because of his work ethic and dedication. He was somewhat short-tempered, however, and managed to antagonize people on occasion.
Nonetheless, because of his technical prowess he was recognized by IBM as an information security “thought-leader” which reaffirmed his own belief in himself and his career path. He also sought and obtained multiple certifications within the cybersecurity industry.
To manage his excess energy he trained hard at Thai Boxing and played hard in the clubs at night. But, by his late 30s something went terribly wrong. A slipped disk in his back, presumably from the long international flights and the binge working regime, caused him so much pain he sought medical relief.
The Titanium Back
After three successive operations to repair damage to his spine Martin found himself to be unable to maintain the constant demands of business consulting. In about 2008 he withdrew to a tiny, modest apartment and began living on a small pension from the Danish government. He spent days and nights in severe pain where the only relief he could find was to stay in a horizontal position. He became bed-ridden and his only escape was into the zeros-and-ones of his computing and electronic devices.
Needless to say, he lost touch with most of the people he had worked with during his active years. During this time his only refuge was his passion for cybersecurity. He engaged with others frequently on social media platforms, sometimes challenging old patterns of thought and confronting others. By doing this his sense of isolation was, somewhat, relieved. But that wasn’t all. He knew he could not manage this state of affairs much longer, so he began to think about his legacy.
After about four years of on-again, off-again pain, he began to formulate an idea for a business that would, he believed, help address some of the inherent weaknesses he had begun to see in the Internet infrastructure. His dream was to develop an open platform that would become a trusted center of gravity for cybersecurity threat intelligence. He began to fulfil that dream in 2014 when he recruited me to his cause, and he and I and 12 other professionals in Europe and the US formed the Cyber Threat Intelligence Network (CTIN).
He nurtured his social media contacts on LinkedIn and Twitter, and he maintained constant contact with virtual professional colleagues with whom he could communicate on the issues that mattered to him. By this time his ethical hacking prowess was recognized by Google. They inducted him into the Google “Security Hall of Fame (Group Member x0xa)”. Then, in 2014 he received an appointment to the prestigious ENISA Threat Landscape Stakeholders’ Group. He began to develop a sense of hope that his dream of a CTIN might come through. He began to gather key people into his sphere of influence to persuade them to become part of the CTIN family.
He believed that the STIX/TAXII protocols for threat information sharing was the last best hope we had to facilitate human-to-machine and machine-to-machine threat intelligence sharing. He believed that this sharing among trust circles within the US, Europe and all the NATO countries, and between the public agencies and private sector companies would give the Internet resilience and help to counter the negative effects of cybercrime, cyber espionage, and cyber terrorism.
Last Chapter in Dante’s ‘Inferno’
In about November of the cold Danish winter of 2014 he began to be pursued by an adversary on the Darknet; a Black Hat hacker that did not appreciate his strong advocacy for botnet take-downs and offensive countermeasures in cybersecurity. The worst thing to happen in the hackers’ world is to be ‘pwned’….or, to have your computer taken over. He had apparently come up against someone that could equal his skills…or rather, a group of people that could match him. During this time his mood slipped and at one point he said he felt like he was living in the “last chapter of Dante’s Inferno.”
Martin Dipo Zimmermann died of a heart attack alone in his apartment on December 10, 2014. He was 44 years old.
The Cyber Threat Intelligence Network is his legacy. If you are on the side of the White Hats, I invite you to join us in honoring his legacy.