Satnam Singh


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Ross Anderson

Ross Anderson I had just been talking to Ross Anderson a few days before I got the shocking news from a friend in Cambridge about him passing away unexpectedly. I could hardly believe it. Ross and I had been discussing a guest lecture I gave for his computer security course at the University of Edinburgh. He was his usual ebullient self, full of life, energy and passion. He spent a lot of time over email and Zoom to help me prepare and properly pitch the lecture. I am sure it would have been a lot less effort for him to just give the lecture himself, but he cared deeply about giving the students the best possible education, so for him a lecture about silicon level security from someone in industry was an important part of the students’ education. He told me he was especially keen to impress upon the students the guest lecturer was a fellow Scotsman. Ross and I both come from Glasgow.

This level of passion, drive and “giving a damn” typified how Ross approached the many things he cared about in life, including playing the bagpipes. I took the photograph above on 14 March 2009 and I recall just how good the bagpipes sounded when played masterfully with great skill. Few of the songs that night were traditional Scottish tunes, most were pop songs amazingly transliterated to the bagpipes and they sounded wonderful.

I first came across the intellectual juggernaut Ross Anderson in a professional capacity, along with Saar Drimer, in Cambridge to discuss the security flaws in the chip and pin credit card system (Chip and PIN is Broken). However, we quickly bonded and became friends, due to a mutual interest in food, drink, music, technology and a similar “Glasweigan” perspective on the world.

I was surprised he would give the likes of me the time of day to talk deeply about silicon technology, security, banking, and the social aspects of security at a high bit-rate that I could hardly keep up with. I quickly realized that he was not a man of airs and graces, and treated everyone he encountered as equals. I very much admire and respect that quality. He could be fiery and intense, brutally direct and blunt, and loud and emphatic. He was that way because he cared.

As a broadly educated man he had the capability to intersect technology with economics and how people behave to understand the weak points and failings of technology. A phenomenally important role he played was holding to account the world of finance when it wrongly accused customers of giving away their PIN numbers, when they were actually stolen with “man in the middle” attacks from handheld chip and pin readers. The fact that he had worked in banking before he moved to academia no doubt greatly strengthened his hand.

The UK Post Office IT scandal reminds us how the big and powerful continue to cover up their failings by wrongly blaming innocent individuals. Big corporations entirely control the development and deployment of machine learning technology which will increasingly make inscrutable judgments about our lives, and us. Politics and government is attempting to make some inroads to try regulate AI. However, the world needs many more Ross Andersons in academic positions where they have the platform to speak truth to power, and fight for the ordinary person, to stamp out injustice, and fight for what is right and decent.

This is a picture of the last time I saw Ross in person, in January 2024 at Fin Boys restaurant in Cambridge, here shown with our mutual friend Sanjay. Anyone that knew Ross understood the depth of love and commitment he had to his family. Beyond that, he was a galus friend.

Ross Sanjay


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