A year ago today, my friend Tareq passed away.
I met Tareq for the first time in 2008 at the DEFCON hacker conference. I had just started working for Microsoft, and was by myself in the Vancouver office, having only met my team during my interviews almost six months before. Shortly after starting, I asked my manager at the time whether she’d mind if I would take a day or two off to visit the DEFCON conference in Las Vegas. To my surprise, she replied that they’d love to have me go, and that I should just go ahead and book the tickets and go on behalf of Microsoft. Ofcourse I gladly accepted.
It was my third DEFCON, and I had a great time meeting people during those hot summer days. One of those people whom I’d never met was Jumper, one of the co-authors of the Dark Visitor blog, which covered China’s hacker community. At the time, I spent a lot of my time reverse engineering malware that was used as part of targeted attacks.
Jumper organized a dinner with several readers of the blog in a little Korean barbecue restaurant on the strip. While walking over, I found myself chatting with an incredibly nice, fresh eyed “kid” (little did I know he was only a year younger), who was really interested in the exact same things. After a few minutes, I told him I worked for Microsoft, and to my surprise, he did too. He worked in the anti-malware team, I worked on the team fixing security vulnerabilities. We spent that evening meeting interesting people, talking about China, targeted attacks, and even the Middle Eastern hacker scene, of which he was probably most knowledgeable of anyone I had met.
After that, I did not see Tareq around the office that often. In fact, I think I saw e-mails from him a few times each week, but rarely did we meet in person. Mutual friends and I had dinner with him a few times, and every time I met him, he was doing something amazing. Whether it was going to police academy, getting his ham radio license, speaking at conferences around the world, tracking cyber criminals, or helping people that needed medical attention at a first aid station, he was always busy making the world a better place.
A few years later, I was looking to hire someone for my team. Given Tareq knew everyone around, I told him about the position, and asked him if he knew anyone that would be a good fit. To my surprise, he himself was interested. Though we had the best people in the industry apply, I think once we knew he was interested there was no real competition. So Tareq started working with us.
Tareq knew his area inside out, and I noticed that everyone he worked with afterwards felt like they had made a new ally. Tareq was a man on a mission, to protect people in every sense of the word. Not only was he smart, he had an incredible amount of integrity, and a sincere interest in what others were doing.
He was also a master sleuth, and always an optimist. When we were looking at a problem as a team, Tareq always had spotted at least five different ways of solving the problem, and would engage on all of them at once with boundless enthusiasm. From what I heard from his friends and family afterwards, that was the professionalism with which he approached all of his volunteer work as well.
Over the last year, I found myself thinking “what would Tareq do”, more than once, and each time someone did something cool or exciting in security, I had to wonder what Tareq would have thought of it.
Ever since moving to California, I’ve never appreciated the weather- things are too dry, too sunny, and the skies are washed out. Today, Mountain View looked similar to a beautiful spring day in Seattle, with prettier and more meaningful clouds than any day I’ve seen here so far. And in the afternoon, a graceful rainbow appeared right in front of the building, grasping everyone’s attention.
After Tareq passed, his father told us his name was Arabic for “striking happiness”. That’s what he brought to all of us, and I’m sure he still is today.
Thanks Tareq, we miss you down here.