As It Happens·Q&A

Daniel Kaminsky 'saved us all' when he discovered an internet flaw, says his niece

Daniel Kaminsky, a security researcher who found a significant security flaw in the internet over a decade ago, died last week of a diabetic condition. He was 42.

Late security researcher found major flaw in the internet over a decade ago

Sarah Roberts and her uncle Daniel Kaminsky at the 2008 Black Hat convention in Las Vegas, where it was first publicly announced that Kaminsky had found a fatal flaw in the internet. (Submitted by Sarah Roberts )

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When Daniel Kaminsky saved the internet, he didn't ask for a cent. And that's just the most famous example of how he lived his life for the "betterment of our society," says his niece. 

Kaminsky, a security researcher who found a significant security flaw in the internet over a decade ago, died last week of a diabetic condition, reports the New York Times. He was 42. 

In 2008, Kaminsky found a problem with the Domain Name System, or DNS, which essentially allowed thieves to steal people's accounts and passwords, empty bank accounts or even shut down the internet completely.

Instead of exploiting this flaw, Kaminsky alerted the Department of Homeland Security and found a fix. 

His niece, Sarah Roberts, spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about how Kaminsky's love of computers started long before he became famous. Here is part of their conversation. 

You wrote a statement that your family is trying to navigate a world without Daniel. What do you mean by that? 

We're trying to navigate the reality that Daniel is no longer a text or a call away, and it's a hard adjustment. It is, but I know he's still with us and he lives on through me and my brother and mom. 

Kaminsky poses for pictures Aug. 6, 2008, in Las Vegas, where computer security professionals had travelled for the first public briefing on security flaw that let hackers hijack traffic. (Glenn Chapman/AFP/ Getty Images)

And he was like that; he was just somebody you could just reach at any time ... and he'd give you a hand? 

Oh, constantly. I shared endless amounts of information that I found interesting with Daniel. And it's something I truly value because I think a very poignant part of who Daniel was was that he was not only accepting, but he never made anyone who he was talking to feel like they were less than. Everything I said to him, he treated me as an equal. 

There's a little bit of a video of you and your uncle when you're very young and ... you're talking about what's called Domain Name System, or DNS … How old were you when you had that conversation with Daniel?  

I was 10 years old. I didn't realize the gravity of the situation when we were filming that, but soon after I became aware of how important 2008 was for Daniel. 

In 2008, your uncle discovered a fundamental flaw in the internet. Absolutely something that would have taken down all of our security. And that's what you're talking about in that — that he found this and was able to alert the world, but they had to have a kind of secret meeting about it, right?  

Yeah. He had an opportunity when he found this flaw to, honestly, exploit it. And he didn't. He kept it a secret and he informed the people he knew that could help him fix this problem.

I truly did not even know that he held this power in him until many years later. But, essentially, him choosing and following his heart and his moral compass, which I think is out of this world, he saved us all with that decision.

When he notified the people … at Microsoft and elsewhere, they said that they realized they were looking down the gun barrel of history when your uncle alerted them, and that not only did he alert them, but then he figured out how to patch it, right?  

He did, yes. He had a knack for looking at issues or problems in our world and just finding a solution to it — multiple solutions, even. 

Daniel was a light for so many people, myself included, and I think ... he brought the human side to computers.- Sarah Roberts, Daniel  Kaminsky's  niece

You went with him to conferences after that. How was he treated? How was he received?  

When I went to the Black Hat Convention in Las Vegas in 2008, I remember clearly walking into a packed room and the energy that that room produced. I think it really sunk in me in that moment that what I was witnessing was ... life changing and world changing.

I think it's also important to note that everything that he did regarding DNS, along with every single other one of his projects, he did nothing for profit. It was simply for the betterment of our society.  

Apparently, his mom says that he taught himself to code at the age of five.  

He did. Yeah, pretty wild. 

He was a genius. He was an IT superhero for what he did. But everything that's online, all the tweets about your uncle, are talking about how kind he was. Is that the uncle you remember? 

Oh, 100 per cent, most definitely. Daniel was a light for so many people, myself included, and I think ... he brought the human side to computers.  

Written by Sarah Jackson. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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