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Purdue University - Discovery Park
Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

Passing of a Pioneer

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On November 18, 2007, noted computer pioneer James P. Anderson, Jr., died at his home in Pennsylvania. Jim, 77, had finally retired in August.

Jim, born in Easton, Pennsylvania, graduated from Penn State with a degree in Meteorology. From 1953 to 1956 he served in the U.S. Navy as a Gunnery Officer and later as a Radio Officer. This later service sparked his initial interest in cryptography and information security.

Jim was unaware in 1956, when he took his first job at Univac Corporation, that his career in computers had begun. Hired by John Mauchly to program meteorological data, Dr. Mauchly soon became a family friend and mentor. In 1959, Jim went to Burroughs Corporation as manager of the Advanced Systems Technology Department in the Research Division, where he explored issues of compilation, parallel computing, and computer security. While there, he conceived of and was one of the patent holders of one of the first multiprocessor systems, the D-825. After being manager of Systems Development at Auerbach Corporation from 1964 to 1966, Jim formed an independent consulting firm, James P. Anderson Company, which he maintained until his retirement.

Jim's contributions to information security involved both the abstract and the practical. He is generally credited with the invention and explication of the reference monitor (in 1972) and audit trail-based intrusion detection (in 1980). He was involved in many broad studies in information security needs and vulnerabilities. This included participation on the 1968 Defense Science Board Task Force on Computer Security that produced the "Ware Report", defining the technical challenges of computer security. He was then the deputy chair and editor of a follow-on report to the U.S. Air Force in 1972. That report, widely known as "The Anderson Report", defined the research agenda in information security for well over a decade. Jim was also deeply involved in the development of a number of other seminal standards, policies and over 200 reports including BLACKER, the TCSEC (aka "The Orange Book"), TNI, and other documents in "The Rainbow Series".

Jim consulted for major corporations and government agencies, conducting reviews of security policy and practice. He had long- standing consulting arrangements with computer companies, defense and intelligence agencies and telecommunication firms. He was a mentor and advisor to many in the community who went on to prominence in the field of cyber security. Jim is well remembered for his very practical and straightforward analyses, especially in his insights about how operational security lapses could negate strong computing safeguards, and about the poor quality design and coding of most software products.

Jim eschewed public recognition of his many accomplishments, preferring that his work speak for itself. His accomplishments have long been known within the community, and in 1990 he was honored with the NIST/NCSC (NSA) National Computer Systems Security Award, generally considered the most prestigious award in the field. In his acceptance remarks Jim observed that success in computer security design would be when its results were used with equal ease and confidence by average people as well as security professionals - a state we have yet to achieve.

Jim had broad interests, deep concerns, great insight and a rare willingness to operate out of the spotlight. His sense of humor and patience with those earnestly seeking knowledge were greatly admired, as were his candid responses to the clueless and self-important.

With the passing of Jim Anderson the community has lost a friend, mentor and colleague, and the field of cyber security has lost one of its founding fathers.

Jim is survived by his wife, Patty, his son Jay, daughter Beth and three grandchildren. In lieu of other recognition, people may make donations to their favorite charities in memory of Jim.

[Update 01/03/2008 from Peter Denning:]

I noted a comment that Jim is credited with the reference monitor. He told me once that he credits that to a paper I wrote with Scott Graham for the 1972 SJCC and said that paper was the first he'd seen using the actual term. I told him that I got the concept (not the term) from Jack Dennis at MIT. Jack probably got it from the ongoing Project MAC discussions. Where it came from before that, I do not know. It might be better to say that Jim recognized the fundamental importance of reference monitor for computer security practice and stumped endlessly for its adoption.

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