Tribute to Peter Eckersley, who made the internet a safer place for everyone

It is with deep sadness that the EFF mourns the loss of our friend Peter Eckersley, technologist, activist and cyber security expert. Peter has worked at EFF for a dozen years and has been EFF’s Chief Computer Scientist for most of them. Peter was a huge force in making the internet a safer place. He was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and died suddenly on Friday.

The impact of Peter’s work on web coding cannot be overstated. The fact that transport layer encryption is so common on the web as to be almost invisible is due to the work Peter started. It’s a testament to the boldness of his vision that he decided we could and should encrypt the Internet, and his sheer tenacity that he kept at it despite the disbelief of so many and a seemingly endless series of setbacks and setbacks. There is no doubt that without Peter’s relentless energy, his witty grin strategy and flexible wit, the project would not have started, let alone succeeded so thoroughly.

While web encryption would suffice, Peter played a central role in many groundbreaking projects to create free, open source tools that protect the privacy of users’ internet experiences by encrypting communications between web servers and users. Peter’s work at EFF included privacy and security projects such as Panopticlick, HTTPS Everywhere, Switzerland, Certbot:, Privacy Badgerand the SSL observatory.

His most ambitious project was probably Let’s code!a free and automated certificate authority that entered public beta in 2015. Peter had been incubating the project for several years, but was able to use the popular version. a “smiling face” image From Edward Snowden’s leaks showing where SSL was added and removed to create the coalition that actually made it happen. Let’s Encrypt drove the web’s transition from insecure HTTP connections, which were vulnerable to eavesdropping, content injection, and cookie theft, to the more secure HTTPS, so that websites could offer secure connections to their users and protect them from network-based threats.

By 2017, it had issued 100 million certificates; by 2021, about 90% of all web page visits will use HTTPS. Has published as of today over a billion certificates to the end 280 million websites.

Peter joined EFF as a staff technologist in 2006, where the primary role was to advise EFF lawyers and activists so that our work is always technically sound and smart. His passion at the time was the mismatch between copyright law and Internet operations, and he completed his PhD while at EFF. Soon, Peter and Seth Schoen, EFF’s first staff technologist, began to see ways they could use small hackers in Internet infrastructure systems to create technologies to promote greater safety and freedom online, and to ensure that the Internet serves everyone. They began building technical projects, recruited and hired some of the web’s most innovative technologists, and soon established the EFF’s Technology Projects team as a complete pillar of EFF’s work.

Peter helped launch a tool that could tell what their ISP was using to interfere with their web traffic, called Switzerland, which created a movement for open wireless networks. He also documented violations of net neutrality, advocated for keeping modern computing platforms open, and was a driving force behind the campaign against the SOPA/PIPA internet blacklist legislation after a call from his friend Aaron Swartz. The list goes on and includes advising EFF lawyers and activists on all kinds of litigation and lobbying efforts.

We will never forget the sparkle in his eyes when Peter started talking about his latest idea, and his big smile as he continued to work to overcome obstacles and often almost physically bring his ideas to life. He had the gift of widening the horizon of any problem, giving a perspective that could help see patterns and options that were previously invisible. His single-minded passion could sometimes lead him to stand up and gloss over issues, but his heart and vision never wavered from what would best serve humanity as a whole. We’ll also never forget the time he built a secret summer house on the roof of the EFF, or his insane fashion sense; one year we made special red EFF logo socks for the entire staff to honor his style.

Peter left EFF in 2018 to focus on researching and drawing attention to the malicious use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. He founded AI Objectives Institutecollaboration between major technology companies, civil society and academia to ensure that AI is designed and used to benefit humanity.

Peter’s vision, audacity and dedication made the internet and the world a better place. We will miss him.

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