Computer Science News

Andrea Bittau, 1983-2017

It is our great sorrow to report that Andrea Bittau, who earned his BSc and PhD degrees at UCL Computer Science, died in a motorcycle accident in the San Francisco Bay Area on 25 February.

Andrea joined UCL as an undergraduate in 2001, and continued on to study for the PhD in 2005 as a member of UCL's Systems and Networks Research Group, supervised by Professor Mark Handley and Professor Brad Karp.

His PhD thesis, completed in 2009, was in the area of computer system security, and described the Wedge system, which provides primitives and tools for privilege-separating legacy applications. After his PhD at UCL, Andrea was first a postdoc in Professor David Mazieres's Secure Computer Systems group at Stanford, then worked at Silicon Valley startup Pure Storage. Most recently, he'd joined Google's security research group in the fall of 2016.

There will be an informal memorial gathering in the Orangery (private upstairs room) at the Prince of Wales Feathers pub, 8 Warren Street, W1T 5LD, at 6 PM on Wednesday on 8 March 2017. All who would like to share remembrances of Andrea are warmly welcome to attend.

UCL Computer Science is establishing a PhD scholarship in Andrea's name. Those who would like to contribute to this lasting memorial to Andrea can learn about the scholarship here.

Brad Karp and Mark Handley have offered the tribute below. We invite past and present staff and students to submit their own remembrances of Andrea to Steve Marchant for publication here.

"Mark Handley and I remember our time with Andrea during his PhD most fondly, and will miss him dearly. Upon learning this awful news, we noted ruefully that Andrea always had a certain appetite for living on the edge: from his teenage years as a skilled hacker, to his love of fast motorcycles, to his bursts of intense work (sometimes with little sleep for protracted periods), to his love of flying. When last we saw him in the Bay Area a couple weeks ago, he spoke to us of his next target having already attained instrument and multi-engine ratings as a pilot: getting an aerobatics certification.

"Andrea epitomized the notion of 'burning very brightly.' His optimism matched his impatience; knowing him was a potent lesson in what those two traits together could achieve, when combined with his intellect and affable fearlessness. He was gentle and kind, and generous in the extreme with his talent and time, while instinctively flouting rules and convention. His is a very real loss to the field of computer systems security: his BROP exploit for modern 64-bit, ASLR-protected OSes is today one of the pantheon of 'core' exploit techniques, and is a household word among systems security researchers.

"When Mark and I saw him a couple weeks ago in Sunnyvale, he spoke enthusiastically about his work at Google, where he had embarked upon exploring techniques for securing machine learning systems. He was energized by the people around him, grateful for the freedom he had to follow his interests, and determined (as ever) to achieve big things."

Brad Karp, Professor of Computer Systems and Networks and Mark Handley, Professor of Networked Systems.

Posted 01 Mar 17 13:06
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