Hacker Adrian Lamo died at the age of 37, according a Facebook post from his father. “With great sadness and a broken heart I have to let know all of Adrian’s friends and acquaintances that he is dead. A bright mind and compassionate soul is gone, he was my beloved son,” Mario Lamo wrote in a post to the 2600: The Hacker Quarterly Facebook Group. The cause of death is not yet known, but a coroner in Sedgwick County, Kansas confirmed the news to ZDNet.
Lamo was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1981. In the mid 1990s, he volunteered for PlanetOut, a public media company that catered to the LGBTQ community. In 1998, he was appointed to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth Task Force by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Lamo first gained notoriety online in the early 2000s for hacking companies like Yahoo! and AOL, as well as The New York Times. In 2004, after accepting a plea bargain, Lamo was sentenced for hacking the newspaper, where he had added his name to an internal list of op-ed writers and racked up $300,000 in charges using the organization’s subscription to Lexis-Nexis, a pay-per-use search tool.
He was also known for tipping US government authorities about the actions of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who was later sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing Wikileaks with 750,000 classified military cables. (President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in 2017.) In a 2013 interview with the Guardian, Lamo explained his decision to report Manning.
“There was no option to interdict just the documents and put him merely in touch with counseling. There was no way to be both kind to [Chelsea] and mindful of the potential for harm to people I had never known and would never know which the situation posed. The reader might think there was some more moderate choice that I overlooked but I looked closely, and no such choice existed,” Lamo said in the interview.
In a 2002 profile of Lamo, former WIRED editor Noah Shachtman detailed how the hacker lived out of a backpack, and accessed the internet using university libraries and Kinko’s laptop stations. The Colombian-American moved around frequently as a child. The extensive travel provided him a love of adventure. “If I didn’t have computers, I’d be exploring storm drains or mountain caves. Hell, I do, when I don’t have a line to the Net,” Lamo wrote in a Usenet group around 2002. “There have been times my laptop has been the only dry thing I owned.”
Shachtman’s 2002 profile closes with an apt moment:
“I’ve had a long day, a long month, and a long year,” he said at the end of a pre-dawn chat.
He follows that with an instant message: “Dream of a warm and safe place.”