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Insider Accounts of Computing and Life at BBN: A sixty-year report (2011) [pdf] (walden-family.com)
40 points by indescions_2018 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 12 comments

I worked at BBN from 1996 to 1999. Not mentioned within the PDF is the role that BBN played in the Information Security space - a large portion of the L0pht (L0pht Heavy Industries / L0phtcrack / @stake, etc) worked at BBN. 4 out of 7 folks worked there. Peite Zatko (Mudge), myself, and later Chris Wysopal (Weld Pond / VeraCode) all worked in the IT Security department and were responsible for just about all things security related. Brian Oblivion also worked at the L0pht as an electrical engineer working on RF & satellite related work. Hobbit, author of netcat, also did some stints there in the late 90s. A large number of l0pht advisories came out the research and work we did to secure internal systems/software. We had some early access to Marcus Ranum’s new venture at the time - Network Flight Recorder and wrote some of the first modules. In early ‘99 I left BBN to work full time on the L0pht to write a set of hybrid protocol analysis/IDS signatures for NFR to help it become a true IDS system.

BBN was an amazing place; if you had a question about a protocol for example, you could track down one of the original authors of the RFC - sometimes they were located right down the hall.

BBN believed in employees and looked for people with passion, honesty and the desire to continually learn. I met my late wife at BBN. With a masters in Italian Literature and some scattered technical experience (satellite internet uplink/downlink stuff) she applied for a position at the company. They looked at her resume, lack of experience, and asked what Italian lit had to do with the Internet - “absolutely nothing” she replied, but expressed her interest in understanding how the Internet worked. They hired her in the CSC - Customer Support Center and slowly gave her training. She had great mentors and quickly jumped into becoming a Network Analyst, from there Infrastructure Engineer and finally to one of the peak technical groups (on the BBN Planet / networking side) - Network Engineering. Prior to BBN being sold out to GTE, she was one of two people that worked on peering arrangements for customers and other network providers. She knew the main backbone like the back of her hand and would haggle with companies to ensure that peering arrangements were fair and not one sided. Before the downfall, she argued internally as well - throwing salespeople under the bus when they’d over promise bandwidth from a local POP that was already approaching capacity. She started off with minimal technical experience and networking knowledge, but left with deep technical knowledge of Cisco router internals, BGP, and all things Internet/peering related. BBN believed in her, saw promise and invested in her - as they tried to do with everyone.

BBN was an awesome place - there was a hydro-acoustic submarine testing tank, some anechoic chambers, an amazing library, and some really cool technology. There was a meeting to show off “bullet ears” which involved a hidden sniper in a garage. The technology could identify the path of the bullet as well as the location of the sniper. For the 90s, it was an amazing place to be.

.. it always broke my heart when we were sold off to GTE to become GTE Internetworking. It eventually was bought by Verizon and spun off to become Genuity, which tanked. Level3 swooped in like vultures and picked over the remaining folks - you could keep your job if you moved to Denver or Atlanta from what I recall. Of the folks that moved, most of them were laid off in a few years. Sadly, BBN had ASN1, which Level3 scuttled in favor of their ASN - 3356.

It was a great place.


We overlapped there. I worked in a different security team in 97-98, the one that sold a certificate solution and where Stephen Kent was designing IPSec. Wish I’d spent more time learning from him, bright guy.

The GTE acquisition occurred one month after I moved to Boston and started there. Definitely a weird time.

thank you

This is a great find. Right before college I had the chance to sit in a lab at BBN for a few of the summer months. I believe at the time they were owned by Verizon. I remember thinking that I was walking on hallowed ground - where many computing "firsts" had happened. But they were a bit of a shadow of their former self... In some sense I feel that is true for a lot of tech. Govt or defense funding planted the original seeds for a lot of the great tech we have today. Now bleeding edge tech is mostly driven by rich guys and their pet projects...

I still have a mug and a t-shirt from BBN. My wife almost threw the mug out once. Umm... NOPE!

One of the cool things I saw while in the USAF (but didn't realize just how cool it was at the time) was the installation of a BBN Interface Message Processor at McClellan AFB in 1986. It was probably one of the last ones to get installed on the ARPANET.

I worked at bbn for 10 years. Wonderful culture. I got to learn hardware, software and systems as a jnr engineer working across the world. Amazing people who developed technology from first principles. Thanks for sharing, great memories.

Every time BBN gets mentioned, I'm reminded of the book, "Where the Wizards Stay Up Late", where they get some mention and credit.

Unfortunately, a garage flood took out my copy, shortly after a move. But as I recall, I rather enjoyed the read.

There seem to be a few formats on Amazon, including an unabridged audiobook [1] :


Kindle edition sells to US-only accounts though, which is a bit annoying :-(

[1] The Kindle version + Audible upgrade is nearly always cheaper than Audible alone. Not sure why.

I bought it for Kindle from Sweden, and it doesn't look unavailable to buy for me now.

Ah, maybe it's just the UK :-(

I'm currently reading a used hardcover copy I picked up for a few bucks.

About halfway through and it's been largely uninteresting bureaucratic fluff, from the perspective of an engineer. This has been one of the slowest reads for me in a very long time. Normally I end up inhaling the books I read, this thing I can't wait to put back down every time I resume.

perhaps my favourite history-of-tech book, edging out "dealers of lightning"

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