John McAfee, the founder of one of the most widely used virus protection programs in the world, was a controversial personality, cryptocurrency promoter, tax opponent, and fugitive who ran for President of the United States twice.
He openly embraced drugs, firearms, and sex, and he had a long legal past spanning Tennessee, Central America, and the Caribbean.
According to Steve Morgan, who spent time with McAfee in Alabama in 2016 to talk about his life for a biography he’d been hired to write, he was born in the United Kingdom in 1945 as John David McAfee and moved to the United States as a child, growing up in Virginia with a father who “beat him mercilessly” and killed himself when the boy was 15 years old.
McAfee graduated from Roanoke College in Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1967 and launched his own company two decades later. Morgan stated he was running a BBS, a bulletin board system that functioned as a forerunner to the internet, and worked with his brother-in-law at the time.
When the first serious computer virus, “Brain,” struck in 1986, “John immediately dialed up a programmer he knew and said, ‘There’s a big opportunity. We need to do something. You know, we want to write some code to combat this virus,’” Morgan explained. The program’s name was VirusScan, and the company’s name was McAfee Associates.
“He was a true pioneer, not just as a security technologist but as one of the first companies to distribute software over the internet,” Morgan added.
McAfee went to Belize after losing a fortune in the global financial meltdown of 2008, where he constructed the image of a shirtless, extremely kidnappable new-age pharmaceuticals magnate, complete with armed bodyguards and payrolled henchmen. He also donated to the local police department.
However, in 2011, California chipmaker Intel paid $7.68 billion for McAfee’s enterprise. Intel tried to separate the brand from its contentious creator for a time by incorporating it into its broader cybersecurity division. That being said, the rebranding was short-lived, and Intel’s cybersecurity division was spun off into a separate company called McAfee in 2016.
In early November of that year, he was wanted for questioning in connection with the killing of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death on the island in Belize where both men lived. McAfee shared an apartment with a 17-year-old girl. In an interview for a documentary released in 2016, he remarked, “I do have teenage girlfriends and many at a time.”
In a wrongful death claim, a Florida court ordered McAfee to pay $25 million to Faull’s estate in 2019. He refused to pay it, claiming that he had “not responded to a single one of my 37 lawsuits for the past 11 years,” in a statement posted on Twitter. He maintained that he had no assets.
McAfee played Russian roulette – repeatedly pulling the trigger on what he claimed was a loaded pistol pointing at his head – to illustrate a point, according to a Wired Magazine reporter who spent six months investigating his life that year.
Interestingly, McAfee remained a staunch supporter of digital security. In a 2015 interview with the Guardian, he expressed his concern about Google, saying that the business “would have you believe that if you have nothing to hide, why should you care if people know everything?”
“When you first meet someone, you don’t divulge your deepest secrets. If privacy doesn’t matter, would you be willing to give your wallet to a total stranger and let them go through it and write down everything they find inside? Then why on earth would we believe that if we’re not doing anything wrong, we shouldn’t care if someone has our information?”John McAfee