John McAfee: The Computer Security Maverick Wildman

By Desire Athow on at

Few people in the world of technology can claim to have lived a life as colourful and controversial as John McAfee. McAfee, who is turning 70 later this year, might not be as rich as Bill Gates or as Larry Ellison, but his long-lasting influence on computer security can be felt, even if he is now mostly an icon rather than an active player.

You could probably write several biographies (or fill several tomes) about the security expert's crazy life. It so happens that an official one – called No Domain – was to be penned by a former cocaine kingpin called George Jung AKA Boston George. But announced back in April 2013, it has yet to be published.

That's not to say there's not a long list of crazy anecdotes surrounding McAfee that we're not already aware of. To say this man has lived a maverick life is an understatement. Let's have a look at some of his craziest exploits.

Born in Scotland and raised in Virginia, he is globally known for being the founder of McAfee Associates, one of a handful of popular security companies that rose in the late Noughties and adopted the name of their founders (the other being Norton and Kaspersky).

He severed his links with the entity in 1994, just seven years after it was incorporated and followed what can best be described best as a slow path to near-oblivion (or nirvana, depending on your take on life) just like many stars have done before him. His notoriety and fortune brought him a fair share of rockstar-esque relationships too, including a spell with a 17-year-old girlfriend who not only ended a hitherto, stable 12-year relationship but also tried to kill him (another one tried to kill him in Poland as well. He knows to pick them).

He finally settled down in 2013 and moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 2015, ending a three-year run that saw him criss-cross the United States with a short stint staying Quebec, Canada, which ended in eviction.

That concluded, at least temporarily, the latest episode in the life of one of the original mavericks of technology. It curiously started in South America in 2008 and ended with him leaving his newly adopted country as a fugitive after having been accused of the murder of his neighbour and faking a heart attack to avoid extradition.

McAfee has always claimed his innocence in this case saying that he was framed and that he was the actual target because he tried to expose corruption in that country. "They mistook him for me," he says. "They got the wrong house. He's dead. They killed him. It spooked me out." he told Wired in 2012.

He was not always like that though: he described his father as being a heavy drinker, one who committed suicide when McAfee was 15, permanently transforming the teenager into someone yearning for something, “the expansive horizon”, as one former girlfriend put it.

He started to drink a lot (up to a bottle of Scotch every day), dealt drugs (he sold cocaine to colleagues), before becoming an avid consumer of a variety of narcotics himself.

His epiphany happened when he came across the Brain computer virus, the first widely distributed computer malware for Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system. He created an antivirus software and gave it for free on BBS (bulletin board system) before turning it into a lucrative business thanks to the shareware concept.

The guy knows a thing or two about marketing and sales pitches but can probably be best described as a raconteur, someone who weaves a bit of his own DNA in every word he says when flogging his wares, making a statement or narrating a story.

And he knows his ways with journalists as well, never shy to disclose aspects of his private life that many of his peers consider a step too far, even when he was on the run.

The in-depth investigation Wired did on him, or the off-the-cuff phone interview he gave to IBTimes earlier this year show that he very much considers himself a public person, one that makes the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Dick Costolo look like choir boys.

(The Wired piece impressed Conde Nast, the owner of the publication, so much that it apparently penned a deal with Warner Bros to make a film out of it, but that was nearly two years ago and there's been little word on it since).

And the press still loves him. He came to London earlier this month as the keynote speaker for Infosecurity, an opportunity for the acerbic tech outlet, The Register, to reminisce on his creative use of a feminine, shaved tampon and shoe polish before noting that McAfee was doing his speech with his left hand “curiously busy” in his trouser pocket (The Register name-calls him Mad John).

Somehow, he still miraculously finds time to work on various pet projects ranging from social encryption, messaging (Chadder), privacy (DCentral), crowdfunding (QikFunder) and even yoga and pharmaceutical products.

Truly a man of many talents. Oh and for the movie, may we suggest Robert Downey Jr rather than Charlie Sheen. You can follow John McAfee at @officialmcafee and read his rants on whoismcafee.com

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