So, what happened to the man who jump-started the anti-virus software scene back in the 80s? Well, it’s a tale of tragedy and a story of a man who went from rag to riches and then back to rags and finally to jail. The American patriot who wanted to protect his country from virus attacks has a really interesting tale to tell us and here we will try to summarize the wild ride that is John McAfee’s whole life.
Growing up with an alcoholic father wasn’t easy but it was something that instilled McAfee with a personality that will shape his career aspirations later on as he will grow to become someone who doesn’t trust anyone. While studying for a Bachelor in Mathematics, McAfee used to go around selling subscriptions to fake magazines, he’d tell them that they just won the subscription to some made-up magazine and all they have to do was pay the shipping fee. The con worked and McAfee used the money to do a PhD from which he was soon kicked out for sleeping with his undergraduate student.
Taking his con skills to the next level, he sent out fake CVs hoping to get recruited and that he did, at a punch-card programming company called Univac Systems. Soon he started working for a rail-rad company where, according to him, he would schedule times for the trains while high on LSD. After an unpleasant altercation at the job he left for Silicon Valley where he held many jobs for a decade while consecutively leading an unstable lifestyle of drugs and depression. After nearly committing suicide, like his father, he got help from Alcoholics Anonymous and joined the massive aerospace corporation Lockheed.
During this same time the first computer virus in the world called Brain was released by two brothers in Pakistan and had found its way into America. McAfee knew he was sitting on a gold mine because even though the Brain virus wasn’t particularly harmful but he knew there could be several harmful ones in the future and he had the knowledge to remove them from the computers at that time. So, he capitalized on that knowledge and established McAfee Associates in 1987.
He then started what he calls the first Antivirus Paramedic Unit, a movable van full of computers and equipment going around the country fixing computers infected by some notorious virus. He would later on automate this process by creating the world’s first Virus Scan which he would upload for free as a demo and the users will have to pay a full price for the rest of the software. By 1990 he cashed in on the virus fear-mongering as corporation after corporation wanted to install his anti-virus software.
However, as is the case with fear-mongering, the elaborate ruse he crafted to deceive people into buying his product started to unravel as most people realized he was making stuff up about the Michelangelo virus which he claimed would take over the country by storm but it was nothing but a false alarm. The backlash to this was immense and McAfee was forced to leave his own company and sell his shares around 1994.
After 1994 the market which McAfee had helped establish and in which his McAfee software was the leader started losing itself to new anti-virus software from Microsoft and Norton. To deal with this McAfee started arriving bundled with many tertiary products and since it was pre-installed on many home computers back then due to the licensing agreement, it was really hard to uninstall the product to avoid its annoying pop-ups regarding upgrading the trial version.
McAfee also become the target of many hackers due to his notoriety of being the anti-virus creator and he had to constantly change devices and IP addresses.
Since leaving his anti-virus company he has been in trouble with the authorities, for facing DUI charges to being accused of murdering his neighbor to starting a private militarized army to producing and distributing drugs. his home was raided, his dog was killed and his property ended up being burned under “suspicious” circumstances.
In 2015, John McAfee took on a new role and that was running for the President of USA as the head of his own political party called “The Cyber Party”. As for his software, it was acquired by Intel in 2011 and renamed to Intel Security to avoid all the baggage that came with the original name. So, does John McAfee’s story end here? Hardly, seeing how far the roller coaster of his life has come it doesn’t appear to slow down so who knows what twists and turns lie ahead.