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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

The story of John McAfee, for long synonymous with anti-virus software, and his extraordinary life

John McAfee, the name behind McAfee anti-virus software, killed himself in a Barcelona jail on Wednesday, authorities claimed. He was known for his colourful, larger-than-life personality.

Written by Anuj Bhatia , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 30, 2021 8:29:43 am
John McAfee, co-founder of McAfee Crypto Team and CEO of Luxcore and founder of McAfee Antivirus, in Havana, Cuba, July 4, 2019. (Reuters Photo: Alexandre Meneghini, File)

John McAfee, the name behind McAfee anti-virus software, killed himself in a Barcelona jail on Wednesday (June 23), authorities claimed. The 75-year-old was found dead hours after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the United States to face charges of tax evasion between 2014 and 2018.

The computer programmer rose to fame in the 1980s when he founded McAfee Associates, a software company that made its name by selling commercial computer security software.

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McAfee resigned from the company in 1994, and the company was bought by Intel for $7.7 billion in 2010. McAfee (the company) was initially a part of Intel’s cybersecurity unit; in 2016, Intel spun out McAfee as a separate security company.

Who was John McAfee?

McAfee was born in the United Kingdom in 1945 and his parents moved to Virginia when he was young. When he was 15, his father, who was an alcoholic, took his own life. “Every day I wake up with him,” McAfee told Wired magazine in a 2012 interview.

Post his exit from the company he founded — McAfee sold his entire stake — McAfee dabbled in various ventures.

In the mid 90s, he founded a company behind PowWow, one of the first instant messaging and chat programmes for Windows operating systems.

Later, he invested in firewall maker ZoneAlarm, and joined the company’s board of directors.

What happened thereafter?

McAfee’s finances were depleting fast and by 2009 he was left with just $4 million (down from $100 million). He was hit hard by the recession, and he had to sell off his properties and expensive antiques and art collection.

He started the company called QuorumEx, based in Belize, which promised to make herbal-based antibiotics. But his research facility was raided in 2012 by the police department’s Gang Suppression Unit on suspicion that he was manufacturing methamphetamine, a highly addictive and illegal drug that can produce euphoria and stimulant effects.

Although he was never charged, the research facility was shut down. It has been reported that when police raided his compound, officers found McAfee in bed with a 17-year-old girl.

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John McAfee is escorted by immigration officers to the Guatemalan Airport in Guatemala City December 12, 2012. (Reuters Photo: Jorge Dan Lopez, File)

How did he come to be linked to murder?

Also in 2012, McAfee was named a “person of interest” in the killing of his neighbour Gregory Faull. Faull apparently had issues with McAfee’s lifestyle. McAfee denied his involvement in the killing, and went into hiding from the local authorities.

He was eventually arrested in Guatemala after being on the run for almost a month. When he was about to be deported back to Belize, McAfee faked two heart attacks.

The trick worked — and McAfee was subsequently deported to Miami. There, he met Janice Dyson, a former prostitute at a restaurant. McAfee and Dyson ended up getting married.

What about his political ambitions?

In 2015, McAfee made headlines when he announced his run for President as the candidate from a newly announced Cyber party, but later that year, he switched to the Libertarian Party.

McAfee ran again for the US Presidency in the 2020 election.

General view of the prison Brians 2 near Barcelona, Spain, June 23, 2021. (Reuters Photo: Albert Gea)

How did the latest twist in his life come about?

In July 2019, McAfee was arrested in the Dominican Republic after he and five others were suspected of travelling on a yacht carrying high-calibre weapons, ammunition, and military-style gear.

In October 2020, McAfee was arrested at Barcelona’s international airport when he was about to fly to Istanbul. He was arrested by the Spanish authorities at the behest of the US government.

He was charged in the US state of Tennessee with avoiding taxes for four years, and failing to report his income made through cryptocurrencies, consulting work, and selling his life rights in the form of a documentary. McAfee was someone who invested in cryptocurrency early on.

McAfee argued that an attempt to extradite him to the US was politically motivated. After Spain’s highest court approved his extradition to the US, McAfee was found dead at the Brians 2 penitentiary in northeastern Spain.

McAfee was quite active on social media. He was known for his colourful, larger-than-life personality. Hollywood was fascinated by his life. In 2013, news that Warner Brothers, Hollywood’s top production house, had bought the rights to a Wired magazine article titled ‘John McAfee’s Last Stand’ and turned it into a movie, made headlines.

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